Book Review: Messy Grace, by Caleb Kaltenbach
Caleb Kaltenbach, Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction. Colorado Springs, WaterBrook Publishers. 2015. 224 pps. $14.99.
As one who lived life as a lesbian until meeting Jesus at the age of 19, I can say from experience that any discussion on homosexuality will always hit close to home. I have spent a lot of my time as a believer appealing to those in the LBGT community that there is hope in Christ, while at the same time working to equip believers on how to engage in these conversations themselves. If I am not conversing with someone who is currently gay, then I am usually helping someone process how to love a person close to them who is.
Over the years, I’ve realized that most Christians, though not all, understand what the Scriptures have to say about same-sex relationships. They believe homosexual relationships are indeed sin, and that Christ died to set sinners free. However, many Christians I talk to haven’t figured out how to share this truth with men and women in the LBGT community—not only in speech, but also in deed. I’ve met many Christians who feel a tension of wanting to be honest yet gracious, so much so that they slide into despondency or fear.
Unfortunately, I’ve also seen Christians who seem to ignore the grace half of “truth and grace.” Often, these Christians consider any kind of gracious speech to homosexuals as a kind of compromise. They are convinced that sharing “hard truths” is the only avenue available when engaging in these conversations.
All of this is why I am so grateful for Caleb Kaltenbach’s new book Messy Grace. In just over 200 pages, it contains everything I have been attempting to communicate over the years when it comes to how Christians should relate to the LGBT community.
Caleb is a pastor in Simi Valley, California who was raised by his lesbian mother and her partner. This immediately sets the stage for the reader to know that they have access into the experience of someone who has lived life with those in the gay community. Caleb offers amazing insight into this world, allowing the reader to understand more deeply the perspectives and experiences of the gay community, in particular how it views Christians.
At one point, Caleb shares a story about a group of “Christians” at a Gay Pride parade he attended with his mother and her partner. He recalls their signs, covered with statements like “YOU’LL BURN IN HELL.” For many of us, this may seem redundant, unsurprising. We’ve seen or heard clips of these kinds of extreme tactics for some time now. We know that some have taken to evangelize the gay community in this way. But we need to be reminded that Christians have not done the greatest job at loving the gay people we come into contact with; Caleb’s story does that. Instead, he encourages Christians to pursue the gay community the same way God pursued us.
MORE THAN PRACTICAL ADVICE
But Messy Grace offers more than practical advice. He also addresses biblical references to homosexuality and popular misinterpretations of these verses. This is valuable because we all need to be equipped in handling these verses rightly. He lets us know that he’s no scholar, nor has he written any books on the New Testament. That’s not a negative, though, because his explanation of certain texts such as Genesis 2:20-24, Romans 1:26-27, and Ephesians 5:22-33 are very clear and easy to understand.
Finally, Messy Grace works because Caleb does a great job of juxtaposing his unique experiences with that of Jesus, using narratives from the Gospels to give practical examples on how we as Christians should love people well, even when it’s difficult or we feel uncomfortable.
For many pro-gay revisionist scholars and authors, the message and ethics of Jesus is convoluted. But Caleb’s depiction of Jesus is biblical, consistent, and worth emulating, balancing both his sacrificial love for sinners and his absolute holiness. He stays true to the texts, not making Jesus into a character of faux grace but rather showing Jesus to be the full embodiment of both grace and truth. This allows the reader to not only learn from Caleb but to learn from Jesus. Showing that the Scriptures truly are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” ( 2 Tim 3:16).
Messy Grace was a deeply encouraging, inspiring, and convicting read. It not only offers practical advice but fosters a sense of compassion and empathy that the church has often lacked toward the LBGT community. As our culture continues to embrace same-sex relationships more and more, the implications will reach our neighborhoods, our schools, our jobs, and our families, if it hasn’t already. We as believers are not called to disengage from people who are different than us—we are called to love them.
Love doesn’t shy away from getting its hands dirty; in fact, it’s usually very messy. But to this kind of love we are called and I believe by God’s grace, Messy Grace will assist us in just that.