Saturday, December 5, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Francis Chan - Crazy Love ( one of those 'read at your own risk' books)

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God

Life in Scotland has been crazy BUSY the past 3 months - haven't blogged as much as I'd like... so I thought I'd share with you some of what I'm writing and wrestling through at Edinburgh Theological Seminary.  

Francis Chan writes Crazy Love from within American church culture to his contemporaries.  In this book, he seeks to wake up complacent believers to the glory of God, to the experience of grace, and to the absolute demand placed on our lives through the gospel.  He intersperses exhortation with testimony of personal renewal in his own life and in that of Cornerstone Community Church, a church he planted and which, at publication date, he had pastored for thirteen years.  His stated goal is to '...convince you of something: that by surrendering yourself totally to God’s purposes, He will bring you the most pleasure in this life and the next.'[1]
From his opening words, 'We all know something’s wrong,'[2] Chan takes the direct approach and asks 'some hard questions,'[3] with the qualifier that his goal is not to bash but to spur on the church.  In chapters one to three, Chan addresses our perspective of God.  He paints a fresh picture of classic attributes of God; he reminds us that history is about God, not us; and he invites us to exchange performance-oriented fear for 'reverent intimacy'[4] with our loving God.  He goes for the jugular in chapters four and five, titled, 'Profile of the Lukewarm' and 'Serving Leftovers to a Holy God'.  First, Chan catalogues the traits of nominal Christians who, based on his reading of Revelation 3:16 'will not... [be] in heaven'[5].  Then he argues that offering God leftovers is not justifiable; it is 'evil'.[6]  With chapter six, the book turns a corner as Chan models the answer to lukewarm living: it is not guilt, but letting "God... help me love God."[7]  This love moves us from a life of comfort to one of faith-filled risk.[8]  Chan challenges us to pursue the exemplary traits of the "Profile of the Obsessed".[9]  Then he profiles twelve demographically diverse individuals, one family and one church who model 'crazy love'.  Chan shares these to '[eliminate] every excuse for not living a radical, love-motivated life.[10]  He challenges readers to not simply noetically assent but to respond by walking in surrender.  This challenge is supported by three 'how to' steps from Chan's own experience: continually pursue Christ, remember the great cloud of witnesses, and rely on the gift of the Holy Spirit.[11]
This book's greatest strength is its clear, passionate and unifying theme, robustly undergirded by Scripture: 'let's take seriously Christ's call to heartfelt, no-holds-back discipleship.'   Chan's choice of language serves his purpose well: it is simple, compelling, and it carries the theme forward in a fast-moving, logical and emotive flow.   Chan's habit of careful Bible meditation comes through in his fresh insights into familiar Scriptures.  For example, commenting on Jesus' analysis of salt losing its saltiness, he asks, 'How would you like to hear the Son of God say, "You would ruin manure"?'[12]  Francis writes to an audience he knows well, and he earns credence with them through his own authenticity.  He reinforces Scripture's injunctions with well-chosen quotes and with inspiring examples of ordinary people.  Finally, Chan calls for a strong response from his readers.
Crazy Love  is an important, well written message; what could Chan have done to make it even better?  He warmly expresses the truth of God's forgiveness and father-love.[13]  However, this foundational truth would have greater impact if Chan had proved it more thoroughly from Scripture rather than from experience, and if he had clearly expressed that the power to change is not only something to pursue on our part (e.g. 'swimming upstream'[14]) but also something to freely receive from God as part of the gift announced in the gospel.[15]   Additionally, Chan's declaration that the 'lukewarm' are damned begs at least a brief interaction with evangelicals who disagree, but he declines.[16]  In answering the 'Now, what?' question, his first prescription is 'to ask yourself, "Is this the most loving way to do life?" '[17]   I suggest this emphasizes the human element in discernment, to the neglect of cultivating a dependant, listening ear for the leading of the Holy Spirit (though he is clear in emphasizing the power  of the Holy Spirit[18]).  This appears to be his corrective to people using 'I didn't "hear God calling me" '[19] to excuse their disobedience to Scripture; however I believe his approach divides something which God has joined together - the Word and the Spirit.
On the research side, the book's statistics are weakened by Chan's choice in one case to cite the sometimes-reliable Wikipedia (historical world population[20]) and in the other case, to provide no citation source (income comparison[21]).
As a discipleship resource I would give Crazy Love an eight out of ten.  I have benefited from it and I would share it with others.
Personally, this book challenged me to have a big and growing view of God and to love him with every fibre of my being.  While my coming to Scotland this year has involved massive steps of faith, reading Crazy Love made me realize how quickly I am settling for a safe life now that I'm here.  Chan spurs me on to eschew my preference for comfortable living, and stirs afresh a longing that my greatest steps of faith will not be in my past.   The biographical sketches in chapter nine gave me a vivid picture of Jesus as the treasure hidden in the field who is worth any price to gain.   One of the 'trust' questions raised for me is, 'How should my family approach "giving" now that we have transitioned from salary to zero "guaranteed" income?'  I think above all I hear in Francis' book a call to not to neglect that sweet place of worship and intimacy with Jesus where abandon to God flows naturally.
In my vocation as a preacher, Francis' model of pulling no punches in laying out the call of Jesus convicts me.  Sometimes I over-qualify the demands of Scripture with the result that their potency is diminished.   I found Chan's own testimony of struggles and victories to be helpful, and  I am encouraged to grow in the practice of personal transparency as part of teaching the Bible effectively.  On the home front, I am inviting my twelve-year-old daughter to read Crazy Love and I look forward to discussing with her how it applies to our lives.
Finally, here is my favorite quote from Crazy Love:
Giving up everything and sacrificing everything we can for the afterlife is logical. “Crazy” is living a safe life and storing up things while trying to enjoy our time on earth, knowing that any millisecond God could take your life.[22]

Crazy Love: Original edition (reviewed).
Crazy Love: Updated edition
Written for Practical Theology 101 - fall 2015 @ Edinburgh Theological Seminary.

[1] Francis Chan and Danae Yankoski, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2008), 20
[2]  Ibid, 19
[3]  Ibid, 19
[4]  Ibid, 57
[5]  Ibid, 83
[6]  Ibid, 91
[7]  Ibid, 104
[8]  Ibid, Chapter 7
[9]  Ibid, Chapter 8
[10] Ibid, 163
[11] Ibid, 169-171
[12]  Ibid, 81
[13]  e.g. Ibid, Chapter 3, also cf. p. 110
[14]  Ibid,  95
[15]  cf. Gal. 3:1-5
[16]  Chan and Yankoski , 84
[17]  Ibid, 166
[18] Ibid, 171-172
[19] Ibid, 169
[20] Ibid, 45
[21] Ibid, 89
[22] Ibid, 186

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