For the past couple years I've been attentive to Jay Bakker's ministry - following his twitter feed and subscribing to the Revolution NYC podcast. I have yet to watch the One Punk Under God, but it's been on my list for a while. What I have seen and heard from Jay, I've found to be pretty interesting, and so I was excited to have the chance to review his latest book Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & Society.
A couple weeks ago, just as I was a couple chapters into the book, I mentioned that this might be my favorite book of 2011, and that still holds true. What Jay has done is crafted a fantastic, brief, and easy to understand work of practical theology, unpacking the implications of grace.
Jay draws from his own life, recounting some of the hardships that he faced as a child, with the scandals that turned the Bakker name into front-page news and fodder for late night comedians, while Jay was only eleven, to battles with dyslexia and alcoholism. As he notes, the faith he had during his teen years only served as a "cold comfort" rooted in a form of evangelical legalism with little personal understanding of grace. Attempts to "get right with God" always seemed to fall short. After hitting rock bottom the insight of friends and a careful study of Scripture, especially the Pauline epistles, led him to a place where Jay finally understood that, "Paul's message wasn't about guilt and punishment. It was about acceptance; it was about forgiveness; and it applied to me!" (pg. 17).
This book is rooted in Jay's personal story, but it is far from a personal memoir. Jay goes on to unpack Paul's writings on law and grace, drawing primarily from Galatians, but using the other epistles as well for reference points. As someone who tends to focus on the Gospels and the book of James instead of Paul's writings because of the ways they have been used (and occasionally abused), I really appreciated Jay's analysis and will go back to these texts with a fresh look. Overall, the book spoke to me deeply about how God's claim on us is greater than all our attempts (sometimes subtle, sometimes not) to "earn" God's favor. Jay speaks to a wide-spread (if not universal) doubt Christians often wrestle with around acceptance and genuine forgiveness, and does it with excellence.
Jay speaks to how, when we truly grasp the concept of grace we will change (and be challenged) as individuals and as a community. Near the end of the book he provides a specific argument to how the idea of grace applies to those in the gay and lesbian community. If you are already familiar with the standard interpretations around inclusion, you won't find anything new here. Given that Jay's book will reach an audience unfamiliar with those interpretations, some will be challenged by this section. Even if you disagree with Jay over this issue, I'd encourage you to listen to Jay's point of view.
This book attempts to take on some big theological issues in an easy to understand way. Jay's story speaks to me personally, and I sure it will for others as well. I'd certainly recommend it to others.
(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book as part of Ooze Viral Bloggers for review. Just getting the book for free didn't influence my opinion).