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lonesomepoint

lonesomepoint

Son of a Preacher Man: My Search for Grace in the Shadows - Jay Bakker This book tells several stories:

-Jim Bakker's Praise the Lord ministry and its downfall, from his son Jay Bakker's viewpoint.

-Jay's life after the end of PTL, which was tortured enough due to his father's imprisonment but made much worse by most other Christians' giving the Bakkers the cold shoulder.

-His discovery of God's love and grace, which he knew nothing about due to having been neither taught about it nor shown it by any Christians he had known. His learning process continued even after he started a ministry for young people from subcultures that are typically shunned by conservative churches.


I appreciated the inside story of what happened with PTL, because I was too young to know anything about it (being about five years younger than Jay Bakker). He insists his father never had any intention of defrauding anyone, and explains that the Bakkers and PTL had another side besides the wealth and materialism everyone decries: Jim Bakker also proclaimed God's unconditional love and fervently wished to serve members of PTL.

Jay also makes clear that certain other Christian evangelists--mostly Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart--were obviously out to get his father and PTL. When Jim's scandal broke, Swaggart publicly called Bakker "a cancer on the body of Christ"; and while he somewhat made up for it later by agreeing to write a letter urging that Jim Bakker be paroled (when other prominent Christian leaders refused to), Falwell behaved even worse, taking over not only PTL and Heritage USA (the Christian theme park Jim Bakker built) but confiscating even some of the family's personal possessions and crassly auctioning them off on his own television program. (Jay states that Swaggart wanted to engineer a corporate takeover, but does not adequately explain how Falwell got involved. I can only guess Falwell used the same method--corporate takeover.)

Assuming Jay didn't exaggerate, this is some of the most ridiculous behavior I've ever heard of from a Christian evangelist. I have no idea why one would use his pulpit to sell other people's personal property; and Falwell's audience should have promptly and permanently left him. If that doesn't clinch that Falwell was not a nice man and not a great witness for Jesus Christ, this might: Falwell apparently also used his TV program to call Jim Bakker a homosexual, with no evidence whatsoever. What a creep.
Swaggart's position toward PTL might have been a little more complex: Jay initially suggests that Swaggart was simply jealous of Jim Bakker's wealth and popularity and considered Jim Bakker a "rival" (they were both Assembly of God ministers and were both on TV); but Jay later mentions that Swaggart had some sort of theological disagreements with Jim Bakker.


I agree completely with Jay Bakker's emphasis on God's grace and love and his insistence that churches must demonstrate God's grace by welcoming all individuals regardless of condition or appearance. I can't say much more than that, because I wasn't raised in church and I haven't really witnessed firsthand church members behaving judgmentally or as though they can earn salvation by behaving well. (Although I know people who have been in that kind of church environment and had their Christianity damaged by it. My best friend would probably still be alive but for the hypocrisy, intolerance and bad behavior of the Christians she knew.)

I should mention that a reader who has heard anything secondhand about Jay Bakker's ministry and views might suspect him of being both a political liberal and a theological liberal. He has said (not in this book) that he's "more [socially] liberal than most," but it's unlikely that he's a theological liberal, for several reasons. First, there's nothing theologically liberal about saying God is a God of grace and love; the Bible says that. Second, Jay says until he started his ministry to youth subculture kids, he had never really read the Bible, at least not thoroughly. (His father has said the same thing in his own book--that he never read the Bible all the way through until he went to prison.) That could affect his ministry either way, but my interpretation is that it's hard to interpret the Bible from a theologically liberal viewpoint if you haven't read the Bible much anyway. Third, he explicitly states that his belief in God's grace and boundless love doesn't mean he as a pastor gives anyone a license to sin, only that he welcomes people of any appearance and outward behavior in his church. As for the other kind of liberalism...Baker says nothing more specific about his social views and nothing whatsoever about his political views if he has any. (I would imagine he doesn't care much; besides that he's busy trying to serve people and show them the grace and love of Christ, he's not an intellectual. He says he did very poorly in school and dropped out, partly because the trauma of his father's downfall messed him up and partly because he's dyslexic.)

The above was true at the time Jay Bakker wrote this book, but that was over ten years ago, and if you research him now you'll find that his exact views are apparently in flux. Among other things, he now cites Paul Tillich as an influence and seems to share such an existentialist viewpoint, downplaying the idea that the Bible has all the truth. I'm dismayed: he's gone from doubting the church to doubting the Bible.