As I do most years, I’ve laid aside most of my usual fiction reading during Lent to pick up works of theology, Biblical studies, spiritual memoir or otherwise vaguely-religious (or sometimes specifically irreligious) non-fiction. This year, the start of Lent happily coincided with the release of a book I’d been waiting for: Jay Bakker’s Faith, Doubt and Other Lines I’ve Crossed: Walking With an Unknown God.
There’s a lot of material here that will be quite familiar to anyone who’s read Bakker’s Fall to Grace, which I read quite recently. Once again, Bakker presents a theology that grows organically out of his own messy life experiences, a theology centred firmly on God’s grace, interpreted in the broadest possible sense. He has a particular emphasis on including gays and lesbians in God’s grace, an emphasis that has made Bakker a bit of a pariah in some conservative evangelical circles where he was formerly celebrated. In this book Bakker challenges other Christians, particularly Christian leaders, who may be secretly affirming of the LGBT community but afraid to come out and say so because of the damage it will do their ministry or the attention it will divert from other important causes they support. To Jay Bakker, this unwillingness to speak out is sin, a sin he is not afraid to call by its right name. That’s the part of this book that will stay with me longest, because it hits closest to home: I am not a religious leader, but I am a member of a conservative Christian denomination and I disagree with my church’s teaching about homosexuality. How great is my responsibility to speak out? How wrong am I when I keep silent?
Beyond this specific focus, the book explores the subjects of faith and doubt more generally, particularly in context of the Bible. Jay Bakker’s own understanding of Biblical criticism has brought him to a point where he can discount difficult passages in Paul’s letters by suggesting that that letter, or that passage, does not originate with Paul but is the work of a later author. This, of course, is mainstream Biblical scholarship among more liberal Christians but is anathema to conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, who believe in the inspiration of all parts of Scripture equally and thus have to expend a great deal of mental energy harmonizing apparently contradictory passages. Viewed in this context, Jay Bakker’s crossing of lines may appear to be a fairly conventional story: a conservative Christian crossing the line into a more liberal approach to faith and sacred texts. What makes his reflections worth reading, to me, is Bakker’s celebration of doubt as an essential element of faith. He’s not afraid to contradict Biblical writer James, who condemns doubt as a bad thing: in Bakker’s view, it’s OK to live in uncertainty. There’s far too much certainty among both conservatives and liberals, and as someone who spends a fair bit of my own spiritual journey wandering between faith and doubt, I find Jay Bakker’s writing invigorating even when I don’t agree with every conclusion he reaches.