If you haven’t read my other post today about truth and doubt, you’ll find it here.
This review took me a long time to write for a number of reasons, but mostly because I was so grieved by the false teaching in “Faith, Doubt and Other Lines I’ve Crossed” by Jay Bakker.
Bakker is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and he writes a lot in his book about his upbringing. Reading the many unChrist-like things people did to him over the years and about the toxic teachings he was raised under saddened me. I am sorry he saw the Bible used to abuse and control people, to generate fear and to hold them hostage, and that some people wrongly used the church discipline guidelines laid out in Scripture. I’ve personally witnessed similar abuses and know what pain they can cause.
I appreciate the openness and vulnerability he showed in writing his book and I have to say that there are a few problems and false gospels (such as the prosperity gospel) he was right to criticize. But as is often the case when a person is exposed to an extreme, when they flee it they go to the opposite extreme. I once heard Pastor R. W. Glenn say that all heresy falls in two camps on either side of the true gospel: legalism and license. This was the overall sense I got from “Faith, Doubt and Other Lines I’ve Crossed” and Bakker’s description of his legalistic upbringing.
Bakker writes in a very personal and engaging manner. That kind of vulnerability takes courage, and for that personableness to translate on paper I think is a gift. But that cannot make his unbiblical theology acceptable.
This book is full of heresy and I absolutely don’t recommend reading it. If you’ve read my earlier post, you’ll know that the reason I read this book was because Jay Bakker directly asked me to via Twitter after I was critical of his comments to The Christian Post. Unfortunately, his book did nothing to dissuade me from earlier criticism. Instead it made it even more clear that Bakker’s theology is not biblical or sound, rather it is an idol produced by the desires of his heart and made by his own hands.
Sticking just with major doctrines that are laid out in Scripture, he departs from orthodox teachings with regards to the character of God, substitutionary atonement, the Bible, sin and hell. These are not small doctrinal differences. These are not places where there is room for disagreement among Christian brethren.
The irony is that in the book he criticizes people for making God into the idol they want him to be, lumping false gods in with orthodox views of God, but doesn’t seem to realize he has made his own idol. Bakker has made his own god, rather than accepting the one that is revealed by the entire canon of Scripture. For how heavily he relies on existentialist Paul Tillich whose heretical theology turned God, the fall and sin (and more) into mere symbols, perhaps he has only adopted his idol from Tillich. In either case, the result is an idol made from human hands, not the God of the Bible.
Rejecting Inerrancy and the Authority of Scripture
In this book, Bakker attacks the Bible, arguing against its inerrancy and its authority. That leads to his many errors and inconsistencies. At one moment he’ll elevate Paul’s words about love, but then ignore Paul’s statements about God’s wrath because he doesn’t like that kind of God.
He attacks the canon, declares that “the Bible isn’t the place for answers,” and claims that it “wasn’t meant for us to read.”
I’m not an expert on the history of the canon (I recommend apologist Dr. James White for more on that subject), but I have read what the Bible says about itself. One of the things it says comes from 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” So it isn’t where you go to understand algebra, but it is where we are supposed to turn to walk in faith.
Ultimately, instead of interpreting all Scripture by all Scripture Bakker argues in his book that parts of it are forged, picks and chooses which the parts he accepts and sets two verses above all others: “love your neighbor as yourself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” are superior to all the rest.
God and His nature
It is abundantly clear in “Faith, Doubt …” that Bakker doesn’t like the idea of a God who can be wrathful or who defines certain acts as sinful. Nor does he like the idea of us knowing anything certain about God.
At one point he writes, “I am beginning to doubt the benefit in our definitive statements about God.” Wow. What a troubling statement, that is echoed constantly by the postmodern “church.” Postmodernism says there can’t be certainty, there can’t be truth. That is precisely why that worldview conflicts with biblical Christianity which says, God told us the truth, it is in this book (the Bible) and it is for everyone.
The Bible doesn’t reveal everything, but it certainly has plenty of definitive statements in it. Numbers 23:19 says that God does not lie or change his mind. John 4:24 says that God demands that He be worshipped in spirit and in truth. His character, from his wrath to his incredible mercy, and his faithfulness and love are all stated over and over again in Scripture.
Bakker says, “The God I was raised with was very particular about the things you did and did not do. My life was about how to please God, how to get God’s approval. So either I was doing and not doing the right things and God was happy, or I was sinning and God was disappointed in me. God, of course, was always disappointed with me. This God broke me.”
Sadly, Bakker it is clear from reading Bakker’s book that he was raised under law without the gospel. There was no grace to be found or relied upon! Despair is the natural result and the tragedy of hearing all law and no gospel. Bakker felt condemned by the law because he is condemned by it, just as we all are unless we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. Romans chapter 8 explains that the law could not save us and that is why God sent Jesus as an offering for sin. But merely condemning us wasn’t the point of the law. The law was meant to be our teacher. In Galatians 3:24, Paul writes that the law was our “tutor” (NKJV) to bring us to Christ so we could be justified by faith.
Bakker openly rejects the wrathfulness of God saying, “I don’t see how we can credit God with these attributes of holiness and justice and wrath and vengeance. I am not convinced by those who say we have to accept the tension between love and wrath, grace and holiness; that we have to take this on faith, have it remain a mystery. Because Paul clearly says that while faith and hope remain, the greatest of these is love. Love, Paul says, trumps everything. Without love, everything else is nothing.”
He also attacks the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, saying he’s “always had a problem with a God who needs flesh to be burned or killed.” He criticized the “idea” that “Jesus died for our sins.” He argues with the typical postmodern gambit of making a declarative statement sound like a question saying, “Maybe Jesus came to tell us that this curtain of separation was an illusion. That God was never in there. That the law was fiction. That the God who demanded sacrifice was an idol. God was not changing things and coming out from behind the curtain. God was never found behind the curtain.”
He may not understand it or want to accept it, but the Bible does say that we are sinners and Jesus came to save us from our sins. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement is supported throughout scripture and very memorably in the books of Isaiah, Romans, Hebrews. The scarlet thread of redemptive history runs all the way from the Garden of Eden to the cross. It is true. Even Paul wrote about God’s wrath and the reason Jesus died. In Romans 5:6-9 it says, “ For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Jesus saves us from God’s wrath.
Embracing Doubt to Excuse Revisionism
Bakker said it was doubt that “allows me to read the Bible differently, to find in it a God who is not vengeful. Doubt allows me to read the Bible through different eyes.”
Is that doubt? Or is it rebellion, pain and pride? Doubt appears to be his excuse for suppressing truth and that is dangerous ground to tread. He chooses to revise what is written because he cannot stand God as revealed plainly in the Bible. And in this case, it results in the very thing Bakker claims to oppose: idolatry. The making of god in your own image.
Whenever we reject the Bible as the source of truth for who God is then we are simply making an idol as well. Unfortunately, that is precisely what Bakker has done. He has chosen the things about God he likes and rejected ones he hasn’t by embracing human scholars who have done it already. He’s reading the Bible like so many before him, like Thomas Jefferson who wanted to retain merely the ethics of Jesus Christ but without “dogma” or the supernatural.
I’ve already touched on his revisionism regarding the atonement. A few of the other subjects that become revised in Bakker’s personally devised theology are hell and sin. Bakker also claims that, “The hell that exists, I think, is the hell on earth.” He revises grace to make sin permissible, rather than heeding Paul’s warning in Romans 6, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
Bakker says some absolutely outrageous things about Jesus in his book.
He makes the strange claim that when Jesus says “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me” on the cross, that He “doubts the very existence of God in his moment of greatest suffering.”
That is just plain wrong. It’s an impossibility for Jesus, who is God, to doubt the existence of God. As the second person of the Trinity who claimed oneness with the Father in John chapter 10 that claim cannot be true.
He also blasphemes when he claims that Jesus sinned and “fulfilled the law by breaking it.”
“Jesus’s version of fulfilling the law, in practice, looked like this: eating with sinners and rebuking the followers of the law. He ate with the outcast. Criticized the righteous. Fulfilled the law by breaking it,” Bakker claims.
He also writes, “In fact, Jesus sinned. I’m serious. To the teachers of the law, eating with sinners was a sin. Talking with a Samaritan woman was a sin. Picking and eating grain on the Sabbath was a sin. To the teachers of the law, Jesus didn’t say, “Great job! You got it right. Here I am, and you guys are the faithful who stuck with it.”
All of this shows a massive misunderstanding of the gospels. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were in the wrong because their hearts were full of wickedness and because they had added a system of works righteousness on top of the law. The teachers of the law had added to them man-made traditions, that Jesus exposed as wrong.
Jesus did not sin. Hebrews 4:15 states that he was tempted but “was without sin.” He completely kept God’s laws, and it is through His sinlessness and His sacrificial death, we can be redeemed.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Philippians 3:9, “ … not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
Turning to Man Rather Than God to Satisfy doubt
As I mentioned in my earlier post about doubt, Christians needs to seek God when they struggle with doubt. Turning elsewhere will only lead to error.
Colossians 2:6 warns against just that: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”
Bakker states outright that it is the not the Bible that strengthens him, but rather a man. He turns to Paul Tillich’s words about doubt to strengthen him when he doubts. That sounds like a recipe for theological error if there ever was one especially if you examine Tillich’s belief system. Before reading Bakker’s book I’d never heard of Tillich so I had to do some digging.
Tillich was an existentialist philosopher who advocated a gospel that was most certainly not the gospel laid out in scripture. Thanks to a comparative series on Jeremy Bouma’s website, I learned that Tillich believed God was symbol for ultimate meaning — not the Triune God who created all that exists. His theology rejects original sin (and rejects sin as doing things considered immoral by God), views the fall of man as symbolic and Jesus as symbolically the Christ — Christ because people believed in Him, not because he actually was God. So it is no surprised when Bouma writes that, “the Cross is viewed existentially, rather than as a literal event at which God objectively dealt with sin.” This is bunk, eternally damning bunk because believing this kind of gospel will not save.
Not only did Bakker turn there instead of to God’s word for comfort and understanding, he wants everyone else to accept the idol he’s created by embracing his doubts, seeking out man’s wisdom and revising Christianity.
Bakker rails against idolatry in this book, yet he has raised himself up and created his own idol. He makes himself the judge of what parts of the Bible are true, and redefines the meaning of the scriptures as he sees fit.
His theology is a deadly rejection of Scripture’s plain truths and accepting it would be a grave mistake. I pray that God gets a hold of Jay Bakker’s heart and convicts him of his errors and that he repents and finds true grace — not the imaginary grace he dreams up that comes from a God who has wrath. But the deep and amazing grace that comes with the realization that Jesus paid for our sin when he went to the cross, willingly suffering and bled, died and rose again to reconcile us to God.