Sin and Grace

As I mentioned in my post last week on “Hate the sin…”, there seems to be a backlash among Christian writers. Everyone is up in arms over survey results showing that the church is primarily known for its judgmentalism and hypocrisy. In an effort to repair the damage and improve our image—and hopefully move closer to the truth—a number of noted authors are coming out with books proclaiming God’s grace and acceptance of everyone and everything. The problem is many of them are ignoring the reality and consequences of sin. Here are my thoughts on three recent reads:

Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, is perhaps the best known of these. He actually does away with hell in an effort to portray God’s all-inclusive love. There have been numerous responses to Bell’s thoughts. I recommend Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell for starters.

Andrew Marin’s book, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation With the Gay Community, was recommended by another blogger, so I picked it up at the library. I love much of what he has to say. His intention is to build bridges between the church and the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) community, starting with the church. He vividly describes the judgmentalism and condemnation we so often dish up, and how that affects those who are targeted by our tirades.

More importantly, he offers suggestions for circumventing the battle lines that have been drawn up on both sides. I hope the church is paying attention. I know that I now have a better sense of how to approach this divisive issue.

However, in his proposal to just love people where they’re at, even after they claim to be believers, and to let the Holy Spirit do all the convicting, Marin ignores a number of verses where the church is told how to deal with sin in its midst. No matter your view on GLBT issues, we all sin, so this is a real and important concern.

Finally I picked up Jay Bakker’s book, Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self, and Society. Bakker is the son of disgraced televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. He was just twelve years old when his family disintegrated. In the fallout, he relates, “… I gave up and did what any frustrated son of fallen televangelists would do… I rebelled.”

“Rebelled” puts it mildly. He was an adult before he finally discovered that you can’t run from God’s love. After rejecting the southern legalism he was raised in, Jay fell in love with the God of grace.

As I read the first half of the book, I initially concluded that Bakker, in his enthusiasm about grace, also confuses salvation with sanctification. Then I arrived at Chapter 12. Here he address the problem of sin in the church, not by compromising God’s standards, but by helping people with uncompromising love and compassion. Under the topic of restoration, he writes,

In the Christian context, restoration means helping people who falter. Instead of condemning and rejecting them … we restore them. It means saying: “OK, you’ve screwed up, but God hasn’t given up on you.”

Unfortunately, Bakker uses the handling of Ted Haggard by New Life Church as an example, a situation he clearly knows little about. He condemns the congregation for not showing grace. In doing so, Bakker denounces a group of hurting people who had nothing to do with the decisions made at that time—decisions dictated by church overseers Haggard had appointed, and the bylaws Haggard himself had written. Still, in my opinion Bakker is on the right track. He manages to balance the seriousness of sin with God’s lavish grace. I definitely recommend this book.

The church is finally realizing that attacking sinners because they sin is not only unproductive, it goes against God’s very nature of unconditional love.  As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:18, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?”

Next time, I’ll look at the rest of that verse… “Are you not to judge those inside?”

Have you read any of these books, or other books on the same topic? What are your thoughts? How important is it for the church to confront sinning members?

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