I don’t read many books about “the Christian Life.” As I have said before, most of them could be subtitled “This works for me, so it should work for you.” Most are somewhat helpful, but don’t really say much of value.
But a while back some neighbors told me about a book they’d been studying, Crazy Love by Francis Chan, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA. They seemed to have been thrown into a state of consternation by reading it. So since I had a coupon at Barnes and Noble, I picked up a copy.
The author states his purpose in the preface, page 21: “This book 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, those who would rather die before their convictions do. I hope reading this book will 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.”
That sounded agreeable to me!
He then goes on almost immediately to castigate his readers. He seems to assume that they are not of this group for whom he has just said he had written the book. Page 22: “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’s because we have an inaccurate view of God.”
The book pretty much follows this pattern as the author does his “good cop, bad cop” routine, at one point lifting his readers’ spirits and then bringing them crashing down. I feel that there is frustration in his writing – a frustration that I have felt as a pastor and which my congregation probably also sensed in my preaching. We all want to see our flocks knowing the joy of walking closer to God, but instead see many living a passive Sunday-go-to-meeting Christianity. But I fear books (and sermons) such as this have little positive effect.
The first few chapters alternate between great statements about the majesty of God and the wonders of His creation and the readers’ passive understanding of Him. The author gives much personal testimony of his pilgrimage and growth. He challenges the readers to understand that “The greatest good on this earth is God” and to love Him. All good stuff! I told my neighbors that I didn’t find much disagreeable or threatening. “Just wait till you get to chapter 5!” I was told. So I continued reading.
In chapter 4, “Profile of the Lukewarm,” the author jumps into his “bad cop” routine. He gives us here what he claims is “a description of what halfhearted, distracted, partially committed, lukewarm people can look like” (page 68), and challenges his readers to see if they fit the description. He cites various passages seemingly selected at random, most of which are not even aimed at professing Christians and NONE of which use the word “lukewarm.” Any of us could look through these passages and find some fault or faults of ours there. Does this imply that we are “lukewarm”?
In chapter 5 he tells us that “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.” Wow! He then quotes Revelation 3:15-18 which is a portion of the letter from the risen Christ to the church at Laodicea. It is the ONLY passage where the word “lukewarm” is used in the whole Bible. The addressees are, as the author argues not “saved” people. I would agree.
The logic here is faulty. In chapter 4, he has defined “lukewarm” in such a broad way as to include most of us. Now we’re told “lukewarm” people are not going to heaven. The argument as I understand it, seems to go like this:
Chapter 4: Every Christian who has faults is lukewarm.
I, the reader, have faults.
Therefore I am lukewarm.
Chapter 5: Lukewarm Christians are not going to heaven.
I am lukewarm.
Therefore I am not going to heaven.
After frightening his readers, the author then switches to his “good cop” routine. He says (page 87), “I do not want true believers to doubt their salvation as they read this book.” That’s just the opposite of what he’s been telling us! Maybe the emphasis should be on the word “true.” He doesn’t want true believers to doubt their salvation. Maybe he just wants us all to doubt that we are true believers.
The next few chapters continue the roller coaster ride: doubt – assurance – doubt – assurance.
Apparently Pastor Chan is himself a bit uncomfortable with his use of guilt and fear as a motivator. He keeps introducing what appear to be apologies:
Page 95: “Perhaps it sounds as though I believe you have to work your way to Jesus. I don’t. I fully believe that we are saved by grace, through faith, by the gift of God, and that true faith manifests itself through our actions.”
Page 101: My fear in writing the previous chapter is that it only evokes in you fear and guilt. Personal experience has taught me that actions driven by fear and guilt are not an antidote to lukewarm, selfish, comfortable living. I hope you realize instead that the answer is love.”
So why does he write this way?
In chapter 8, “Profile of the Obsessed” he gives his descriptions of those who are obsessed with Christ. These are total opposites of the “lukewarm” he describes in chapter 5. In chapter 9 he gives actual brief biographical sketches of persons he knows or knows of “who really live that way.” Many of these are well-known believers who have given their lives totally to Christ. Some, however, seem bizarre, such as the man who had all of his teeth pulled out so he wouldn’t have to “slow down God’s work” for dental care.
The book ends on an encouraging note with an urge for what he calls “matter-of-fact obedience.” He quotes Oswald Chambers (page 167). “Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you.” and ads his own warning, “Be careful not to turn others’ lives into the mold for your own. Allow God to be as creative with you as He is with each of us.” Here he seems to contradict the previous two chapters.
Although I believe Pastor Chan’s desires are correct – he wants his readers totally committed to Christ – and though there is much truth to be gained from reading this book, I would not recommend it. The up and down style, alternating between threats and assurances, is manipulative!
The danger of books like this and many sermons that I’ve heard (and a few I’ve preached), is that instead of achieving the purpose for which they are written, they can lead to other reactions in their readers/hearers.
One negative reaction is despair. A reader could say, “I see too many of my faults/sins pointed out in this book (especially in chapter 4); I can never overcome all.” Or “I see the truly committed Christian as some strange type such as described in chapters 7 and 8 and realize I can never attain to this type of commitment (and I probably don’t want to!).”
Another negative reaction is legalism. One could strive (in the flesh) to eliminate the faults described and to develop the qualities described and probably do a pretty good job. Yet never be moved closer to Christ, but rather farther from Him.