Gay-Affirming Pastor Jay Bakker: “I Am Definitely Questioning the Atonement”

Self-labeled “evangelical punk preacher” Jay Bakker, son of televangelists Jim Bakker and the late Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, has released a new book that calls into question many of orthodox Christianity’s long-held beliefs.

According to the Christian Post (CP), which recently ran a rather lengthy article and interview with the 37-year-old pastor of Revolution Church NYC, Bakker’s new book will encourage “Christians to doubt, question and re-examine their beliefs and the Bible in pursuit of the ‘unknown God of limitless grace’ that [Bakker’s] come to know through his own faith journey.” Faith, Doubt and Other Lines I’ve Crossed is, according to CP, “heavy on love and grace and selective in its assessment of Scripture.”

Writes CP reporter Nicola Menzie:

Although Bakker’s theology may cause some readers to bristle, his demands for a more biblically literate, compassionate and socially-conscious Christian Church certainly hold merit. As the preacher explained to The Christian Post this week, there is plenty that the Church has gotten right in terms of combating poverty and hunger, but he also insists Christians need to re-think the issues he believes much of the community has gotten wrong – especially when it comes to gays and lesbians. Source

Of course, that Jay Bakker is LGBTQ-affirming is no surprise to most Christians. Neither, then, does it shock that Bakker would seek to persuade believers to “doubt, question and re-examine their beliefs and the Bible.” Yet, Amy Spreeman of Stand Up for the Truth draws attention to a graver statement made by Bakker in this CP interview: Jay Bakker, perhaps unsurprisingly to some, appears to deny the atonement.

CP asked of Bakker:

You mentioned deconstructing faith. You also seem to deconstruct the traditional Christian doctrine of the atonement, the belief that Jesus died for the world’s sins. In Faith, Doubt you write on page 58 that a God who asks us to love our enemies…”cannot also require some sort of ‘payment’ or ‘satisfaction’ or ‘substitution.'” Please clarify that. Source

To which Bakker replied:

Yes, I am definitely questioning the atonement and trying to discover how we can see it in a different way. We’ve got this image of God who needs some sort of flesh, some sort of blood, that needs some sort of vengeance to pay for sin. My experience of a loving God who’s asked me to love my enemies – this isn’t a God that demands something before you are accepted. I think Jesus died because Jesus was inclusive. God is inclusive. I think that the idea of God somehow being separated from us was more man’s idea. Source

Commenting on this, Spreeman rightly notes that the atonement

has long been a non-negotiable doctrine of Christianity. The shedding of the blood of the lamb of God for the sins of the world is a rather big deal. You can’t preach about repentance for sins and the hope of a risen Christ without that key element. Source

The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, which Bakker is “trying to discover…in a different way,” is made quite clear in Scripture. The idea that Christ died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice and substitute for sinners, bearing the punishment and wrath of God deserved by men, is vital not merely to faith, but to salvation. As the perfect, unblemished sacrifice (1 Pet. 1:18–19), Christ’s death became the full payment for the sins of those who would believe, satisfying the holy wrath, righteousness and justice of God.

Isaiah 53 not only predicts the suffering and death of Christ long before the incarnation, but it also points the reader to this idea of atonement (Isa. 53:5–6, 12). Numerous other scriptures clearly teach the necessity and reality of the atonement, only a sampling of which shall be offered here:

the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Rom. 3:22–26

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. 5:21

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— Gal. 3:13

he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. Heb. 9:12

The historic creeds and confessions of the church, which concisely teach those doctrines that are present in God’s Word, also affirm the penal substitutionary atonement. As one example, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith reads:

Christ, by His obedience and death, fully discharged the debt of all those who are justified, and by the sacrifice of himself through the blood of His cross, underwent instead of them the penalty due to them, so making a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice on their behalf. Yet because He was given by the Father for them, and because His obedience and satisfaction was accepted instead of theirs (and both freely, not because of anything in them), therefore they are justified entirely and solely by free grace, so that both the exact justice and the rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.

1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 11, Section 3

Jay Bakker says that he “still sees Christ as the messiah and the Son of God” and that he views Jesus as “the closest thing to God.” Of course, the Bible affirms that Jesus Christ is not merely the “closest thing to God,” but is God (John 1:1, 8:24, 58, 10:30–33). Continues Bakker:

In order to deconstruct the atonement theory really [it] all comes from the message of Christ, and the message of love and grace and acceptance and loving your enemies and forgiving those who persecute you. Source

Sadly, by deconstructing the atonement, Bakker is eliminating the greatest expression of love ever offered.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:9–10

As CP rightly notes, Bakker’s work likely will be “filed alongside the works of Peter Rollins, Rob Bell, Brian D. McLaren” and other leaders and voices of the emergent church. And as men such as this continue in their strivings to twist, distort and deconstruct the clear Word of God, those who have built upon the foundation of God’s Word nevertheless can stand firm, knowing that it shall never waver, despite the strongest efforts of its enemies (Matt. 5:18, 24:35; Luke 21:33; Mark 13:31).