on August 24, 2009
Picking up a book that's subtitle is "Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit" made me feel that I was heading for a tongue lashing. Instead I found Francis Chan's new book, "Forgotten God," to be a very calm and thoughtful response to the Christian community.
There have been many books written over the years about what to believe about the Holy Spirit. Battle lines have been drawn between churches and denominations about when the Holy Spirit shows up, how He does it, and what is supposed to happen next. Chan has no axe to grind with theological debates and steers away from these often bloodstained battlegrounds. Instead he writes how Christians in western culture, regardless of what they say they believe about the third member of the Trinity, live as though the Holy Spirit had long since retired.
In seven easy to read chapters Chan covers the following topics:
* The role of the Holy Spirit as Jesus' promised gift.
* Fears and concerns about the Holy Spirit
* How theology about the Holy Spirit has more to do with how a person lives than what they say they believe.
* Motivations around the Holy Spirit and his power.
* What a relationship with the Holy Spirit can really be like.
* Letting go of manipulation and control by trusting the Holy Spirit.
* Living in true community with the Holy Spirit and with others.
For a book to be as hard hitting on these themes as it is, this tone Chan takes hardly comes across as a harsh reprimand. There is a gentleness and humility that flow through these chapters, possibly because the author often uses his shortcomings as examples. It is balanced with his unbridled passion for something better. It is a contagious proposition.
At the end of each chapter Chan presents a short biography about someone who is modeling that aspect of life with the Holy Spirit. These narratives help put the chapters, and the suggested lifestyle, into context.
For readers who have already embraced the message from Chan's first book, "Crazy Love," you will find another winner here. For those who are reading him for the first time, you have found a new, encouraging friend.
on August 11, 2009
"Another book on the Holy Spirit? You have got to be kidding me!" Those were the initial thoughts that crept into my mind when I first saw the subtitle of Francis Chan's new book Forgotten God. It is subtitled "Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit." But then again, after reading Francis' other book, Crazy Love, blogging about it and then offering a small group study of it, I was not about to write this new book off as just a dusty old rehash of "Holy Spirit talk." Man, am I glad I didn't! I will have to confess something right up front: I was stoked because of the author...so much so that I had trouble putting this book down. I took it everywhere with me just in case I had little snippets of time to read and highlight it. Oftentimes authors writing about the Holy Spirit take one of two approaches: they sensationalize everything and make it overly emotional, almost confrontational. You know...if you don't have this or do this then there must be something wrong with your spirituality. The other approach is one that brings yawns to people like me who just want something practical, something that translates into preaching and teaching and the everyday life of people I pastor. Unequivocally, Francis did not disappoint! He laid down the gauntlet on the very first page of his introduction: "the benchmark of success in church services has become more about attendance than the movement of the Holy Spirit. The `entertainment' model of church was largely adopted in the 1980s and '90s, and while it alleviated some of our boredom for a couple of hours a week, it filled our churches with self-focused consumers rather than self-sacrificing servants attuned to the Holy Spirit." (p.15-16) From there on it is sometimes hard-hitting, sometimes convicting, sometimes wooing, but always Francis-biblical and easy to understand. He takes one chapter he calls Theology of the Holy Spirit 101 to give a brief description of the Holy Spirit but it is informative not dry. In my opinion he reached his zenith in the last chapter: The Supernatural Church. WOW! I believe if you only read this chapter it alone would "fire you up." (It would also encourage you to read the rest of it as well). :) One more thing: after each chapter he included a two or three page biography of someone he knew living out what he had just taught. That was good to read.
So...if you read Crazy Love you will want to read this book because you are familiar with Francis' writing. If you read this book, you will want to go back and read Crazy Love. If you are looking for a deep theological book about the Holy Spirit or a book that tells you how to get this or that gift, then look elsewhere. However, if you are looking for a practical, easy-to-read and understand book that will challenge you to the core, then read Forgotten God. You will be glad you did.
on March 5, 2010
Well worth my time, but I had mixed feelings about some of the content. While Chan addressed the problem of forgetting about Grace, his themes seemed to emphasize OUR part in a transactional relationship which, if taken too far, minimizes the importance of Grace and the undeserved love of God in our lives. I agreed with his conviction that our churches need to turn more to the Bible to model the early church and its energetic and viral Spirit at work.
My personal take-aways from this book (not all new, but worthwhile reminders):
1) Try to spend more time throughout the day acknowledging the presence of God and Spirit.
2) Pray more often and more specifically: for guidance, for inspiration, and for others.
3) Intentionally listen for the "still small voice" and expect to hear it.
4) Beware of good-intentioned quenching of the Spirit in myself and others.
5) Quit trying to do things on my own steam -- rest in God's love and power.
6) Remember that the cultivation of a relationship -- whether with God or others -- is not done by wishing or waiting for the other party, but only by an investment of time and intention to it.
Calling the Holy Spirit "Forgotten God" may be a bit of an overstatement. Or perhaps it is an understatement. Some Christians seem to show little evidence that they have any theology of the Spirit while others seem to emphasize the Spirit at the expense of other biblical doctrine. What seems clear is that few Christians have it quite right. In this new book Francis Chan says, "From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected and, for all practical purposes, forgotten. While no evangelical would deny His existence, I'm willing to bet there are millions of churchgoers across America who cannot confidently say they have experienced His presence or action in their lives over the past year. And many of them do not believe they can." With the entertainment (or perhaps "edutainment") model of church so prevalent today, churches have become filled with self-focused consumers instead of Spirit-filled believers. Chan asks this provocative question: "What if you grew up on a desert island with nothing but the Bible to read?" If you had nothing but Scripture to guide you, would your understanding of the Holy Spirit be far different from what it is today? It is probably worth thinking about. Says Chan, "If I were Satan and my ultimate goal was to thwart God's kingdom and purposes, one of my main strategies would be to get churchgoers to ignore the Holy Spirit."
It is easy to fake the presence of the Spirit, isn't it? "Let's be honest: If you combine a charismatic speaker, a talented worship band, and some hip, creative events, people will attend your church. Yet this does not mean that the Holy Spirit of God is actively working and moving in the lives of the people who are coming." It is possible for a church to be fun and vibrant and exciting even while utterly ignoring the Holy Spirit--even while outright grieving the Holy Spirit. Such churches may say much about Jesus but little about the Spirit. Yet how then do we reconcile Jesus' words that it is better for us if we have the Spirit than if we have the Son? Chan says, "I think most of us would...choose a physical Jesus over an invisible Spirit. But what do we do with the fact that Jesus says it is better for His followers to have the Holy Spirit?" Do we believe Him? If so, do our lives reflect that belief?"
Alternating teaching with stories and testimonies, Chan seeks to reverse this neglect of the Spirit. Essentially he provides a brief and basic theology of the Spirit (even titling one chapter "Theology of the Holy Spirit 101") and shows how the Spirit can and should operate in the life of the believer. It is an eminently quotable book, offering scores of statements that are worth highlighting and worth pondering in the days and weeks to come. Some reading this review will want to know his position on the continuation of the miraculous spiritual gifts. I would say his is "guarded, hesitant continuationism," though this comes from reading between the lines more than any bold statements to that effect.
If the book has a weakness I would say it is in Chan's unwillingness to draw distinctions and to clearly delineate opposing doctrine. It is all very well to indicate that a church may not quite fit within one mold or another, but sooner or later we do need to make distinctions. Either the Spirit speaks through audible voices or he does not; either words of knowledge exist today or they do not. We cannot have it both ways and the distinction can cut right to the heart of a church's beliefs. I realize that labels can be as unhelpful as they are helpful, but at some point we do need to make distinctions. I will grant that this may not be the role or purpose of Forgotten God but it is still possible that the book can confuse the reader exactly because of this lack of precision.
Nevertheless, for those who have thought little about the person and role of the Holy Spirit, Forgotten God may be just the thing to get them thinking. For those who have not thought about the Spirit for a long time, this may serve as a good wake-up call. It is far from a full-orbed or exhaustive treatment, but neither is that its purpose. Chan sets out to get the reader thinking "that by keeping in step with the Spirit, we might regularly fellowship over what He's doing rather than what He did months or years ago." It's about living a life dependent on and surrendered to the Spirit, about seeking how we can live faithfully here and now. And this he accomplishes well.
Chan's previous book Crazy Love has sold over a quarter million copies and continues to fly off bookstore shelves. Forgotten God shares a message that is nearly as urgent and undoubtedly even more important. It is a fitting sequel that bears many resemblances to the book it follows. After all, how can we show true love if not through the Holy Spirit? There are many people sharing similar messages today, but few doing so to Chan's audience which is largely young and in many cases not very well trained in the teachings of Scripture. I have little doubt that God will use this to shake them up in all the right ways.
The Holy Spirit is one of my favorite topics. Since rediscovering Him in my early twenties, I've pursued a life full of His presence: His fruits, His power, and above all else His love. The infilling of the Spirit and a life spent hearing the voice of the Counselor has become of top priority to me, and so I find any reading material on the subject, regardless of evangelical or pentecostal viewpoint, to be interesting and worthwhile. Chan is somewhere between the two camps (but certainly more Evangelical than Charismatic) and attempts to walk the line between those two distinct groups of Christiandom.
Chan's primary argument is that many modern churches lack presence of the Holy Spirit because of a failure in willingness to let Him do and be who He is--out of fear, out of lack of knowledge, or because of church tradition. Chan argues compellingly that the fullness of what it means to be a Christ follower is lost without the presence of the Holy Spirit. In a series of succinct and to the point chapters, he writes about why we need the Holy Spirit, who He is, and what it looks like when He is operating unencumbered in our lives.
Where the book is less satisfying is Chan's reluctance to engage with the debate surrounding the work of the Holy Spirit in the modern day church. He does not identify himself as a cessationist, but the fact that he doesn't even mention tongues, and that he spends an entire book describing the work of the Holy Spirit largely in terms of internal, personal change instead of radical, world impacting power through signs, wonders, and miracles leads me to believe he is very Evangelical in his views, if not a complete cessationist.
Even as he argues for more of the Holy Spirit in the lives of his readers and the Church in general, he seems to skirt around what sort of impact that really will have. If Chan pushes Evangelicals to welcome more of the Holy Spirit in their lives, he doesn't challenge them to radically reevaluate what God is willing to do and how, either through a discussion of the miraculous power of God, or through an in depth look at the gifts of the Spirit. These are mentioned, but left very vague, which is very strange considering Chan highlights 1st Corinthians 12 throughout the book. Gifts are left at the periphery, and even in his "Supernatural Church" chapter they are left on the sidelines. If the work of the Holy Spirit is in part to draw us towards Christ-likeness, in part to empower us to do the miraculous (whether you define that as supernatural freedom from pervasive sin or as empowered to do miracles) and in part to give us certain gifts, Chan spends 80% of the book on the role the Spirit plays in character change and discipleship. I would have liked to see him give each part equal time, and especially give a chapter or two to the gifts of the Spirit.
In chapter 4 "Why do you want Him" Chan spends a little time talking about miracles. He says:
"A lot of people want to talk about supernatural things like miracles, healing or prophecy. But focusing inordinately on those things quickly becomes misguided. God calls us to pursue Him, not what He might do for us or even in our midst. Scripture emphasizes that we should desire fruit, that we should concern ourselves with becoming more like His Son." (88)
This is a true statement. However, what Chan seems to miss is that Christ's life was FULL of the miraculous. Nearly constant miracles through His entire ministry. If Christ is the perfect example of walking in harmony with the Father and the Spirit, and we are called to become Christlike, it follows that our lives should also be marked by the presence of the miraculous--not that it should supplant our desire for God Himself, but that it should be a natural part of being a disciple.
Chan also says:
"God wants us to trust Him to provide miracles when He sees fit. He doesn't just dole them out mechanically, as if we put in a quarter, pray the right prayer, and out comes a miracle." (88)
God does want us to trust him to provide miracles, but He also desires that we walk in obedience to Jesus command in Matthew 10:18: "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.
Being Christlike means to become like Christ, and pursuing a life modeled after His. Jesus taught his disciples to follow His example, and after they were empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they did exactly that. Much of their ministry was supernatural in nature. So while I agree fully with Chan that blind pursuit of the supernatural that replaces seeking God first and foremost is a form of idolatry, I don't agree that we shouldn't pursue it at all. I would argue that a life filled with the presence of the Spirit necessitates a life modeling a demonstration of God's goodness, and specifically the release of his Power through the miraculous.
Chan's chapters each end with a brief biography of a person living a Spirit filled life. It's striking that while all his choices are exemplary individuals, none of them are someone with a supernatural ministry. I would have loved to see him reference someone like Heidi Baker or Brother Yun--The Heavenly Man is fantastic reading if you want to see what a truly radical encounter with God and a miraculous lifestyle can look like. With the emergence of the Chinese church (and eastern church in general) it seems like it would have been a good idea to include someone from that region where the supernatural is a frequent occurrence--especially in a book on the Holy Spirit!
Aside from my complaints about Chan's Evangelical bias, this is still a very well written and engaging book. While I don't agree with all of his viewpoints, I found myself agreeing and cheering Chan on more than arguing with him. Chan's biggest strength is his humility and willingness to discuss the Spirit in the context of his own successes and failures. It gives his book a friendly and convincing tone. It's my hope that many Christians read this book. That they are impacted by Chan's call to a deepening of relationship with the Holy Spirit in individuals and in the Church. Because regardless of our differences, the Spirit has been ignored for far too long, and it's time to give him the worship He so rightly deserves.
The strength of Francis Chan's ministry and writing is his authenticity and clarity. He doesn't come across as a theologian or spiritual "guru". He speaks as one who is on the path with us; one who is constantly seeking, finding and sharing everything. In this book, he addresses the often divisive topic of the Holy Spirit from the perspective of a person with experience in many faith traditions.
Much like his earlier book, Crazy Love, Chan doesn't necessarily break new ground with this work, but rather gives a powerful reminder of this "forgotten" aspect of our Christian walk. In fact, what he is sharing is the idea that the Holy Spirit is at the very core of our lives as Christians. He uses Scripture and biography to illustrate the central role of the Holy Spirit.
I recommend this book for those who are seeking to not just understand the Holy Spirit's role in their daily walk, but thirst to experience it. Chan gives a beautiful vision of God drawing us to intimacy, authenticity, repentance, relationship, security, courage, and truth. While I did find myself bored at times with some of the cliches, there were multiple points where I had to put the book down and pray for the Lord to bring these truths into my life as more than just cold concepts, but fire-illuminated changes that manifest in actions that could only be explained by His moving. My favorite quote from the book comes from page 142 of the advance copy: "I don't want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit." Isn't this what every Christian desires to live? A life that can only be explained by the power of God?
The final chapter, "Supernatural Church" is on one hand similar to the critiques of the Restorationists, but instead of simply calling us to go back to the methods illustrated in the book of Acts, Chan calls us to dependance upon the Holy Spirit. He doesn't say, the early Christians did this and that, so we should too. He says, let's depend upon the Holy Spirit to lead our faith the way the early Christians did. I applaud this because it is not method-centered, but relationship-centered.
Francis Chan has emerged as one of my most cherished voices in the Christian community. He speaks truth and does it with a Christ-like strength and love. He citicizes, but provides solutions. His input is constructive, not destructive. His ministry bears eternal fruit and relies upon the power of God, not the power of personality.
on August 28, 2009
I received this book as an option through the Amazon Vine Program. I had been feeling spiritually "dry" and was hoping to find some inspiration. The title of this book intrigued me, but I had heard Francis Chan speak before (over the internet) and I found his style to be overly legalistic and lacking grace. I have only listened to him once or twice so I may not have heard him at his best. The point is I was very skeptical that I would like this book, but since it was free, I didn't have anything to lose.
My skepticism quickly changed to enthusiasm as I started reading this book. I could not put it down! I felt like he was so right on biblically. He backed up everything he said with scripture. I would look up every passage that he quoted and he never took Scripture out of context. I really liked that he asked the reader to stop and read certain passages in their Bibles rather than explaining them in depth in the book. This way we were always on the same page as him, without him placing lengthy excerpts of the bible into the book. To me, this book seems to be written for Christians that have a fundamental understanding of christianity and the BIble, but are seeking more. A more powerful experience with God. A desire to impact the community and the world in a big way. He delivers on that!
One point that he brought up several times was that it is often hard to tell christians from non-christians based solely upon their external behavior. They often don't appear to be more peaceful, kind, gentle, etc than their non-christian neighbors. This is a point that I have been wrestling with as well. I wish he would have elaborated more on this, but was glad he brought it up at all.
All in all, I highly recommend this book!
In "Forgotten God" Francis Chan aims to write "a compelling invitation to rediscover the Holy Spirit's power in our lives," and on this mark they succeed. The message of the book is straightforward, not intending to break new ground but to concisely teach, remind, and exhort us to stop neglecting the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Chapters include "I've Got Jesus, Why do I need the Spirit?", "What are you afraid of?", "Theology of the Holy Spirit 101", "Why do you want Him?", and "A real relationship".
The most interesting and thought-provoking chapter for me was "Forget about His will for your life!" Here he points out that as Christians we often use our lack of a good understanding for His will as an excuse not to follow Him day by day, an excuse for inaction or even disobedience. "God cares more about our response to His Spirit's leading today, in this moment, that about what we intend to do next year. In fact, the decisions we make next year will be profoundly affected by the degree to which we submit to the Spirit right now, in today's decisions." The implication of ignoring the Spirit for both our lives and for the health of the church is a complete lack of power, and severely diminished ability to carry out God's will. Forgotten God is a solid book worth reading. Those who liked Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God will very likely enjoy "Forgotten God" as well. Yet... in some ways I expected to like both of these books more than I actually did based on other strong reviews - there was just something about the tone of the writing that left me feeling more like I was being nagged or judged, even though I agree with the content and long for a closer walk in the Spirit and love of Christ.
I was greatly impressed with Chan's ability to write in-depthly about a theological topic in simple, cohesive language that appeals to readers of any level of spiritual maturity. Chan approaches the topic of the Holy Spirit humbly and reverently admitting that he doesn't have a "right" to talk about the Holy Spirit as if he understands Him or knows him as he should. However, Chan conveys a great love of God, passion for the Holy Spirit and pastor's heart for the people of God.
In addition to providing biblical explanations of the Holy Spirit, Chan critiques some of the errors of the Western church's treatment of the Holy Spirit and offers suggestions of corrective practices to welcome the Holy Spirit and respond to Him and His gifts among the body of Christ more fully.
Chan also includes several profiles of everyday people who have been touched and inspired by the Holy Spirit's leadings to do supernatural things with their lives. This is welcoming, as readers learn about the promptings of the Holy Spirit and how he speaks to us and helps us.
I especially appreciated the theme of Chan's book that the Holy Spirit is not about leading us straight to glorious success and self-aggrandizement; rather, the Holy Spirit leads us to the cross and to sanctification so that Jesus and not ourselves is glorified. In this, Chan teaches a theology of the cross that is at odds with much of Western Christianity's current trends. Along with this theme, Chan discusses the magnitude of submitting to God and inviting the Holy Spirit into your life. What does this mean? Chan follows the course of what it means to live with the Holy Spirit.
Chan also addresses the reality of living as sinners who are saved and filled with the Holy Spirit by God's grace. He discusses the tension between our natures and the Spirit's will and process of sanctifying us.
I think this is a great book for Christians or non-Christians interested in learning about God's love and desire for each person and communities as a whole to have a relationship with him. Chan shows how the church in the book of Acts was constantly being filled with the Holy Spirit, and he leades us toward that same goal for our lives.
Craig Stephans, author of Shakespeare On Spirituality: Life-Changing Wisdom from Shakespeare's Plays
Francis Chan reminds of John Wesley, the 18th century pioneer of Methodism. John Wesley wrote a sermon called "The Almost Christian," yet another of his attempts to convert cozy church people into risk-taking, born again Christians who are steadily growing in holiness. Like Wesley, Chan believes that the same dynamic experience of Christian faith of the New Testament is available to the present day followers of Jesus Christ.
Like his first book, "Crazy Love," Chan's second book, "The Forgotten God: Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit," challenges readers to take some risks. Whereas "Crazy Love" might be considered a primer on the doctrine of God (with a distinctly Reformed undertone), "Forgotten God" obviously focuses on that mysterious third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Chan writes in the Introduction:
"From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected and, for all practical purposes, forgotten...There is a gap between what we read in Scripture about the Holy Spirit and how most believers and churches operate today. In many modern churches, you would be stunned by the apparent absence of the Spirit in any manifest way. And this, I believe, is the crux of the problem."
Chan wants us to experience the Holy Spirit in power, not merely get some good theology about the Holy Spirit.
I couldn't find a well-reasoned order to the chapters of this short book. Each chapter seems more like devotional reflections rather than a progressive building from chapter to chapter. Brief biographies of people who strike Chan as "Spirit-filled" end each chapter.
Nothing in "The Forgotten God" struck me as new. I did mark out a few passages that struck me as insightful reminders. Overall, I would characterize Chan's theological pedigree as Reformed and evangelical. He doesn't delve deep enough into issues like speaking in tongues to label him as Charismatic. Much of his work seems friendly to a Wesleyan tradition, too. I should note that I don't attempt to label Chan theologically to "peg him" so as to dismiss him; it's simply an exercise of awareness.
Because Chan is so frustrated by American Christianity - its ease, wealth, and comfort - his tone can be a bit of a downer. Of course we should be careful of dismissing hard to hear messages simply because they make us feel bad, but this tone stood out to me in both of Chan's books. His favorite adverbs ("really," "genuinely," "honestly") indicate a distrust with the glittery ease of American Christianity. It's not an always positive message Chan offers, but it's good to hear a popular evangelical leader who pastors a megachurch wrestling with the implications of his church's wealth and power.
I should also note that I'm likely not the intended audience. Chan's writing for popular Christian readers, not Mainline pastors like me who spent a good chunk of seminar reading the Church Fathers (including St. Basil the Great's "The Holy Spirit"). This wouldn't be my first recommendation to one of my parishioners if they were seeking to not only learn more about the Holy Spirit but also to experience the Holy Spirit more.
In that case, I'd recommend one of Jack Hayford's books (an Amazon search for "Hayford" and "spirit" will pull up a number of good hits). For delving into theology of the Holy Spirit, I'd recommend the above work by St. Basil the Great. John Paul II's encyclical on the Holy Spirit (available on the Vatican's website) is also good, as is the Roman Catholic Catechism. I'd also recommend perusing some of John Wesley's sermons (freely available online), as well as John Calvin's section on the Holy Spirit in The Institutes of the Christian Religion. But if you get this far, you likely won't find much need for "The Forgotten God."