Crazy Love: Francis Chan

Crazy Love

Crazy Love

By Francis Chan

David C Cook

For more information about Crazy Love see the review by Tim Challies.

See also the Crazy Love website which includes video clips and more.

And, finally, join the Crazy Love Facebook page.

You can buy Crazy Love at Amazon.com.

Francis Chan at the 2010 NACC

There was a large part of me that was fully prepared to dislike this book. Every now and again someone pops up on the evangelical market whose book we ‘simply must read’ because it is ‘the best book about Christianity you will ever read.’ I started hearing the name Francis Chan by accident at a blog and then I heard he was speaking at the North American Christian Convention. I hesitated because I’m not a ‘get the next best thing’ kind of guy (I still haven’t seen Avatar for the same reason.) Then I relented, bought the book, and couldn’t stop reading it once I started.

When I started reading the book, I was overcome early by Chan’s echoing of John Piper. “I don’t know about you, but I want my two-fifths of a second to be about my making much of God” (44). That is nearly verbatim Piper (Don’t Waste Your Life). I nearly choked with laughter because so many people are critical of Chan thinking he is ‘emergent’ and here he is channeling John Piper. So much for the emergent title; that’s easily done away with. Then when the first quote in the book was from R.C. Sproul, I passed out cold. (Kidding.)

I pressed on. I kept reading because something about it told me to press on and when I did I discovered that Chan was neither channeling Piper nor emergent, but a pilgrim on a journey—a Jesus follower who is trying to make sense of a faith that scarcely makes sense to those who observe let alone those who practice. If that sounds backwards, it is meant to. I sort of think that is where Chan is coming from. He has it all worked out; and he has none of it worked out. I got the sense while reading this book that Chan is a fellow pilgrim who isn’t afraid of mystery or the unknown or those areas of following Jesus that seem to make no sense.

That, I suspect, and have for some time, is the essence of faith: trusting that things make sense to God even if they do not make sense to us.

I’m not one to write to you that I like that way of living; that I have mastered it; that I delight in it; or that I have somehow found a way to appreciate it. I struggle with God; I’m struggling with faith. I’m Jacob wrestling with God at the Jabbok and hoping for a new name, Israel, Peniel…something, some name that will clarify why God is often quiet towards those whom he loves and those who claim to love him. Here is part of Chan’s point: God is the one who loves crazily. And, to be sure, “It’s not that I believe in love if love believes in me.” (U2)

“When life gets painful or doesn’t go as we hoped, it’s okay if a little of our joy seeps away. The Bible teaches that true joy is formed in the midst of difficult seasons of life” (146).

I think it is a lot easier to write that than it is to believe it, and a lot easier to believe than practice.

I’m sure part of the reason Chan is revolting to some is because he is not afraid to find trees of wisdom growing in otherwise grassless prairies (we typically call them deserts). He is as apt to quote from Henri Nouwen as he is John Piper or from A.W. Tozer or Frederick Beuchner or R.C. Sproul or Annie Dillard or Rich Mullins or Shane Claiborne—and he quotes them, all. But here is where I find Chan most compelling. It’s not that he quotes these people as sources of authority or verity as much as it is that he quotes them because he is demonstrating his own, whatever else we may call it, orthodoxy. That is, he is saying something like, “I’m not saying anything different from these people. I’m just saying it in a different way.”

Hello, Mr Piper.

So he says, being a disciple means following Jesus. Jesus. Not Piper. Not Beuchner. Not Nouwen. Jesus. “How many of us would really leave our families, our jobs, our education, our friends, our connections, our familiar surroundings, and our homes if Jesus asked us to? If he just showed up and said, ‘Follow me’? No explanation. No directions?” (95-96) He continues:

You could follow Him straight up a hill to be crucified. Maybe He would lead you to another country, and you would never see your family again. Or perhaps you would stay put, but He would aske you to spend your time helping people who will never love you back and never show gratitude for what you gave up.

Consider this carefully—have you ever done so? Or was your decision to follow Christ flippant, based solely on feeling and emotions, made without counting the cost? (96)

Hello, Mr Piper.

Seriously, though, this is no easy discipleship that Chan is calling us to. And, probably not ironically, it is the same thing that we read in other people’s work too—Piper, Beuchner, Tozer, Nouwen, Chambers, Buchanan, R.C. Sproul or NT Wright. Speaking of Wright, here’s how he puts it in After You Believe:

Those with sharp eyes may have spotted that the question, ‘How should I behave?’ contains two significantly different questions within it. First, it refers to the content of my behavior: In what way should I behave? In other words, what specific things ought I to do and not to do? But second, it refers to the means or method of my behavior: granted that I know what I ought to do and ought not to do, by what means will I be able to put these things into practice? One of the oldest and best-known moral puzzles, after all, is that we all know what it’s like to do something we knew we should not do, or not to do something we know we should have done. Interestingly, Jesus seems to have given both sides of this question the same answer: ‘Follow me!’ This is both what you should do and how you should do it. (14)

Counting the cost? Following Jesus? Living the crucified life? This is weighty stuff from a so-called emergent so I’m not sure if those who have Chan as their latest whipping boy are reading the same book I read or if they just don’t like him because he’s from California. Chan is not calling for slack Christianity or flimsy Jesus following. He says that following Jesus in this world is like swimming upstream, against the current.  His chapter in Crazy Love called “Profile of the Obsessed” is profound example of this calling to the ‘hard’ following of Jesus. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. “We cannot start believing that we are indispensable to God” (147). Ouch.

When I closed the book, I was challenged; and I have a new author I love to read. Here is a man, a writer, a pilgrim who understands precisely the way I do. He loves the authors I do—Beuchner, Dillard, Nouwen—and quotes from them. Here is a man who is following Jesus and wrote a book about his experience as a follower, what works for him, what cross Christ has called him to bear, and how that is worked out every day in the light and darkness of faith. This is no easy road to travel and I don’t think Chan is writing to say it is. Sometimes he is a bit too critical of his brothers and sisters in Christ, and sometimes I think he makes a bit too much of a big deal about money (as if that is the only way to measure our faith here in America.) But I am with him and I recommend this book to you. It’s worth the read.

His final warning comes from Oswald Chambers, “Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you” (167).

I think that is good, sound advice. Now if only I can practice it.

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2 Comments

Filed under theology

2 responses to “Crazy Love: Francis Chan

  1. Frank

    I like all that you have said about Chan & his writings…I am currently reading it and my spirit agrees with the Spirit of the Book! I think we focus to much on the person, place, or thing; and not the Spirit of a matter. I guess only those whom are spiritual can judge such things….help me (us) Lord!

  2. I don’t know when or where I first heard Francis Chan but just that it stirred something in me what exactly I’m not sure. I am now 55 years old looking back on my life, to a time when I asked the same questions made the same challenges of fellow believers. At that time and even until today there has been no one move my spirit the way the late Keith Green did. If you know Keith you know what I mean. I was a young man early 20’s just out of prison ready to leave it all to tell the world about Jesus.
    I married a wonderful woman had 4 great kids and together we would have gone anyplace Christ asked. I don’t mean to sound like someone trying to ring his own bell, but rather that Francis Chan is not the only one who’s had such visions to leave it all and follow Christ in such a radical way. I listened to messages he’d done on some radical concepts, He advocated the love was so strong and the bonds so tight that he and his Elders were committed to raise the others family should anything ever happen. There have been many other messages that I’ve listened to that have all come together to understand why he has decided to leave his Church and head out into the yet unknown mission field.
    Please forgive me if I sound like an embittered and disgruntled Christian but have to admit to being both to some degree. Time and place don’t allow me to detail my life story. I am now 55 living alone on disability a demise that started in 2000. I had spent 13 years driving back and forth from the Florida Keys after work to Knox Seminary to complete my seminary education. Prior to that I was released on parole in Florida in 1976 where I had served 3 years in prison. In those 3 years all I wanted to do was serve Christ in a way and with a passion that equals Brother Chan’s. Just prior to completing my last2 semesters I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. The cancer was caught in time with surgery. The surgeon we were led to latter revealed to be not only incompetent to perform the complex specialized surgery but had a track record of gross incompetency.
    I could go on but let me try to summarize my feelings. This is a hard thing for me to listen to not just Francis but countless preachers that demand we need to give leave and follow. Well what I haven’t given was taken my health, my relationship of 28 years of marriage and broken relationships with my kids because I was not physically able to be a husband and father just a man fighting for his life.
    I know less now for sure then when I started out as a young new zealous Christian. I don’t know yet, why my life has gone the way it has. I spend my time going to the jail when I can to teach, and use what I have gained in untold physical suffering to minister to those sick and in Hospitals. I and many others like me who do not have the opportunity to leave a successful Church and public Ministry to travel about the world with no worries of financial support. We just serve where we are as we have been called.
    In conclusion I want to say I admire Francis Chan for the stand he takes to call the Church from its sleep just as Keith Green did in the 70s to many of us. I wanted to write this because I just wanted to sound out from the lower ranks there are some of us who have and will be doing battle daily for our health food and shelter. We leave the broken dreams we once had to be answered one day and cherish what we can get out of those relationships with family we can now. I am sorry if I sound tired and cynical today I am.
    The last and actually my main point I have is this. I have heard the Francis Chan’s sing the same so long I just can’t listen anymore. The saddest thing is this. It’s not the world and the wicked that have beaten me back almost to a point of no Faith, it’s those in the Church itself, I see how the Preachers are more motivated to fill the pews with the new and younger generation as I once was. If you stay in Church long enough they will put you out to pastor to make room for the up and coming. I have lived over 35 years in the Church. No hobbies holidays or special interest I gave all I had to the Church and sadly enough now I am too old to sick and just to irrelevant.
    Best of luck to this new generation maybe Francis will reach them maybe we will see a revival of sorts. Me no more holy warrior conferences or prophecy seminars I truly with all my heart just want to learn what it means to know Jesus I am looking for him. Francis Chan has awakened me up though. I am going back to listen to my Beloved Keith Green a mixed up new young musician who had so much contagious love for Christ it’s all I want, it’s all that matters.
    I apologize in advance for the grammar as I only had time for a spell check. I love you Church
    Keith’s wife Melody wrote his auto Biography called “No Compromise” and still has the website “Last Days Ministry” check it out.

    Ray

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