Fall To Grace - A Review of Jay Bakker's Newest Release

Jay Bakker knows what he's talking about when he says in the introduction of his latest book, "I've been around churches my whole life, yet I didn't discover grace--true grace, revolutionary grace--until I was twenty years old."

Jay Bakker knows what he's talking about because he's the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, pioneers of televangelism and founders of the now infamous PTL Network.  The PTL Network at it's height in the 1980's broadcast into millions of homes around the world.  The Bakkers fell from grace when Jim was accused of, and admitted to infidelity with a staff member.  He was eventually convicted of fraud when it was discovered that PTL was selling more time shares than they actually had at their huge Heritage USA Christian resort.

Jay went from being a Christian media darling as the young son of TV's 1st Christian family to a virtual pariah, who was made fun of in his schools and church youth groups.  Jay resorted to drugs, alcohol and bad behavior in his late teens and early twenties, until he was taken in by a Christian family who introduced him to the concept of grace--something he had never fully realized.

Fall to Grace is essentially a follow up to Bakker's autobiography Son of a Preacher ManSince Son of a Preacher Man was released, Bakker's life has taken some unusual and difficult turns.  He moved his successful Revolution ministry, which had been based in Atlanta, to New York, with mixed reviews and muted success.

Jay also "came out" as an affirming straight ally for homosexuals, which essentially killed all of the support that he had garnered over the years from Evangelical Christian groups.  He admitted in an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show that after he began preaching and writing that he didn't believe homosexuals were "going to hell," all of his speaking engagements had basically dried up as a result.

Additionally, Jay's mom, the iconic Tammy Faye Bakker, died from cancer during during that period, devastating him.

And on top of everything else, he and his wife got a divorce.

In Fall to Grace, Bakker writes:
"This book is about examining every aspect of our lives through the clarifying lens of grace.  It applies to everything: our views of God as revealed through Jesus Christ, our image of ourselves as God's children, and our relationship to others."
 For someone like Bakker who was raised in an environment where grace was scarcely preached if at all, and where it was arbitrarily shown or displayed, these are good words indeed.  He goes on to write that a "confident understanding of grace" gives us the ability to be transformed and in turn transform our world.  "We know where we stand with God," Bakker asserts, "because we know that He stands by us no matter what we do." 

For Bakker the journey began with a different understanding of the "Romans Road."  The "Romans Road" is the long-used outline from the book of Romans that countless Evangelical Christians employ when they are trying to share the "Gospel" in a neat and orderly fashion.  For Bakker the road through Romans was one marked with grace, and as he read it he began to view its author, the Apostle Paul, much differently than he had been taught.  His conclusion about Paul is simple.  Bakker writes:
"That's why Paul's message is so vital for modern readers.  His point is that salvation is not found in any set of rules--whether chiseled in ancient stone or shouted at full volume on Christian radio.  It is found in faith."
Bakker references Martin Luther quite often in Fall To Grace.  Like Luther, Bakker finds an unbelievable message of freedom and transforming grace in Paul's words to the church at Rome.   Bakker's assessment of Paul's intent is not entirely incorrect (in my humble estimation) just incomplete.  Paul was most definitely concerned with the early Christians grasping a true understanding of what God's grace through Christ had done for them.  But he also understood that grace as part of a larger plan that had been in place since before time, shaped through Abraham, moved forward through Moses and fulfilled by Jesus Christ.  N.T. Wright has written on this topic more eloquently than I, so I would refer you to his excellent book Justification if you want to read more.

Nevertheless, I think it's the gaps that exist within his interpretation that has opened Bakker up to some serious criticism from Evangelical Christians.

Let me say that I don't believe Jay Bakker is (as he has been accused) a Universalist. 

However, I can see where some might make that argument by taking his words out of context.  One of the quotes that I can already see is getting some steam on the conservative blogs is this one:
"Christ presents us with a game we can't lose.  Everybody gets the prize for just showing up." 
Then there's this one:
"As we have seen, the point of Paul's ministry is that the religious law has been replaced by the law of Christ, the law of love: universal acceptance through grace." (emphasis mine)
I am aware that these might seem fairly damning to some folks.  But what most of the critics seem to be ignoring is the way that Bakker emphasizes Christ in his message.  It is through Christ that we attain acceptance.  It is through Christ that we experience this unbelievable grace.  And quite frankly, the idea of "just showing up" with Christ demonstrates a willingness to follow and believe.  What Bakker eschews is the idea that we can somehow earn Christ's love, favor and grace, and that we can somehow lose that love, favor and grace through our shortcomings and transgressions.

Bakker uses the teachings of Paul on grace to demonstrate the "Revolution" that takes place in us when we finally grasp it's full import.  He asserts that there is a Revolution of Self and a Revolution of Society that follows the Revolution of God.  The God Revolution takes place when we begin to see God through the lens of Christ, and grow to a knowledge of Him that is not based in the old Evangelical model.  For Baker, God is not a God filled with hatred towards poor sinners--quite the contrary.  Christ is the evidence of God's expansive and limitless love.

When our understanding of God begins to change, Bakker posits, we find that we have the potential for transformation as well.  We no longer need to wallow in guilt, nor do we need to stand in judgment over others.  It is in this section of his book that Bakker reveals how his traditional conservative beliefs about homosexuality were transformed.  It's here that Bakker also tells the story of how he went to a benefit event hosted by RuPaul, the famous female impersonator.  The unexpected moment of grace and the testimony that was revealed at the event further solidified his position.

In the end, Bakker outlines a way forward for Christians who desire to embrace the grace they have been given and to carry it into society and culture.  He does so in the context of the struggle for/against homosexuality within the Church.  Bakker's interpretation of Scripture is shaped through his lens of grace.  It is this lens that leads Bakker to read the passages in the Bible that speak prohibitions against homosexuality in a much more progressive way than he once did.  He not only asserts that grace gives us the potential to be transformed, and to work toward the transformation of society, but also gives us the space to grow in the way we interpret Scripture.  While many conservative Christians may take umbrage at Bakker's assertions, he at least grounds them in the authority of Scripture.

Bakker closes Fall to Grace with these words:
"Grace is all about acceptance.  By accepting grace, we accept God, we accept ourselves, we accept each other." 
I completely get where Bakker is coming from with his summation.  However, there is a temptation in his theology to cheapen grace and to diminish it's costly nature.  I know that this is not Bakker's intent, but I fear that some might take his words and twist them to that end.  Good "works" may not be the means to salvation, but they are evidence of faith and of a walk with Christ.

I also fear that the Sovereignty of God seems to be shoved to the margins of Fall To Grace.  Bakker's parting words seem to bely his Evangelical upbringing, which placed far too much emphasis on the role of the individual in salvation.  I might rephrase it thusly:
"Grace is all about acceptance.  Through Christ, God both mysteriously chooses and accepts us.  And through Christ, God teaches us to accept ourselves and to accept each other." 
But don't just listen to me... read Fall To Grace for yourself.  I've also included links to a couple of more progressive reviews of the book. 

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