Jay Bakker’s Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self and Society, is something of a surprise to me. Bakker, as you might guess, or know, is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, dis-graced (as Bakker puts it) leaders of the PTL club. Jim Bakker as you recall, went to prison and sadly Tammy Faye died not long ago from cancer.
Jay Bakker, candidly reviews his life, its ups and downs. Predictably he, as a young child, had a ball being in a famous and wealthy family. As the family’s fortunes fell, so did his own, and he went the route of many kids in his position: drugs and alcohol. Also, as you might suspect, his hold on faith broke as well.
Like many, Bakker struggled with how he could redeem him life after years of bad choices and bad living. It did not happen over night, but finally he “heard” the words of a friend who patiently stuck with him, repeating again and again, that God’s love never wavered. After long arguments, night after night, often in a fog of alcohol, Jay finally fell to Grace.
And grace is what Jay Bakker preaches, and what he believes with all his heart. He carefully explains the concept to those who may be unaware, largely through the voice of Saint Paul in Galatians, his admitted hero.
Jay was undoubtedly brought up in a fundamentalist mind-set, but as regards the bible, he has grown from that limited view, into a more mature and nuanced understanding. He notes that not all of Paul’s letters may actually be written by Paul, and he notes the work of Robert Wright’s, The Evolution of God, as well as the work of Karen Armstrong, and Henri M. Nouwen.
Those who might shy away from the book on the grounds that it is but another fundamentalist tract, need not worry. I found little in the book that I, as a fairly liberal/progressive Christian, would quarrel with.
What Bakker sets out to do, is to show others how they, steeped in their own screwed up lives, can find a way out of the wilderness through the offering of God’s unlimited grace. Grace, as he explains, is God’s offering of favor to us, completely unmerited by anything we have done or could do.
It is release from the Law, the Law that Paul spoke of as regards the Torah, but also the Law that we impose today in the manner of morals and accepted behavior in a modern world. We don’t have to live up to some mark, God is always offering us the grace of forgiveness and favor.
When one comes to this belief, then and only then, Jay argues, one can by choice begin to see a better way of living, one that is not self destructive and hurtful to others. We can begin to value ourselves as we now realize God values us. And that is the first step. Once we value ourselves we automatically want to do those things that enhance our newfound goodness as humans.
This leads, as we study Jesus’ words and Paul’s, to a realization that love is the controlling factor in the world. It is the aim of our lives, to love and to continue to grow in love, thereby squeezing out the fears, the angers, the greed, and jealousies we are all too prone to.
When love is freely given, not attached to our hope that it will gain us anything (salvation), then we begin to love the doing of things for others more than any other thing. We embody God’s grace, and offer it to others.
This is the way we change hearts and minds, this is the way we build the kingdom.
Perhaps in the most stunning fundamentalist reversal, Bakker has been able to find his way through the ugliness of homosexual bullying that is so prevalent in the fundamentalist world. He has correctly (in my analysis) understood the flimsy “biblical evidence” against homosexuality and come out the other side as a clear and loud voice supporting the gay community.
He, today, preaches to those he calls the freaks and geeks, the unlikely and the unwanted of society. I suspect he brings both comfort and joy to their lives.
While the experienced reading and thinking liberal Christian will not find much new here, those new to faith, or those who are outsiders and wonder if the church has a place for them, will find a welcoming spirit and reason for joy.