A Review of “Messy Grace” by Caleb Kaltenbach

The balance of truth and love remains one of the most challenging aspects of the modern Christian’s interaction with the LGBTQ community. How to we love others without losing our convictions? There are good examples of this balance but they are often, admittedly, hard to pick out in the sea of so-called “discernment bloggers” and cultural commentators who use truth as a weapon to bash people and call it “loving.” Caleb Kaltenbach stands out as an alternative example. In Messy Grace Caleb tells his story of growing up with two gay parents, coming to Christ, and learning to “love others without sacrificing conviction.” Here is a book that models the balance of love and truth well.

Kaltenbach serves as a pastor at a church in California, but his life wasn’t always one of gospel ministry. He describes his childhood, growing up in a divorced household with a gay father and a lesbian mother. He attended Gay Pride Parades, Gay Night Clubs, and learned to hate Christians because they hated those whom he loved. While Caleb never experienced same-sex attraction himself, he grew up very much a part of the LGBTQ community. He speaks well of those who loved him and cared from him at that stage of life. Never once do you hear a tone of condemnation, ridicule, or dislike in how he describes others, nor even how he describes his childhood. He models loving others even as he writes about childhood experiences. From start to finish he demonstrates what he wants us to live out as he tells his story.

Kaltenbach weaves together a moving story, but it is a story with a larger point. As someone who has lived in the LGBTQ community, has experienced the anti-gay hatred of other Christians, and has many loved ones in that community, he writes to help us learn about “messy grace.” “Messiness,” he says, “is what happens when you try to live out God’s perfect grace as a flawed person in a flawed world” (5). Is it difficult and awkward and uncomfortable to build bridges and love those who are very different from us? Yes, he says, but it is possible.

“Followers of Jesus have got to learn how to treat people in the LGBT community with love that has no limits and makes no compromises. We have to love people as Jesus does.”

This is our challenge, but it is also our calling. Kaltenbach is a great guide on this.

The book doesn’t simply serve as an autobiography. It is a theological autobiography, pointing readers as much to the example of Jesus and message of Jesus as to the author’s own story. Each chapter utilizes an example from Jesus’ earthly ministry to encourage readers to love like Christ. There is good and healthy challenge for Christians in this book and it is worth out time to read it.

The books twelve chapters do correspond to the author’s personal timeline. We read of his upbringing, his first encounter with Christians, and his first encounter with a Christian Bible study. We follow him as he drops the bomb on his parents, “I am a Christian,” and we walk with him through the tension and strained relationships that follow. But we also get to see him maintain those relationships, navigate complicated questions, and persist in loving those who are disappointed with his newfound faith. His experience can become a guide for our own as he learns to model the love of Christ.

I really appreciated this book. He does not delve into all the arguments against homosexuality that other books do. He mentions them and touches on some of them in chapter 6, giving readers insight into what he was learning at the time. The value of the book, however, is not in its apologetic defense of a Biblical sexual ethic. There are more robust works on that subject. The value of this book is the example of a Christian who loves like Jesus. Kaltenbach’s history in the LGBTQ community, and with his own family, presented him with a challenge that not many of us face. But because he already loved people in that community his navigation of love and truth helps us see how we can face our own challenging situations. Messy Grace gives us hope that we can indeed balance love and truth and in the process look more like Jesus to those outside our own community.

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