It can be dangerous to bring up certain doubts at Church. The BIG doubts. The “OMG I think religion might be organized schizophrenia and I’m freaking out about it” kind of doubts. Because while it would be nice to think that your Bible study leader would rise to the occasion and offer a supportive “It’s gonna be okay. We all have doubts, but we are gonna get through this together.”
Chances are…you’re probably going to find yourself getting peppered with Bible factoids or under a pile of hands getting prayed at, possibly both. And, depending on the denomination you may even find yourself in the pastor’s office for a good talking to about Doubt. A word that somewhere along the way got lumped in with the other non-Church appropriate four letter words.
So rather than exposing your doubts and risking public scrutiny, I think you should buy a copy of Jay Bakker’s new book Faith, Doubt, and Other Lines I Crossed. And before you start it listen to this sermon by Jay so you can hear him tell his story.
Some look at Jay and think he’s unusual because he’s a pastor who’s covered from rump to crown in tattoos. But it’s not his tattoos that set him apart.
In a world where the theological debates between liberals and conservatives look all too similar to the shouting matches on Cable News. Jay is a progressive theologian who’s goal isn’t to convert you to progressive Christianity (although I suspect he’d be happy if you did). He wants to create “places where the words we use to divide ourselves, to distinguish ourselves from one another – heretic and orthodox, liberal and conservative, biblical and unbiblical- aren’t allowed.” Places where the people who don’t buy into the whole Christianity thing can feel free to express their doubts.
And he’ll be the first to tell you that exploring your doubts comes at a cost.
After reading a blogger who criticized him for being a heretic he asked himself:
Why do I even believe all of this? Why do I persist in preaching or trying to figure out God and Jesus? I’m going to keep getting ripped apart by some guy who’s got his own blog. It’s not easy being a people pleasing radical.
But Jay Bakker isn’t new to criticism. In fact he has spent the majority of his life getting criticized personally, theologically, and comedicly. As the son of Tele-evangelists Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker he spent his early year flanked by bodyguards and maids and surrounded by all the Christianity money could buy. But despite his family’s wealth and fame he was bullied throughout elementary school as an overweight, dyslexic, rich kid.
As teenager the criticisms went to the next level, as his parents’ ministry went up in flames after their dirty laundry was paraded through the media. And Jay sat at home watching it all happen on TV. Pastors calling his family the “Cancer of the Body of Christ” and everyone from Johnny Carson to Dana Carvey was taking pot shots. Liberals and conservatives, Christians and comedians pecking at his family like vultures. And there sat Jay 11 years old, on the couch caught in the middle, night after night drinking himself into a careless stupor.
He’ll tell you he would have killed himself except for his unshakeable fear that suicide was a hell worthy sin.
And yet 20 years after this mess, Jay emerged a Pastor who is convinced that forgiveness, doubt, grace, and acceptance are the best weapons we have to put our fractured church back together. The haunting memories of his family’s unraveling, giving him a unique vision of what the Church could look like.
In Faith, Doubt, and Other Lines I Crossed he addresses chapter by chapter the issues that are tearing the Church apart. The big questions. The ones people are afraid to talk about at Church. From new ways to understand Paul’s thoughts on Homosexuality to recasting Heaven and Hell he draws deeply from the liberal tradition of the 20th century. But unlike many guides to liberal theology Bakker isn’t difficult to read. He takes the complex theology of Tillich, Borg, and places them side by side with historical critical readings of the Bible. Recasting their theological arguments into pop culture-savvy language that everyone from confirmation students to construction workers will not only understand, but enjoy. With tongue in cheek examples from Batman, Indiana Jones, and a vision of the afterlife where Bono starts a non-profit in heaven to raise awareness and lobby God to do something about the souls suffering in hell. Giving you permission to doubt your current faith and maybe even discover a different way of looking at the whole faith thing.
And while Jay may not make a believer out of you, perhaps he’ll convince you to see your doubts as an important part of the search for truth. “I am no longer concerned with eliminating doubt-“ he writes, “my faith has become the life partner of my doubt, and I love how cute they are together.”