Continuing with a review of Bakker’s book:
In addition to a note from coauthor Martin Edlund at the end, several moving testimonies from others besides Bakker himself are included in the book, taking up even a couple of chapters, and centered particularly on the issue of homosexuality, or, “the super sin.” There’s no ambiguity here – Bakker is on a mission to change the majority evangelical opinion, and his argument is straightforward: the Bible simply does not condemn gay marriage as we conceive of it in the contemporary context. Bakker walks through the 1 Timothy, 1 Corinthians and Romans passages that allegedly forbid the practice, providing what for some will be a convincing case for a totally new reading. If nothing else, we’re reminded by Bakker not to “miss the forest for the trees” by always keeping Jesus in mind. And to be sure, Bakker is not exclusively concerned about being “gay-affirming” as he calls it. Rather, it’s just one timely example he chooses to focus on because of its relevance for his context.
In sum, what does Jay Bakker want you and I to do? Examine and remove all boundaries we might be putting on grace. That mantra of hating the sin but loving the sinner doesn’t usually work like it’s supposed to. Remember instead Jesus’ sacrifice, which Bakker contends is nothing short of revolutionary, leading him to exclaim after his own experience: “I’ve felt wild gratitude. I have grace to thank for that.”
Some further questions:
1. At one point, Bakker asserts the following: “Because no man is innocent, no man is guilty. We’re all pardoned. We’re all saved” (p. 152). Obviously taken out of context, these words still seem to hint at universalism, and Bakker offers no explanation or argument. If he wants to argue for universalism, that is one thing, but is mentioning it in passing like this a wise move? This oversight appears to further underline the original problematic: can grace be emphasized too much, if attention to law, righteousness, justice, etc., is ignored?
2. Bakker devotes several pages to the question of whether Ted Haggard’s church should have offered him a chance at restoration in their community, and wonders about the incredible testament to God’s forgiveness this could have been to society. While this might be a great idea, I wonder if the bigger problem started when Ted Haggard was allowed to become a Christian rock star in the first place – a problem that a good dose of accountability and community could have prevented. Sinners don’t just fall off of cliffs usually. They have to be standing too close to the edge first!
3. Lastly – and this is related to #2 -Bakker says that in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul lets his anger get the best of him with his instructions to “judge those inside the church”, as opposed to those outside (p. 142). Should Bakker reconsider what Paul is really saying here about “judging”? If judgment within the church is a hurdle for Christianity today, is not a lack of holiness also a major problem? Isn’t some “judgment” possible and necessary without dethroning grace? Maybe in practice and in Bakker’s church this is not so, but the book gives a different impression.
Despite these relatively peripheral, critical reflections though, I should say once more that Bakker is true to his central purpose, which is to remind us of God’s grace, and to clearly distinguish this grace from Christianity’s all too frequent legalistic manifestations in churches both today and throughout history. This is the indispensable message he brings that should console and liberate us as we continue to stumble along in our faith journeys together.