– Francis Chan, Crazy Love
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We’ve been having quite a discussion since I posted Francis Chan’s video about “Aging Biblically” yesterday and said that I found it worthy of a rant. Though what he had to say about aging Christians was bad enough, I was more concerned about the entire approach to the Christian life that his words and attitude reflected.
I called it world-denying, dualistic, pietistic, and totally bereft of the Gospel.
When Chan says, “Respectfully, I don’t meet a lot of elderly who live like they are about to see Jesus, and saying goodbye to the things of this world,……and risking more than ever, and some of you are buying stuff like you are going to enjoy it…and saving stuff…my life has been about letting go, letting go, letting go…” his words may carry some truth regarding the dangers of materialism, but they go beyond that. He comes perilously close to denying the existential value of material “stuff” — period. As if God didn’t make that “stuff,” didn’t mean for us to have it, enjoy it, savor it. The only logical end point for this approach, as I said in the comments, is the monastery. That kind of “letting go, letting go, letting go” lifestyle, in my mind, is perfectly legitimate for some, who are called to a cloistered vocation, though I can’t picture any good monk or nun being as frantic about it as Chan sounds.
However, for Chan, the stakes are black and white for every Christ-follower. This is reflected in Crazy Love, where the contrast he draws is between “lukewarm” or “totally obsessed.” Really. It’s one or the other. Unless a person is (and these are his words) — obsessed, consumed with Christ, fixated on Jesus, risk-taking, radical, wholly surrendered — that person may not even be (likely is not) a Christian. “As I see it, 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.”
This is the essence of the kind of “discipleship” people like Francis Chan tell us is necessary: “Do you understand that it’s impossible to please God in any way other than wholehearted surrender?”
Well, and I thought trusting Jesus and what he did was enough.
- Nathan Barlow, a medical doctor who served in Ethiopia for sixty years. Once when he got a toothache, he had to leave the field to get dental work done. He had the dentist pull all his teeth and give him dentures so he wouldn’t have to leave for a toothache again.
- Simpson Rebbavarapu, an Indian man who lives solely by faith and runs and orphanage and evangelism ministry.
- Jamie Lang, a woman who adopted a little girl from Tanzania and has returned there to work with Wycliffe to translate the Bible.
- Marva Dawn, a scholar and teacher with severe medical problems who has committed to living a simple life and still drives her 1980 VW Bug.
- Rings, a homeless man who uses his monthly check to buy food for his fellow homeless, which he serves them out of the back of his truck while telling them about Jesus.
- Rachel Saint, whose brother Nate had been one of the five missionaries killed in 1956 in Ecuador. She went back to those same people, lived among them for twenty years, translated the NT into their language, and is now buried there.
- George Mueller, well-known English pastor who started orphanages for two reasons: (1) to care for the needy, (2) to show that God provides by prayer alone.
- Brother Yun, who came to know Christ at age 16, preached the Gospel in China and was imprisoned dozens of times, and on the last occasion had his legs severely beaten and broken. He escaped China and now works for a mission establishing fellowships of believers in all the countries between Jerusalem and China.
- Shane Claiborne, a leader in the “new monastic” movement, who lives and serves in Philadelphia in The Simple Way community.
- The Robynson family, a family of five who celebrates Christmas by making breakfast for the homeless in their community.
- Susan Diego, who feared speaking in front of people, and yet who went to Uganda and led a conference for women.
- Lucy, an older woman who was a prostitute in her early years. She now opens her home to other young women who are in trouble on the streets.
I have to say, stories like these move and inspire me. They always have. I could tell you a hundred more from my own experiences and reading. And I too have been to places where poor Christians, in living conditions that would be intolerable for comfortable Americans, are trusting Christ and serving their neighbors faithfully. I know people who have made great sacrifices and left much behind to serve Christ. I too have used them as examples to encourage and challenge others in their faith and service. Many of them are personal heroes to me.
But I also remember a conversation I had with one of my best friends from college many years ago that chastened me and gave me caution in telling “heroic” stories. He was young and struggling in ministry and feeling very discouraged. He had sought help from others, and they had suggested he read some biographies of great people of faith from the past, Christian leaders they thought might inspire him. He said to me sadly, “Mike, I’ve read several of these biographies, but they don’t encourage me, they make me feel completely inadequate. I’m not like those people.”
What my friend needed was a different story, a story that wasn’t on a heroic level. He needed an example that made it seem like doing the work of an ordinary pastor in a small rural parish was worth it. He didn’t have to go overseas or start some big mission project or adopt a child from an impoverished country. He wasn’t necessarily called to trust God to provide all his needs solely in answer to prayer, or build a great church, or do anything other than be himself, walk with Jesus, and love his neighbors.
I’m afraid, by Chan’s definition, the majority of Christians are “lukewarm,” and therefore unworthy. But I wonder:
- Is it “crazy love” to devote my life to loving my spouse and staying together through thick and thin? If I never did any more than that, would it be enough to prove I’m not a “lukewarm” Christian?
- What if I never did any more than show up at my job day after day and do my work well, as a faithful employee? Would that please God enough?
- What if I’m a private person, a shy person, a deeply wounded person, a physically disabled person, a person with mental or emotional problems? What if I’m a person who needs to be cared for rather than one capable of actively caring for others? What if someone in my family is ill and I must devote most of my time, energy, and resources to serving them in obscurity? Do people like Chan ever talk about passages like 1Cor 12:22-25? “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”
- What if I’m part of a small congregation of few means, and I work together with my brothers and sisters to keep it going year after year, and we never do anything particularly creative or risky or “crazy”? What if we just meet every Sunday, teach our children, do a few things now and then to make our community a better place, and support a few missionaries? Is that “obsessed with Jesus” enough?
- What if I take to heart a NT text like 1Thessalonians 4:11-12 and use it to define my understanding of the Christian life — “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.” (NLT)?
- And, most importantly, what if I’m a miserable failure and all I can do is come to church and cry out, “God be merciful to me, the sinner!”? Will God be pleased with me? With my doubts? With my lack of trust? With my depression? With my poor social skills or embarrassing appearance? With my constant stumbling and fumbling through the most basic matters of life? Am I worthy enough to be called a disciple?
It seems to me that some preachers simply have no tolerance for ordinary, daily life with all its messiness and imperfection as a realm in which God is at work, and in which we participate through simply being who we are, trusting God, and loving our neighbors. No, the message is loud and clear: do more, give more, sacrifice more, serve more, be more obsessed, take more risks, go farther, reach higher, run faster, be more like this extraordinary person and not like your ordinary self.
Chan’s vision of the Christian life is more, more, more. In Crazy Love, he writes, “If life is a river, then pursuing Christ requires swimming upstream. When we stop swimming, or actively following Him, we automatically begin to be swept downstream. Or, to use another metaphor more familiar to city people, we are on a never-ending downward escalator. In order to grow, we have to turn around and sprint up the escalator, putting up with perturbed looks from everyone else who is gradually moving downward.”
I’m worn out just reading those words.
When did “discipleship” come to mean a manic sprint up a down escalator? I thought it was “walking with Christ.”
I don’t think people who promote this kind of discipleship read the New Testament correctly.
- They realize, don’t they, that Jesus himself only lived a “radical” life of active ministry for two or three years?
- They realize, don’t they, that the exciting, non-stop action of the book of Acts describes primarily the acts of the apostles, who had a different calling than most Christians?
- They realize, don’t they, that none of this frantic, manic, obsessive activism that is being promoted as an antidote to nominal Christianity is represented in any of the epistles?
There are no super-Christians in the New Testament.
Just people, saved by grace, called into a variety of vocations in which we live our ordinary, daily lives in Jesus.
Some may have extraordinary callings, some may have great gifts. Most are normal people, walking with Jesus day by day in the context of family, work, church, and community.
Nor do Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, or John preach at us incessantly to live a “letting go, letting go, letting go” lifestyle that is focused on “heaven” and dismissive of the ordinary stuff of this world. Indeed, they tell us we are free from the voices of religious demand that cry out continually, “More! More! More!” They remind us of a good Creator and a faithful Redeemer who has given us freely all things to enjoy and the greatest gift of all, contentment in his love.
What some people call “crazy love” I call “crazy-making.”
And Jesus calls us away from that:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
– Matt. 11:28-30, MSG