For months now, a friend and I have been emailing from across the world as we wrestle with, read about, and pray through our interactions with the conversations surrounding the LGBT community (and more recently, the U.S. Supreme Court decision). For me, it’s been a beautiful process of typing out the thoughts and questions in my head and heart and hearing those of my dear friend as well. We’re in different cultures coming from different cultures and I believe that is adding depth (and also more questions) to our discussions.
I’ve recently embraced the privilege and challenge to review a book with a unique perspective on the topics my friend and I have been emailing about. And while I usually keep my thoughts on this matter to those emails and to conversations around the dinner table, I think that Caleb Kaltenbach has a story worth sharing on this topic. His writing style offers a sort of disarming charm that made me feel like I really was sitting across the dinner table from him while reading his words from my computer screen.
Caleb offers a unique and helpful perspective to this conversation: he grew up with parents a part of the LGBT community and became a Christian and later, a pastor. Through this book, he offers his own wrestling with his upbringing and the reaction of “Christians” he observed as a child and how the Bible explains Jesus’ interaction with people throughout His life here on earth. He offers to the reader that the balance between standing firm on truth and extending the grace that we also have been given, is love. “What’s not up for debate,” Caleb writes, “is how we treat people. We must keep loving them regardless of their decision, representing God’s grace and truth as well as we know how.”
The first half of the book offers a back and forth between narrative from Caleb’s life and narrative from the life of Jesus. He offers examples of his interactions with Christians before following Jesus, ones that sadden his heart and mine because of hatred and fear that exists against the LGBT community. He then offers examples and parables from the life and teaching of Jesus that shows how often the response of the church misses the mark of how Jesus taught and lived. For example, he shares of a time when a dear friend of his family laid in a hospital bed as he died of AIDS. As the man’s family stayed far away with their Bible’s open, it was his mom and her partner who showed love and care. Caleb then shares of Jesus’ interaction with the leprous man (a condition shunned by most people of the day) in Matthew 8, as he not only healed him but touched him to do so. I appreciate that the Biblical examples he adds to the conversation are not the usual text when it comes to homosexuality. He offers examples of how Jesus treated people (lepers, adulterers, all of us “while we were yet sinners”) while also explaining God’s design and positive purpose for heterosexual relationships.
In the second half of Messy Grace, Caleb offers his thoughts and reflections on the appropriate response of the American church and of the depth of identity and community offered in the LGBT community. Throughout the book he closes each chapter with questions for reflection, but it was in this section that they were most powerful for me. He paints the picture of a “messy church,” and wonders how many of our churches would respond to those with different views on this from our own. He asks not only: “What would your staff do if an LGBT couple came into your church wanting to be married?” but also: “What if a lesbian wanted to be baptized?” and “What would the reaction be if two men were holding hands in the lobby of your building?”
My criticisms of this book are not of content but simply to editing and flow. Many times Caleb makes a comment about a story that is coming in a future chapter (“what you will read later,” “we will get to that in a later chapter,” “what this book will speak on”). One chapter in particular felt disjointed and scattered (chapter nine). There was half of a word missing at one point (“belie” instead of “believe”). Though these points effect the continuity of the book, I don’t believe they impact the power of the message and story.
As he finishes, Caleb discloses his purpose in writing his first book:
“I’m still thinking through these issues and striving to make sure my opinions are grounded in Scripture. Anyway, I didn’t write this book to tell you what to think. I wrote this book to share my heart with you and hopefully help you think on a deeper level about this issue.”