Crazy Love by Francis Chan
There is a big problem among Christians in America: laziness. There are many of us who have become complacent in our faith. There are many who love comfort more than Jesus. There are many who want a Jesus that comes along to scratch our spiritual itches. So that, when Jesus says something like, “Take up your cross and follow me,” they try and find any excuse to deny the difficult life (or is it a death?) that Jesus calls them to. I am one of “them”. So are you.
Pastor Francis Chan sets out to combat this problem in his book Crazy Love. Drawing upon Jesus’ words to the church of Laodecia in Revelation 3:16, Chan suggests that many American Christians have become “lukewarm” in their faith, and according to him, if things don’t change, Jesus is getting ready to spit them out of His mouth. So how is one to correct lukewarmness? Chan begins in the first three chapters by presenting who God is and what our situation is in the world. His aim is to instill a proper fear of God in us. He reminds us of God’s terrifying power and glory we see in the Scriptures in chapter one. In chapter two he reminds us that we could die at any moment, even while reading this chapter. Realizing this, that is, that we could die and meet God in all his glory at any moment ought to change the way we live. It should make us strive to be more selfless and passionate about God. But, lest we move forward in utter fear, we must remember how amazing this God’s love for us is! After all, says Chan in chapter three, God has loved us enough to create us, He freely chooses us (though this free gift is costly as Jesus died for us sinners), and gives Himself to us (p 60). So that, He desires to be with us and give us the greatest gift of all, Himself! But, Chan wonders, is God enough for you? He ends the chapter (and thus the foundational section of the book) asking the question, “Are you in love with God, or just his stuff” (p 62)? And later, “Do you love this God who is everything, or do you just love everything he gives you” (pp 62-63)? With this as our foundation: that God is fearfully holy and we could meet Him in death at any moment, knowing all the while that He loves us because He chooses to, we enter into the second section of the book where Chan decries the lukewarm American church. Chan explains what a lukewarm Christian looks like with a whole list of lukewarm characteristics in chapter four (pp 68-79). These are people who put on a Christian front, but don’t really have their hearts in the right place as evidenced by their inactivity. He then examines in chapter five how we are more motivated to be “good Christians” by fear of hell than love for God (p 86). Chapter six then teaches that if you really love God, you will follow Christ with your whole heart, as there is no such thing as half-hearted Christ following (p 94). Our lives, then, must be lived with a view of eternity. Chapter seven teaches us not to live for today, but for eternity. We live safely because we feel like now is all there is, but if we truly believed in an eternal existence, we would live much more costly lives for the sake of God (p 116). Chapter eight then corrects chapter four’s “profile of the lukewarm” by giving a “profile of the obsessed” (pp 130-138) and chapter nine offers real life examples of people who live such lives (pp 149-164). He closes by telling us this book is a call to radical discipleship. How will you now live realizing how God wants you to live?
Chan’s book is nothing short of challenging. There is much to be commended here. He does a great job of diagnosing the problem of laziness (lukewarmness) in the American church. There is not a pastor worth his weight in salt who doesn’t wish his congregation was more driven, passionate, and on fire (though, to be fair, there are a great many people in the church who wish the same about their pastors!). Comfort and selfishness have become great idols in our churches. Churches can become places that help Christians grow fat and lazy in their faith. Chan has rightly diagnosed the problem.
His chapter on those who have persevered in the face of great trial is particularly challenging and inspiring. However, I found myself greatly frustrated with this book. There is virtually no gospel. That is, the death and resurrection of Jesus for sinners plays a minimal role at best in Chan’s book. It gets lip service in one paragraph in the third chapter, but that is about it (p 60). The answer to selfish, lukewarm Christianity, according to Chan, is to do more, be more. If you don’t do it with your whole heart, Jesus is getting ready to spit you out of His mouth! So, are you on fire enough? Are you obsessed enough? Do serve God with your whole heart or only half of it? Do you desire to love Jesus more, or are you just loving Him for selfish reasons? What are you doing that is preventing you from loving Jesus and selling out to Him completely?
Notice the problem here. It is all about what YOU are (or aren’t) doing. Your eyes are still fixed on you. If we take Chan’s book seriously enough, the obsessed-with- Jesus Christian life is entirely focused on MY love for Jesus lived out in my works. It is still focused on me. I imagine Chan’s response would be, “But I want people to look more to Jesus so that they are more on fire!” If that is what he thinks (it is hard to put thoughts in people’s heads, after all) then he should talk more about Jesus and less about our response.
The Christian life is not about how lukewarm we are or about how my love for Jesus is lived out in my works. Rather, it is about how much God has given me in the death and resurrection of His Son, and how His Son works out His love for the world through me! In his treatise, On the Freedom of the Christian, Luther says that the entire life of the Christian is lived outside of oneself. I live in faith towards God and love towards my neighbor. Faith gives nothing to God, but receives all things from Him in Christ. This then shapes the way I love my neighbor. The question is never, “Have I done enough?” or, “Am I obsessed enough?” because the answer is always “no.” We can never do enough for God and our neighbor is always in need. Instead, the Christian lives in faith towards God, that is, believing that Jesus has done everything necessary to be right with Him. And, the Christians stands in love towards the neighbor, not asking if one has done enough, but asking, “What else does my neighbor need?” To be sure, we can be guilty of using the gospel of God’s free love in Christ as an excuse to not passionately pursue obedience to God’s will for us (Lutherans are notoriously guilty of this!). But, the answer is not to withhold the Gospel from God’s people. Rather, it is to ground them in their baptisms! Remind them who they are in Jesus by God’s gracious activity, and direct them to their neighbor in love. Chan’s book, though rightly diagnosing the problem, wrongly seeks the solution to the lukewarm sinner in the lukewarm sinner, where there is no hope. This creates only pride or despair. Spending a whole book entitled Crazy Love hardly mentioning the love of Christ for sinners is just, well, crazy! Instead, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith!