There are many voices critiquing the North American church today. The voices come from both within and without; from those who love the church and those who hate it. We all know that there is something wrong. But what? In many cases the prescription is the same while the cure varies widely. In his new book Crazy Love, first-time author Francis Chan, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, regular speaker at Passion conferences and other events, and the guy who recorded that "Just Stop and Think" evangelistic video where he walks for miles holding a surfboard, takes his opportunity to challenge the church. "This book," he says, "is written for those who want more Jesus. It is for those who are bored with what American Christianity offers. It is for those who don't want to plateau, who would rather die before their convictions do." It is a book that is meant to change the way Christians live their lives.
There are two ways of critiquing the church. We can critique out of love or out of disgust. Chan is committed to critiquing the church as an act of love. In a recent interview, when asked about the emergent church, he said this: "As a pastor I hear a lot of emergent leaders talk about what is wrong with the church. It comes across as someone who doesn't love the church. I'm a pastor first and foremost, and I'm trying to offer a solution or a model of what church should look like. I'm going back to scripture and seeing what the church was in its simplest form and trying to recreate that in my own church. I'm not coming up with anything new. I'm calling people to go back to the way it was. I'm not bashing the church. I'm loving it." And his love for the church is obvious throughout this book.
The format of Crazy Love is straightforward and effective. Chan dedicates three chapters to renewing our understanding of the character of God and seven chapters calling Christians to examine themselves. Within the book are two ongoing themes that are going to get people talking.
The first theme is that we must painstakingly examine ourselves. We cannot assume we are saved, or to use the biblical metaphor, we cannot assume that we are the good soil. Chan calls the reader to a serious self-inventory through a chapter that provides a profile of the lukewarm. He concludes, "a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there's no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are `lukewarm' are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven." God wants all or nothing.
The second theme is deeply counter-cultural, going against the stream of both Christian and secular culture. It is this: live your best life later. Chan wants to see Christians living differently--living in a way that is markedly different from those around them. He wants to see Christians forgoing much of what we consider necessary, what we consider our due, in order to focus on treasures that are eternal. He wants us to get outside the realm of what is comfortable to us and focus instead on radical obedience. "God doesn't call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn't come through."
These two themes and a focus on the Scriptures serve to create a powerful and deeply challenging book. There is a very obvious commitment here to teach Scriptural principles from the Scriptures and to invite the reader to verify what he is writing from those same Scriptures. Not surprisingly, the book's weakest chapter is the one that depends least on the Bible. It is a chapter providing examples of men and women who have made radical choices to live radically different. At least a couple of examples are of people who are probably not the best examples overall because as they've jettisoned their old lives, they've also jettisoned too much good theology.
That small critique aside, I found that this is a paradigm-shaking book with a message that Christians desperately need to hear. Too many of us are living too safely and too easily. But for the brief moments we spend at church each week, we are practically indistinguishable from the unbelievers around us. This is not the way it is meant to be. The church could use a loving exhortation and Chan delivers well.
If you can read just one book this year, let Crazy Love be the one book.
It's that good. It's beautiful, hard-hitting, easy to read, convicting, life-transforming.
Remember a time when you had fallen in love? How everything in your life seemed to change? You did some crazy stuff. THAT'S exactly how our lives should change, if we truly fall in love with God.
Here is a summary of each chapter of the book, to give you a preview. I'll say it again, READ THIS BOOK!
This book is to convince you that by surrendering yourself totally to God's purposes, He will bring you the most pleasure in this life and the next.
Our problem isn't working harder, but realizing who God is, how "crazy" his love for us is, and falling in love with God. Because when you're wildly in love with someone, it changes everything in your life.
On the average day, we live caught up in ourselves. It's crazy that we think today is just a normal day to do whatever we want with. Do you live with the fact that perhaps today you will die? Life is all about God and not about us at all.
The greatest good on this earth is God. Period. God's one goal for us is Himself. Do you believe that God is the greatest thing you can experience in the whole world?
Remember the parable of the soils. DO NOT ASSUME YOU ARE GOOD SOIL. Most American churchgoers have thorns that choke any seed that is in them. A relationship with God simply cannot grow when money, sins, activities, favorite sports teams, addictions, or commitments are piled on top of it.
Jesus clearly states over and over he wants all or nothing. We can not give him leftovers, we cannot give him only what doesn't hurt us or only what doesn't put us at risk.
To change our hearts, what we value, what we risk, how we act, we don't need more guilt or more rules, we just need to be in love with God. Because when you're wildly in love with someone, it changes everything.
Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.
God wants us to trust Him with abandon. He wants to show us how He works and cares for us. He doesn't call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn't come true.
People who are obsessed with Jesus care more about the Kingdom than their own lives being shielded from pain or distress, live lives that connect them with the poor, will do things that don't make sense in terms of success or wealth, will seek humility, take joy in loving people, will be known as givers, not takers, will orient their lives around eternity, and will be characterized by committed, settled, passionate love for God.
There are people who really do live with a crazy love for Jesus, and if you look at their lives, it will eliminate every excuse for not living a radical, love-motivated life for Him.
How you live your days becomes how you have lived your life.
Love. Risk. Listen to the Spirit. Be committed to live each day as if it is your last before you meet Jesus.
on June 7, 2009
I think the message of Crazy Love is GREAT. Christians need a wakeup call, jump start, etc. I have no doubts this book was inspired divinely. I just don't feel that the way it was presented is as divinely inspired.
Chan spends the first eighty pages right on target with his message: Christians need to live as Christ called us. We should live sacrificially, we should live completely and totally sold out to Him. But Chan's method is sometimes very disturbing. He makes the assertion that if one believes in Christ, but doesn't follow His commands, then that person isn't going to Heaven. Pages 83-84 he states:
As I see it, a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there is no such thing. To put it plainly, church goers who are "lukewarm" are not christians. We will not see them in Heaven.
He defines "lukewarm" as someone who does not follow Christ's commands. We're all guilty of that. So I can lose my salvation? So am I even really saved in the first place? Does one sin after accepting Christ negate my accepting of Christ?
We all sin, even as Christians. By sinning, we are disobeying God's commandments. Because we all still sin, we are all a little "lukewarm." Some are "hotter" than others who are "colder." This I understand. But Chan fails to mention what "temperature" at which we all get to spend eternity with Christ in fellowship. He says that lukewarm Christians will not go to heaven. Mr. Chan, I don't believe it's a gray scale, it's whether you accept Christ as your savior or not. If you do believe he loved you enough to die in place of you to save you from original sin, then you go to Heaven to be with Him forever. If not, you don't.
If Chan's implications are true, then WHO exactly HAS salvation? Romans 3:23 says that we all sin. Paul spends half of chapter 7 of Romans outlining his own struggle with sin. So I can't expect to see the Apostle Paul in Heaven, because by Chan's suppositions Paul isn't there? Even if I manage to get there, which by Chan's suppositions, I won't because I disobey God.
It takes him 86 3/4 pages to mention the concept of grace. This seems to be the turning point of the point, where the shovel goes from digging the hole, to refilling it.
Chan's vehicle for change seems to be guilt and fear. Romans 8:1 has one cure for that, while 1 John 4:18 has the other one.
This book is great for Christians who need a kick in the butt. It's also simultaneously not great for young Christians first learning to walk, because it is perilously close to condemning at times, and fails to mention grace until midway through the book. Chan seems to imply (and frequently has to apologize for such implication) that in order to prove that you love God, you have to live "crazy." If "works-based salvation" were a circle on the floor, Chan dances dangerously around the outside from all directions.
He could have simply said that works are a manifestation of your faith and salvation, and not a precursor to it. Faith happens first, salvation immediately follows, then works is evidence of the faith. It is devoid of the discussion of grace until midway through the book.
I understand that his implications that without the works, the faith can't be proven alive. He also fails to mention that some people are called to live incredibly mediocre and mundane lives, in which they go to work, make money, and donate generously to charities and to bankroll the missionaries. Jesus does say to the rich young man to sell all his possessions and "Follow me." This right young man thought so highly of his own possessions, that Jesus wanted to prove a point. But what of Abraham who demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice Isaac? The willingness is key. If we are not willing to sacrifice all we have to God, then we are lukewarm. This is where Chan isn't abundantly clear, and his message can be misinterpreted easily for "works-based salvation."
But the message at its core is good. Just be careful in recommending to young Christians.
on August 24, 2009
I am not one to throw the baby out with the bath water so despite my few hesitations I like much of what Pastor Chan has to say. The first three chapters are very good. My concern comes in how he gives with one hand while he takes with the other. For example, in chapter four he says "don't assume you are the good soil" (p. 67) and he asks you to "take a searching, honest look at your life" (p. 68). He then gives multiple examples of what it means to be lukewarm. My guess is a lot of people are going to take his lukewarm test in chapter 4 and decide they might be a little lukewarm only to discover in chapter 5 he considers lukewarm believer to be "an oxymoron, there is no such thing." (p. 83-84). And yet he goes on to say "I don't want true believers to doubt their salvation as they read this book." (p. 87) and "I'm not saying that when you mess up it means you were never really a Christian in the first place (p. 88). After offering those reassurances he's back to taking them away on pages 97-98: "I know that this whole swimming upstream, pursuing Christ, taking up your cross, counting the cost thing isn't easy. It's so hard, in fact, that Jesus said the road is narrow and few will actually find it...and fewer still among those who are rich. Like the parable of the sower, don't assume you are the good soil; don't assume you are one of the few on the narrow way." Then on page 101 back to offering reassurance: "My fear in writing the previous chapter is that it evokes in you only fear and guilt." How do I determine the difference between when I am merely messing up (even he admits he failed often. p. 20) and when I am a lukewarm illegitimate believer? This is confusing at best and harmful to one's assurance of salvation at worst. It seems to me that what many will get out of all this is we must not take our salvation for granted and therefore we must continually scrutinize ourselves to determine if we bear the marks of a child of God. I just think a teaching that emphasizes such introspection to see if we pass certain tests which prove we are Christians cannot help but lead to doubt and insecurity.
on September 29, 2010
I thought this book was going to be about God's love. It is not. I'm honestly not sure why on Earth it was named Crazy Love--the book talks almost nothing about love.
Others have already said it well, but I'll add my 2 cents.
First off, if you struggle at all with believing God's love for you, or His forgiveness, or if you struggle with feeling insignificant, please, PLEASE do not read this book. It will leave you feeling nothing but despair.
In Chan's world, lukewarm people are not saved, and almost everyone is lukewarm. You are doomed. If you live a life of quiet, but wholehearted, dedication to God it doesn't matter. You are only saved if someone else can look at your life and see radical change.
In Chan's view of Christianity--
--If you are a stay at home mom prayerfully and sacrificially giving your all to raise children who will know Jesus while you strive to have a godly marriage, that is not enough. You are lukewarm.
--If you go to work each day and try to honor God in your ho-hum job, and make just enough to feed and care for your family and manage to pay all your bills, but have nothing left over to "radically give", that is not enough. You are lukewarm.
--If you struggle every day to overcome sin, and with God's help you are able to stay out of the gutter, or out of addiction, but you don't experience some huge, radical change, then that is not enough. You are lukewarm.
Remember, Chan says that you are NOT saved if you are lukewarm... (I would like to read some hermeneutical scholarship on Jesus' words that He will spit them out of his mouth-- I don't know if it is a statement of one's eternal salvation or not. ??).
About halfway through the book, Chan tosses a perfunctory nod to grace. I get the idea that in his view of God and salvation, grace plays a very minor role.
Basically, rather than believing that God cares about the direction of the heart--whether or not you have given over yourself to Christ and are trying to lead a life free of sin-- Francis Chan apparently believes that that it's all about what you do THAT OTHERS CAN SEE. It is works-based, "For Show" Christianity, where the transformation of the heart matters little and outward behavior is everything.
Yes, I believe wholeheartedly that our behavior will change as we bear the fruit of the Spirit. I also know (from Scripture) that God cares deeply about how we act and what we do. But Chan has swung the pendulum so far in the direction of actions that he has left no place for the SLOW, SOMETIMES LIFELONG, TRANSFORMATION THAT THE MAJORITY OF US EXPERIENCE.
Francis Chan makes the critical mistake of elevating one part of Scripture (Rev. 3:15) over other parts of Scripture (every verse that talks about grace and mercy). All of Scripture must be taken together and heeded as a cohesive whole.
Finally, since I started my review with what NOT to read, I want to give a couple of recommendation for books that are GOOD to read and that I sincerely believe will help you in being a true follower of Jesus Christ.
#1 --I strongly recommend Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. This is a book everyone should read.
#2--Pursuit of God (also by Tozer). A great, balanced, scriptural presentation of what it means to follow Jesus Christ.
#3--What's So Amazing About Grace (by Philip Yancey)-- Yancey paints a realistic and beautiful portrait of what grace looks like in the real world.
#4--My Utmost for His Highest (by Oswald Chambers) -- an excellent treatise on how to live as a Christian.
#5--The New Testament of the Bible.
God is crazy in love with you - believe it - but don't expect this book to tell you that. Find the truth in the WHOLE of Scripture instead.
on December 22, 2010
This book is one of the most confusing I've ever read about the Christian life. Chan offers a mixed view of saying the Christian life is lived out of love and not out of fear-and-guilt, but then mainly tries through fear-and-guilt to persuade his readers to live the Christian life. Throughout the book Chan seems very confused and inconsistent in his approach to either stir up the idle Christian or convert the non-Christian. And you're never sure which of those actions he's trying to do. Frankly, I'm not sure he himself is quite sure at any given point which one he's trying to do.
For instance, he says on the one hand, we're basically all lukewarm, halfhearted, stagnant Christians (p. 22), only to say later that "lukewarm" Christians aren't even Christians at all (pp. 83-84ff), only later to assume again that his reader is a Christian and also a lukewarm believer (p. 111). The inconsistency abounds so greatly throughout the book that it would be difficult to list all the examples. But as a reviewer I would caution the reader to beware of this fact and to be on the lookout for a multitude of false dichotomies (either this, or that, when it very well could be both this and that, or something else entirely, etc.).
Now commendably, Chan recognizes a problem in the church where many Christians seem to have a very shallow Christian life. The reason for this I think Chan presents very well in his preface: "I don't think my church's teachings were incorrect, just incomplete. My view of God was narrow and small" (p. 20). "The core problem isn't the fact that we're lukewarm, halfhearted, or stagnant Christians. The crux of it all is why we are this way, and it is because we have an inaccurate view of God" (p. 22).
To put it clearly, many Christians in today's church have shallow Christian lives because they have a narrow, small, inaccurate view of God. And I would whole-heartedly agree with this assessment. (For a particularly compelling article on this same assessment, I suggest A.W. Tozer's, "The Knowledge of the Holy," which to Chan's credit, he quotes in his book.) However, while Chan sets up the problem clearly in the preface, the rest of the book falls very short of the solution.
The title in full is, "Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God," with two arrows on the cover, the first one pointing down and the second pointing up. Now my first impression from all of this is that the book is going to be about God's relentless, overwhelming love toward us (the sinner), and then following from that, our response of loving Him (the Savior). It seems reminiscent of Paul's style of teaching - the teaching about who Christ is and what He's done (Rom 1-11, Eph 1-3, Col 1-2), then flowing from that, the teaching of our response to Him (Rom 12-16, Eph 4-6, Col 3-4). But when you actually read this book, it is far from any of this.
If the problem is a narrow, small, inaccurate view of God, one would think the solution would be to present a deep, grand, accurate view of God. But Chan seems to give little attempt at this; for he spends only three chapters on the person of God (and really not very well) and the next seven chapters on the person of the "Christian"? This is puzzling.
While the problem assessed is that the church has an inaccurate view of God, instead of writing to correct that, Chan spends most of his time writing to persuade the reader that he or she should be living a more "radical" "risky" "adventurous" life, not once recognizing that sometimes we truly are called "to aspire to live quietly, and to mind [our] own affairs..." (1 Thess. 4:12). This unbalance in his book is truly unhelpful.
And in keeping with this unbalance, instead of Chan writing about how it's the atonement that frees us to live a godly life (Gal. 5:1, 5-6, 13) and the Holy Spirit who enables us to live a godly life (Rom. 8:11; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:16) [for these teachings indeed would be correcting our inaccurate view of God], Chan instead uses fear and guilt to bring about our own self-reformation. [To be fair, Chan does visit the topics of grace and the Holy Spirit; but they really are touched on minimally.]
It's very odd, because Chan himself recognizes that fear-and-guilt is not the solution (p. 101). Yet he can't seem to keep himself from that approach. For before that chapter and after that chapter there's just not a whole lot other than "Shouldn't you be giving more? Shouldn't you be working harder? Shouldn't you be loving better?, etc."
To make matters more difficult, while not really making a clear distinction as to whether or not he's writing to an unbeliever who thinks he or she is saved, or a believer who is saved but is idle, Chan often takes Scripture out of context in order to get across his own agenda. For instance:
At one point he makes abiding in Christ in 1 John 2:28 somehow mean "spending ourselves" (p. 127). He writes: "What matters is that we spend ourselves. 'And now little children, abide in him so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming'" (p. 127). Chan makes this verse mean that we must "spend ourselves" or else we'll shrink from Christ in shame at his coming. [Even though Chan says fear-and-guilt is not a proper motivator, here is a clear example of him trying to use it as such.]
Yet the Biblical context has nothing to do with "spending ourselves" but is rather about abiding in the gospel: "No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you....And this is the promise that he made to us - eternal life. And now little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming" (1 Jn. 2:23-28). Abide in Him, in Christ, in His righteousness!
This is about abiding in the confession of the Son, not "spending" ourselves in human effort. So Chan makes this passage end up meaning the exact opposite of what it means.
There are many more, but probably the most interesting example of a passage out of context is when Chan says, "As I see it, a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there's no such thing" (p. 83-84). And it is at this point that Chan "exegetes" (?) Revelation 3:15-18. He goes to great lengths to explain why these verses are about unbelievers and not true Christians - that lukewarm Christians are not really believers at all. Chan says, "Many people read this passage and assume Jesus is speaking to saved people. Why?"
I think the answer to his question is found in verse 19 - the verse he for some reason leaves out of the passage: "Those whom I love I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent." Why do we think the passage is directed to a church of saved people? Because God loves them and disciplines them! Does God love the reprobate in a way so as to reprove and discipline them? (Rom. 1:18-32; Heb. 12:5-11) It seems clear in Scripture that He doesn't. It also seems pretty clear from the context of this passage that it's directed toward believers, who may have some professing unbelievers mixed in with them; but to say the whole group is purely unsaved...I'm not sure how that interpretation can stand.
But it's here where we start to see why Chan can interpret the Bible apart from context, and it is here that it strikes my very heart as a seminary student.
Chan again ably recognizes a problem: "In an earlier draft of this chapter, I quoted several commentators who agreed with my point of view. But we all know that you can find quotes to support any view you want to take. You can even tweak word studies to help you in your effort."
Yes, that's true. So what's the solution then? Compare the commentators and word studies in the original languages while examining the context of the passage to find the most likely meaning - given a historical-grammatical understanding of the text? No...instead: "I'm not against scholarship, but I do believe there are times when we come to more accurate conclusions through simple reading" (p. 85).
Translation: don't worry about context, original audience, authorial intent, etc. Just read it.
I wish I was joking about my "translation" but it's confirmed in his very next paragraph: "And so I've spent the past few days reading the Gospels. Rather than examining a verse and dissecting it, I chose to peruse one gospel in each sitting" (p. 85). I have no problem with this. The survey method of study is very useful. However, here's what he says next: "Furthermore, I attempted to do so from the perspective of a twelve-year-old who knew nothing about Jesus. I wanted to rediscover what reasonable conclusions a person would come to while objectively reading the Gospels for the first time." [GASP, says every seminary student who took a hermeneutics course worth its salt.]
What?!?!? Let me get this straight. To understand the gospels better, we're not going to try to discover the historical/cultural context in which they were written, the original language that was employed in their composition, the original audience to whom they were written? We're not piecing all this together to ascertain the most likely authorial intent in the Scriptures? But instead, we're going to assume the ancient document capability of a twelve-year-old (um...none) and pretend we don't know anything about Jesus (we're in effect now an unbeliever)?
Is that the best way to interpret Scripture? Are we ever told in Scripture to take the mind of Christ off in order to come to a more "reasonable" "objective" conclusion? (Eph. 4:17-24; Col. 2:6-10; 1 Jn 2:26-27) [And by the way, unbelievers are not objective (Rom. 1:18-21; Matt. 12:30)!] Yet this is Chan's take on how to approach Scripture!
Want to know the Scriptures better? Ask the unbelieving twelve-year-old. This is a bad idea! Read the above referenced Scriptures and tell me if unbelievers are reasonable and objective and whether or not Christians should pretend we don't know anything about Christ when reading Scripture.
Yet this is Chan's approach. It's no wonder he so often confuses the accounts in the gospel literature, of what Jesus says to do to this person or that (and which were always written with their author's own [inspired] theological scheme in mind), with the Christian life laid out in the rest of the New Testament (the things Jesus had not yet said to His disciples but intended to after He was glorified - Jn. 16:12-14). This is why Chan is constantly mixing the law (to which we are not bound - Rom. 7:4-6; Gal. 5:18), and the Christian life of love (to which we are bound in our connection to Christ - Gal. 5:1, 5-6, 13).
This confusion is brought out in too many passages to cite, especially in the gospels and Old Testament. But for an instance, take the story of the rich young ruler (p. 74, 90). The point is not that he wouldn't give his money away (which Chan repeatedly makes it), but that this man thought he was actually good enough by himself or could be good enough by himself to inherit eternal life (Lk. 18:18-30).
Jesus plainly tells him, "No one is good except God alone" (v19); yet he stubbornly maintains, "All these [commandments] I have kept from my youth" (v. 21). The crowds are distraught, sure. If this rich man, for whom it's easiest to keep the commandments, and who by his own admission has kept them all from his youth - if he can't inherit eternal life, then what hope is there for the rest of us? "Who then can be saved?" To that Jesus replies, "What is impossible with men is possible with God" (v. 26).
You see, doesn't this in itself point to the very gospel of Christ? [But to interpret it this way we would have to know that Luke was writing with a theological point in mind... we would have to know some context.] Don't you see that Christ is the One (the only One) who was good and truly did keep all the commandments (1 Pet. 2:22), and He is the One (the only One) who was truly rich and gave it all up - and He did it for our sake (Phlp. 2:6-8; 2 Cor. 8:9)! Only Christ can meet His own demands! And He did so on our behalf (Heb. 4:14-16, 7:23-25, 9:24, 10:14, 19-23). Truly such a great salvation is impossible with men, but with God it is possible!
But Chan fails to bring this out, as he does in many other ways. He speaks about our offering our best and quotes the old covenant (p. 91), but he utterly fails to see that Christ IS our best! And it was He who was offered, on our behalf, under the new and lasting covenant (Heb. 8:6, 9:15; 2 Cor. 3:4-18).
What then comes of the Christian life? It's clear throughout the Scriptures. We do love others (Jn. 13:34-35; Rom. 12:9-10; Eph. 5:1-2; Col. 3:14; 1 Thess. 4:9), we do give money (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8:8-15, 9:6-15), we do help those in need (Ti. 3:14, Ja. 1:27, 1 Jn. 3:16-18). We do many other things out of love, but it's because we know who God is and what He's done (Gal. 5:5-6, 13). It is because we are free (Gal. 5:1), it is because Christ paid for our sins by his blood (Eph. 1:7), it is because everything has been accounted for and we know that we have no debt toward God (Col. 2:14), it is because of the redemption that we have in Christ and Christ alone that we are able to love the Lord and love others. While Chan somewhat recognizes this in theory, he fails to bring it out in practice in his book.
At one attempt in demonstrating (?) God's "crazy love" Chan says: "In the midst of our failed attempts at loving Jesus, His grace covers us" (p. 87). So after we try our hardest, that's when grace kicks in? Is that the kind of crazy love God has for us?
The Scriptures say that it's not just in the midst of our failed attempts that Jesus' grace covers us. It says that we were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1), enemies of God (5:6, 10), hostile in our minds (Col. 1:21), and hateful in our beings (Ti. 3:3); and before even having the ability to give a God-ward failed attempt, that's when God saved us (Eph. 2:4-5; Rom. 5:6-11; Col. 1:21-22; Ti. 3:4-7)! Grace doesn't just cover our failed attempts - grace does it all from beginning to end (Eph. 2:8-10)! But grace is profoundly scarce in this book on God's crazy love.
The problem that causes shallow, "lukewarm," stagnant Christian living is indeed an inaccurate view of God, as Chan rightly assessed. But this book is nowhere close to providing a solution. Even in the chapter about how much God loves us, Chan simply gives us the analogy of him loving his own kids (p. 55). Sure, it's a nice story, and I'm glad he loves his daughter. But it's natural even for unbelievers to love their own kids. Compare that though to Ephesians 2, where God sees us naturally as children of wrath, and yet still loves us. Or the same concept in Romans 5 where even while we were rebellious sinners toward God, it was then that Christ died for us! It's natural to love our kids; it's supernatural to love rebellious objects of wrath. And THAT is God's love! Yet that is what is missing from Chan's book.
Because of all these things I cannot recommend the book at all for Christian living. Yet if one must read the book, I would encourage the reader to contrast Chan's style with the apostle Paul. Notice even in Paul's prayer life, he didn't pray so much that believers would "surrender" themselves or "spend" themselves. (Surely he would mention this from time to time, but it was never his emphasis. He knew that the Spirit would bring that about in their lives as they grew in their walk with the Lord.) But what did he pray? He prayed that the eyes of their hearts would be opened (Eph. 1:17) so that they would know the greatness of the hope they have in Christ (Eph. 1:18), that they would know they are somehow counted as riches in God's eyes (Eph. 1:18), and that they would somehow understand that the same power God used in raising Christ from the dead is the same power He used in bringing them into the newness of life in Christ (Eph. 1:19-21, 2:1-7).
He didn't pray that they would do "more stuff." He prayed that Christ (His person and work) would dwell in their hearts (Eph. 3:17) through the power of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:16), so that they would somehow be able to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ's love, and to KNOW the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge (Eph. 3:18-19). And from that knowledge Paul would encourage (and charge) the Christian life. But it's that knowledge that is absent from this book.
Contrary to the impression this book gives, the Christian life is not based on who wants it more. It's based on how well we know the Lord Christ our Savior. "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (Jn. 17:3). Our eternal life is dependent on knowing Christ. Our Christian life is no different (Col. 2:6-10). The more we know Christ, the more we will do for Him because it is He who works in us (Col. 1:29; Jn. 15:1-5).
But how are we set-apart (sanctified) from the rest of the world? Chan stated it correctly. We need an accurate view of God. And how do we go about getting that? "Sanctify them in your truth; your word is truth" (Jn. 17:17). We gain an accurate view of God by gaining an accurate understanding of God's Word.
But I have to ask, does Chan know the Word of God?
Chan writes, "The Israelites hid themselves whenever God passed by their camp because they were too afraid to look at Him, even the back of Him as He moved away. They were scared they would die if they saw God" (p. 36).
The Israelites? Whenever? Is there a passage at all in the Old Testament that talks about God passing by the Israelite camp and the Israelites being scared they would die even if they looked at the back of Him?
There's no such passage! Search the entire Scriptures! There is nothing remotely close to this claim in the Bible. It's as if someone told Chan the story of Moses seeing God's glory (Ex. 33:18-34:8), and Chan contorted it into this regular occurrence with God and the camp of the Israelites.
So either Chan doesn't know the Scripture but he thinks he does, or he's making this up. Either option is not one from whom I'd want to learn a more accurate view of God (which, if you remember, is what he says is the solution to stagnant Christian living).
(He doesn't know the Scripture, doesn't seem too concerned about context, yet he's writing this book about the Christian life that's supposed to correct our view of God... If you think about it, this is crazy alright...)
Chan ends his book saying "one day I will have to stand before a holy God and give an account of my life" (quoting Daniel Webster, p. 174). God's Word tells us that as Christians we've already been judged in Christ and have been found righteous in Him (Jn. 5:24; Rom. 5:1, 8:1, 33-39)! Therefore, we are free, not to do whatever our sinful nature wants (rather, we are free from that - Rom. 6:6-7, 20-23), but we are free and able, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to serve Him in love (Gal. 5:5-6).
So then, I would say, contrary to the message of this book let us not seek a more "radical" Christian life based on out-of-context readings of Scripture. But let us seek the true meaning of Scripture and let us seek Christ (Col. 3:1-4). Let us seek to know Him (Phlp. 3:7-8). Let us abide in HIM and in his message of grace, that we may take hold of the promise of eternal life (1 Jn. 2:23-25) and through that have the ability in the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life (Rom. 8:9-11).
I'm glad Chan desires Christians to have a more meaningful Christian life. But desire without knowledge is not good (Prv. 19:2). Let us then seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18)!
--UPDATE - July 2, 2011 --
I want to thank all of those who were so encouraging in your comments. It's a true, humbling blessing that I can't describe.
I also wanted to recommend a book that I just finished reading, which has proved far more balanced and Biblical in its outlook in presenting the Christian life.
It's called "Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change" by Brian G. Hedges. Theologically sound, Christ-centered, Spirit-saturated, Biblically-balanced, and pastorally-written: I commend this book to every Christian!
Unlike my experience with "Crazy Love," Hedge's book truly does show the unsearchable love of God in Christ our Lord, and how that alone can and does affect in us the enabling power and accomplishing task of living the true Christian life. I recommend it whole-heartedly to all who are searching for a book that uses the clear teachings of Scripture to instruct us on how to be more like Christ. I've never read a book like it!
Thank you again for your encouragement.
Yours in Christ,
Adam T. Calvert
on May 18, 2009
When I first started the book I was impressed, even though the first two chapters are pretty basic. However, now that I'm almost finished the book, I really question whether or not Mr. Chan has a graced based theology or a works based theology. He repeatedly says we're saved by grace, but then he also repeatedly says you won't get into heaven if you don't do this or that. The basis for true Christian theology is so simple, (accepted grace leads to salvation leads to change in your life), but Mr. Chan seems to want to make it difficult. In Chapter 4, where he spells out what he believes a lukewarm Christian is like, he may actually step into the judgement seat.
This book does have me taking a good hard look at God's place in my life, thinking about His extravagant love and how I love Him and realizing that I should be serving better, and that's a good thing. However, I think the works based theology is really an overwhelming theme and that's really not something I could promote.
on August 29, 2009
I believe this author has great intentions of giving the north american church a "wake-up" call saying that we are not where we need to be. There were several great statements that will, at the least, get the reader analyzing his or her life. I can appreciate much of the discussion he made on the use of our time and resources.
There were several statements of the "lukewarm christian" that were bold. He further states that these descriptions of lukewarm christians will not enter heaven. Brave and unbiblical statements. Chan is focused on works, what we are doing. If it's not in the "box" of works and strict sacrifice then God is not going to let us into heaven. He is using guilt as a tool of change, even though he repeatedly states that crazy "love" cannot be motivated by guilt.
Not everyone is called to the mission field, called to begin a ministry, sell all they have and move some where, etc. God is interested in our hearts, our motives, in our growth and interested in us understanding Him on a deeper level. As Christians we are all at different places in our walk with him and it's by His grace alone that we are saved, not by works that any man should boast.
This book has the potential to scare the new believer, confuse a baby christian and quite frankly lead a solid believer into despair and unwarranted fear.
on April 19, 2011
I think the five most convicting words in the Bible are "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:20). I understand that James does not teach salvation by works; James teaches that someone with a living faith will be transformed and therefore produce works. As Martin Luther put it, "We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone." But James makes it tough to have assurance of salvation. Instead of asking "have I done enough good works?" the question shifts to "have I been transformed enough?" or "do I love Jesus enough to be saved?"
Basically the point of this book is that Francis Chan is saying that for many Christians, the answer is no, you do not love Jesus enough to be saved. Chan makes no bones about this position. He says in chapter four that "a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there's no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are `lukewarm' are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven." That has more or less been my reading of James, so I actually went into this book more or less agreeing with Chan.
And that takes me to my review. I found the book surprisingly shallow. One of the things I like about reading books by good preachers and theologians is that they can show me new riches in the Bible. You learn a new layer of meaning in one Jesus' parables or how an event on the Old Testament points to Christ and these things make your heart sing. Yet Chan does not do this. To put it in modern terms, his theology "scans" shallow. In concrete terms, there aren't the word studies and ancient Greek and Hebrew lessons and a rich theological framework that both convicts and yet shows the beauty of Christ at the same time. Instead it is a lot of Chan's introspection punctuated with Bible verses. His book is like asking a random high school student to write about God. You'd get introspection peppered with sort-of appropriate passages from scripture. I'm not knocking high school students, just saying that you expect to be shown great riches from a well known and spiritually mature pastor.
Moreover, some of Chan's theology is clearly wrong. For example, in chapter four Chan makes the case for how Christians are lukewarm. He does this with a series of Bible versus that show what God expects from us and then contrasts that with his comment about how the lukewarm really are. If you too can't live up to these verses, then you too must be lukewarm and bound for hell! A representative example of the versus Chan quotes is Jesus' summary of the law: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37) The implication is that if you don't love God with all your heart then you are lukewarm and going to hell. Chan's reading of that verse is simply wrong. It is true that Jesus summarized the Law that way, but there was nothing new or surprising in that. That was the generally understood summary of the Law, even among Pharisees.
Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus hung out with the sinners and the tax collectors, and that bothered the Pharisees who had had good works. The Pharisees behaved much better than all those sinners. They thought Jesus was a "liberal Christian" who was relaxing the Law. So one of the Pharisees tested Jesus by asking Jesus what someone must to do to get eternal life. He expected Jesus to say "Oh, just believe in me and you'll have eternal life" and then the Pharisee could expose Jesus as a fraud who did not respect the Law. Instead Jesus turned the question around and asked him what was written in the Law. The Pharisee answered by saying to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Again, that was the well-understood and consensus summary of the Law shared by virtually everyone of that time. Jesus replied, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live." Now, if the Pharisee had the Holy Spirit with him, he would have said, "I can't do that. It's too hard for a sinner like me to live up to that perfect example of love. I have a wicked and sinful heart that is guilty of self-love." Then Jesus would offer forgiveness. But instead the Pharisee wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus "And who is my neighbor?"
It was at this point, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. There are many lessons in all of Jesus' parables. At a shallow level, Jesus showed the Pharisee that didn't really treat everyone as a true neighbor. The Pharisee didn't treat those that he considered to be impure sinners as neighbors. But there is also a deeper lesson. That lesson is that Jesus is the ultimate Good Samaritan. We are like the helpless victim in the parable. We are dead in our sins, and yet Jesus found us, felt mercy for us, and then saved us by paying the price to fix us up.
This is the true lesson of "crazy love" but it is one that Chan does not teach: the Gospel is God's free gift for us sinners who *can't* love God with all our hearts. If were capable of loving God with all our hearts, then we would easily follow the Law and lead a sinless life and get to Heaven on our own righteousness. In presenting these types of scriptures to convict the lukewarm Christian, Chan suggests that the non-lukewarm Christian really can love God with all his heart, but that is simply wrong. It is so badly wrong that I hardly even know where to begin.
Chan seems to consistently misunderstand the Gospel. In fact, at one point in the book (41%) he said that he eschewed commentaries and opted instead to read through the Gospels again. He said that doing this reinforced his argument about lukewarm Christians. For example, Chan quotes from the Sermon from the Mount to convict lukewarm Christians. Now, the Sermon on the Mount does a great many things, but one of its functions is to show the truest and purest expression of the Law that would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In other words, the Sermon was Jesus giving the Law. Moses gave the Law from Mount Sinai, and Jesus recapitulated it in the Sermon on the Mount. But the thing about the Law is that no one could live up to it. Who hasn't been angry with a brother without cause? Who hasn't looked at a woman in lust? Who can live by the standards by which we judge others? Not me. Not you. And not Chan. The purpose of the Law is to be a reflection that reveals to us our own sin, and our need for a savior. The Law teaches us that we need Jesus.
Chan does not even seem to realize this. The implication of the book is that if you really loved Jesus, if you really were truly and deeply transformed because you know God, then you too could live up to the standards of the Sermon on the Mount. Thus Chan concludes (at 41% on the Kindle), "My conclusion? Jesus' call to commitment is clear: He wants all or nothing. The thought of a person calling himself a "Christian" without being a devoted follower of Christ is absurd." But if we could give our all to Christ, then we don't actually need Christ's death to save us. We could do it on our righteousness.
Chan sometimes realizes the impossibility of what he is asking. After he presents all these versus to convict lukewarm Christians, he says (43%) that, "I don't want true believers to doubt their salvation as they read this book. In the midst of our failed attempts at loving Jesus, his grace covers us. Each of has lukewarm elements and practices in our life; therein lies the senseless, extravagant grace of it all."
Wow! So my question is: what is a "true believer" and how are they, with their "lukewarm elements", different than a lukewarm Christian? Why are the "true believers" saved by grace but not the lukewarm Christian? Maybe the "true believers" are only lukewarm 10% of the time but the lukewarm Christians are lukewarm 90% of the time? Where is the cutoff? Where do you pass from being a lukewarm Christian to a devoted true believer? On Judgment Day when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, will he say "sorry, you were lukewarm 43.27% of the time. Not good enough. Off to hell you go." I hope not, and that certainly isn't my reading of the Gospel.
In fairness, Chan does give some criteria (43% on the Kindle) to help make the distinction between the lukewarm Christian and the true believer. First he says the distinction is perfection, but Chan is sensible enough to immediately point out that no one will obtain perfection until we go to heaven. So Chan tries again, and suggests that the distinction is a "posture of obedience and surrender, where a person perpetually moves towards Christ." That's better, and not too far off from a Biblical point of view. But given that Chan admits that "true believers" have failed attempts to love Jesus, their movement is not perpetually towards Christ either! Even "true believers" take steps forwards and one step backwards. So I assume Chan means the overall arc of the "true believer's" life is towards Christ. Fair enough. But where on heaven and earth does Chan get the authority to judge himself and other "true believers" as on perpetual arc towards Christ, but all those lukewarm Christians as on their way to hell? Does he really know the arcs of the lives of those he deems to be lukewarm and unsaved? Does he know where they started from? Does he know where they will end out on their deathbed? Does Chan know the plans and tests and tribulations that God plans for these lukewarm Christians? I don't think so.
And why is a consistent arc towards God necessary for salvation? Yes, sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit and thus you'd generally expect that someone who has accepted the Spirit into their lives would gradually grow more sanctified - albeit with many dry patches and lukewarm spots mixed in. But that is not always the arc of the believers life. Isaac regressed in his walk with God. My understanding of Scripture is that Isaac was not a young boy when God told Abraham to sacrifice him. Isaac was old enough to know what Abraham was doing, and so he had to have consented to it. Isaac showed a mature and Christ-like attitude. But where did Isaac finish his walk? What did Isaac do on his deathbed? He planned to directly disobey God by giving his blessing to Esau! And he wanted to have one last taste of his favorite food! How sad. Isaac regressed from being self-sacrificing and obedient to God to selfish and disobedient. By contrast, Abraham spent the last of his life planning to get his son married to continue the messianic line. Isaac should have done the same for Jacob.
Instead of being selfish, Isaac could have sent a wealthy servant to Laban to acquire Leah (I'm assuming Leah was Jacob's true wife since she carried Christ's line, even though Jacob loved Rachel more). That would also have avoided the polygamy and the mess it made in Jacob's life. But on the other hand, I'm glad that God chose a weak believer like Isaac. It teaches that periods of spiritual dryness are a part of the life of every believer and that some people may be unfortunate enough to die in the middle of one. Does that cost them their salvation? Is Isaac in hell along with all the other lukewarm Christians that Chan judges? I don't think so.
Now, let me back up and clarify a few points. There are many people who call themselves Christians but who haven't really repented their sins and accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They may have an intellectual belief in God, but their heart hasn't been opened to the Holy Spirit. I'm always skeptical of the Barna studies, but a recent one found that a quarter of born again Christians hold universalists beliefs, and if anything, that strikes me as being too low. Universalists are almost certainly going to hell because Jesus isn't really their Savior.
And I think that lukewarm Christianity really is a big problem with the church today. I don't know if its because our society is too rich, or to secular, or too sexually immoral, or something else. But either way, lukewarm Christianity is a real problem. I wish that Chan had written a book about living by the Holy Spirit and growing in your relationship with Jesus. Instead he wrote a book of bad theology that misunderstands the Gospel and doesn't clearly distinguish between sanctification and justification.
on May 21, 2008
Having read reviews of this book, I thought I was prepared. But Chan's application of scriptures regarding caring for the poor, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and being Jesus' hands and feet in this world shook my thinking. He urges his readers to stop and think, worship, apply. I am asking myself, what is God calling me to do with what I've learned? Be prepared to ask yourself the same.