A Website for Basic Christian Doctrine

CRAZY LOVE by Francis Chan

By Jeremy Cagle

Book-Review-Header
In the 1800s, a movement started in the church which said that the goal of Christianity is to change society.1  While most Christians would say that is a good goal, they would also say that it cannot be done unless people change first.  This movement, however, said that people cannot change until society changes.  In the words of one proponent:

The evils of one generation are caused by the wrongs of the generations that preceded, and will in turn condition the sufferings and temptations of those who come after . . . The apparently free and unrelated acts of individuals are also the acts of the social group. When the social group is evil, evil is over all.2

The movement became known as the “Social Gospel.”3  It believed that mankind was good and that all we needed was a change in environment in order to abolish evil and usher in the Kingdom of God.  As Horace Greeley put it:

[Human desires are] good in themselves. Evil flows only from their repression or subversion. Give them full scope, free play, a perfect and complete development, and universal happiness must be the result . . . Create a new form of society in which this shall be possible . . . then you will have a perfect Society; then you will have the “Kingdom of Heaven.”4

The goal of Christianity then is not to bring salvation to the individual sinner but to bring salvation to all of society.5  It is to improve the world by preaching Jesus Christ and helping the poor.  While Francis Chan does not hold to all of the theological convictions of the Social Gospel, his book Crazy Love has a lot in common with it.

Francis Chan is the founding pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California.6  In 2011, he left Cornerstone Church to go on a journey and see where the Lord would have him minister next.7  The journey took him through Thailand, China, and Hong Kong and eventually back to San Francisco where he grew up.8  Along with his other pursuits, Francis Chan is the author of several books9 and is the founder of Eternity Bible College.10

Crazylove_bookcover

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God was written by Chan along with Danae Yankoski.  Danae is a graduate of Westmont College, where she studied English literature.11  Their collaboration was originally published in 2008 by the David C. Cook publishing company.  It was later republished in 2013 with some revisions and a new chapter.12  With its first publication, Crazy Love made it onto the New York Times Bestseller list13 and sold more than two million copies.14

The book demonstrates its popularity with endorsements from such well-known Christians as Louie Giglio, Joni Erickson Tada, and Kirk Cameron.15  Chris Tomlin, the famous contemporary Christian musician,16 wrote the Foreword.  In it, he said that:

The book you have in your hand, Crazy Love, may just be the most challenging book outside of God’s Word you will read this year. (And for a few years to come for that matter) . . . I am challenged to the core by the pages you’re about to read . . . I encourage you to face up to the convictions of Crazy Love.17

Publishers Weekly also had this to say in its favor:

Chan writes with infectious exuberance, challenging Christians to take the Bible seriously. He describes at length the sorry state of “lukewarm” Christians who strive for a life characterized by control, safety, and an absence of suffering. In stark contrast, the book offers real-life accounts of believers who have given all – time, money, health, even their lives – in obedience to Christ’s call . . . Earnest Christians will find valuable take-home lessons from Chan’s excellent book.18

With such ringing endorsements and book sales, it would be good to find out what Crazy Love is all about.

Content

Crazy Love is the biography of Francis Chan’s own personal faith journey.19  It reads like a sermon and a diary all wrapped up in one.  It is Chan’s attempt to describe how he went from a Christianity that left him empty and wanting more to a Christianity that left him fulfilled.  In his own words in the Preface:

I haven’t always felt this way. I grew up believing in God without having a clue what He is like. I called myself a Christian, was pretty involved in church, and tried to stay away from all of the things that “good Christians” avoid – drinking, drugs, sex, swearing. Christianity was simple: Fight your desires in order to please God . . . In hindsight, I don’t think my church’s teachings were incorrect, just incomplete. My view of God was narrow and small . . .

The conviction I felt through the teachings of Scripture, coupled with several experiences in third-world countries, changed everything. Some serious paradigm shattering happened in my life, and consequently in our church. The result is that I’ve never felt more alive, and neither has Cornerstone Church.20

The results of this “paradigm shattering” are monumental for Chan and for others.  As the book goes on to state, this paradigm shattering can give more Jesus, stop boredom, create extreme faith, change the reputation of the church in America, and provide an alternative to atheism.21

To understand the content of Crazy Love, it would be best to go to the end of the book.  Crazy Love closes with an epilogue entitled “A Conversation with Francis Chan.”  The first question asked is, “Tell us about the Title Crazy Love. Chan answers in the following way:

The idea of Crazy Love has to do with our relationship with God. All my life I’ve heard people say, “God loves you.” It’s probably the most insane statement you could make to say that the eternal Creator of this universe is in love with me.22

The last question of the chapter also explains the content of the book.  The question is: “Are you really advocating that we all live like religious fanatics?”  Here is Chan’s answer:

The kind of life that I’ve described in Crazy Love shouldn’t seem crazy to us. It should be the only thing that makes sense. 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 your time on earth, knowing that any millisecond God could take your life.23

Crazy Love, then, is written to explain what it means to live in light of the “crazy love” that God has for us.  It is written to tell us that, if we understand God’s love for us, we will trust in His Son Jesus Christ and give our worldly possessions to the poor.  In doing so, we can change the way the world looks at the church.

The book has 11 chapters and 224 pages.  The chapters cover everything from salvation to eternity to how Christians are to live once they have been saved.  I will explore the discussion of theology and salvation below, but chapters 4 and 8 describe how Christians are to live once they have been saved.  In these chapters, Chan describes the response that he is trying to produce in his readers. He shows us what the true Christian life should not look like and what it should look like.

Chapter 4 is entitled “Profile of the Lukewarm.”  In this profile, Chan gives his readers an examination to see if they are living passionately for Jesus.  He explains the purpose of it this way:

This profile of the lukewarm is not an all-inclusive definition of what it means to be a Christian, nor is it intended to be used as ammunition to judge your fellow believers’ salvation. Instead, as 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, it is a call to “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.”24

He goes on to say that no one is immune from failing to live up to this profile.  Rather, he says, those who are “in the process of being radically transformed” will avoid a lot of these pitfalls.25  Here is just a sampling from the “Profile of the Lukewarm.”

Lukewarm People care more for what is popular than for what is godly.

Lukewarm People tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict. They desire to fit in both at church and outside of church; they care more about what people think of their actions (like church attendance and giving) than what God thinks of their hearts and lives.26

Lukewarm People do not act on their beliefs.

Lukewarm People are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act. They assume such action is for “extreme” Christians, not average ones. Lukewarm People call “radical” what Jesus expected of all His followers.27

Lukewarm People compare themselves to the secular world.

Lukewarm People gauge their morality or “goodness” by comparing themselves to the secular world. They feel satisfied that while they aren’t as hard-core for Jesus as so-and-so, they are nowhere as horrible as the guy down the street.28

Lukewarm People have limits as to how far they will serve God with their resources.

Lukewarm People will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go or how much time, money, and energy they are willing to give.29

And, finally, Lukewarm People think they are Christian because they made a profession of faith at a young age, vote Republican, or live in America.

Lukewarm People feel secure because they attend church, make a profession of faith at age twelve, were baptized, come from a Christian family, vote Republican, or live in America.30

This list can be compared to the list in Chapter 8 entitled “The Profile of the Obsessed.”  This profile discusses what a life looks like that is passionate for Jesus. As in Chapter 4, this is not an all-inclusive list but a description of what a life under transformation looks like.31

Obsessed People are Lovers.

People who are obsessed with Jesus give freely and openly, without censure. Obsessed people love those who hate them and who can never love them back.32

Obsessed People are Risk Takers.

People who are obsessed with Jesus aren’t consumed with their personal safety and comfort above all else. Obsessed people care more about God’s kingdom coming to this earth than their own lives being shielded from pain or distress.33

Obsessed People are Friends of All.

People who are obsessed with Jesus live lives that connect them with the poor in some way or another. Obsessed people believe that Jesus talked about money and the poor so often because it was really important to Him.34

Obsessed People are Crazy Ones.

Obsessed people are more concerned with obeying God than doing what is expected or fulfilling the status quo. A person who is obsessed with Jesus will do things that don’t always make sense in terms of success or wealth on this earth.35

Obsessed People are also described as humble, servers, givers, sojourners, engrossed, unguarded, dedicated, and sacrificers.36

This discussion of “the obsessed” is so important to Francis Chan that he spends another chapter giving real life stories of what this looks like. Chapter 9 is entitled “Who Really Lives that Way?” and gives stories of Christians who are obsessed with living all of this out.  These stories include everything from a medical doctor who traveled to Ethiopia to treat patients37 to a professor at Regent College who donates money to charity38 to a Chinese Christian who miraculously broke out of prison39 to a chain-smoking homeless man who spends his money giving away food on the beach.40  Several famous Christians are mentioned in the chapter such as Rich Mullins, Rachel Saint, and George Mueller.41  There is even a section about Cornerstone Community Church (the church that Francis Chan started).42

Evaluation of Content

Crazy Love has many strengths and many weaknesses.  One strength is that it is well written.  Any book that can sell two million copies has to be engaging, and Crazy Love is certainly that.  Francis Chan writes like a humble explorer looking for answers to the Christian life.  In the “Preface to the Updated Edition,” he states that:

As I reflect on what I wrote here five years ago, there are some things that would probably come out a bit differently if I were writing them today. . . Crazy Love will never be the only message the church needs to hear, but I am thankful that it continues to speak to people. Five years later, we still need to be reminded that God is bigger than we think. We need to be awed by His unfathomable love for us.43

There are other statements that show the charming nature of this book.  Here are a few.

“But something is better than nothing!” some protest. Really, is it? Does anyone enjoy token praise? I sure don’t. I’d rather you not say anything than compliment me out of obligation or guilt. Why would we think God is any different?44

Imagine going for a run while eating a box of Twinkies. Besides being self-defeating and sideache-inducing, it would also be near impossible – you would have to stop running in order to eat the Twinkies. In the same way, you have to stop loving and pursuing Christ in order to sin.45

What if I said, “Stop praying?” What if I told you to stop talking at God for a while, but instead to take a long, hard look at Him before you speak another word? Solomon warned us not to rush into God’s presence with words. That’s what fools do. And often, that’s what we do.46

Not only is Crazy Love well-written but it also has some good material in the areas of theology and salvation.  Chapter 1 is called “Stop Praying.”  It tells us to stop praying until we first look at Who God is.  As the chapter looks at God, it mentions several of His attributes47 such as His holiness, eternality, omniscience, omnipotence, and righteousness.48  Chan says that God is so righteous that He never excuses sin and He promises to punish it for all of eternity.49

From there, the book discusses the brevity of life in a chapter that should get everyone’s attention called “You Might Not Finish this Chapter.”  Then it goes into what this book is all about in Chapter 3: “Crazy Love.”  As Chan is describing God’s crazy love, he shows that God’s love towards us is not the same as an earthly father’s love for his children.  He then says that our natural response to the love of God should be to love Him in return.  On account of the fact that God crucified His Son to save sinners, we can know that God loves us.

God’s mercy is a free, yet costly gift. It cannot be earned. Our righteous acts, just like menstrual garments, certainly don’t help us deserve it. The wages of sin will always be death. But because of God’s mercy, sin is paid for through the death of Jesus Christ, instead of the death of you and me.

The very fact that a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, fair, and just God loves you and me is nothing short of astonishing. The wildest part is that Jesus doesn’t have to love us. His being is utterly complete and perfect, apart from humanity. He doesn’t need me or you.50

Another of Crazy Love’s strengths is that it faithfully represents Scripture in many places.  It would take too much time to discuss all of the times where Chan correctly interprets the Bible but here is a brief sample from his discussion of the attributes of God.  In describing the holiness of God, Isaiah 6:3 is alluded to: “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”51  In describing the eternality of God, Psalm 102:12, 27 is quoted from:52

But You, O Lord, abide forever,
And Your name to all generations . . .

But You are the same,
And Your years will not come to an end.

In describing the omniscience of God, the book rightly quotes from Hebrews 4:13:53

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

And, finally, in describing the omnipotence of God, Chan rightly quotes from Psalm 115:3:54

But our God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.

Unfortunately, with the many strengths of this book come many weaknesses.  Some of these weaknesses will be mentioned in the sections below but I will mention one here.

The book’s call to action is confusing.  It is not clear exactly what Francis Chan is asking his audience to do.

Is he saying that believers cannot preach Jesus Christ without, at the same time, giving to the poor?  Any Bible-believing Christian knows that caring for the poor is commanded of them.  But is Crazy Love saying that we will never be fulfilled as Christians unless we regularly feed the hungry, clothe the sick, and house the homeless?  What if we do not live near a homeless community? Is Francis Chan saying that we need to move closer to one?

Some of the statements in the book seem to say that.  The Preface begins this way:

This book is written for those who want more Jesus. It is for those who are bored with what American Christianity offers . . . I believe [God] wants us to be known for giving – of our time, our money, and our abilities – and to start a movement of “giving” churches. In so doing, we alleviate the suffering in the world and change the reputation of His bride in America. Some people, even some at my church, have told me flat-out, “You’re crazy.” But I can’t imagine devoting my life to a greater vision.55

So in order to have more Jesus, escape the boredom of American Christianity, alleviate the suffering in the world, change the reputation of the church in America, and stop giving people excuses to doubt God, we need to apply the principles in this book.  But what are those principles?  What exactly are we being asked to do?

Chan heightens the confusion later in a chapter entitled “The Crux of the Matter.”

Should you put your house on the market today and downsize? Maybe. Should you quit your job? Maybe. Or perhaps God wants you to work harder at your job and be His witness there. Does He want you to move to another city or another country? Maybe. Perhaps He wants you to stay put and open your eyes to the needs of your neighbors. Honestly, it’s hard enough for me to discern how to live my own life!

My suggestion as you think, make decisions, and discern how God would have you live is to ask yourself, “Is this the most loving way to do life? Am I loving my neighbor and my God by living where I live, by driving what I drive, by talking how I talk?” I urge you to consider and actually live as though each person you come into contact with is Christ.56

Again, I do not know of any Bible-believing Christian who would say that it is wrong to live every moment by asking the question: “Is this the best way to live God and my neighbor?”  The question is: “What does this look like?”  And that question is left unanswered in Crazy Love.  A lot of suggestions are thrown out there57 along with numerous examples58 but a specific template of how to apply Crazy Love is never given.

The book makes it sounds as if God’s will for our lives is up in the air.  As if God has not fully explained His will in Scripture and we need to be searching for it elsewhere.  John MacArthur summarizes this way of thinking well when he writes:

You hear people say, “I’m searching for the will of God.” Is God’s will lost? They think God is the celestial Easter bunny who stashes His will in earth’s bushes and then sits in heaven telling believers, “You’re getting warmer,” or, “You’re getting colder.” That isn’t true. God’s will is easy to find; it’s right in His book. When we study the Bible, we find over and over again the phrase, “This is the will of God.”59

The Scriptures have told us what the will of God is.60  The will of God is to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.61  The will of God is to trust in His saving work on the cross and at the empty tomb.62  The will of God is to repent of sin as it is defined in the Bible.63  The will of God is to know and obey God’s Word.64  The will of God is to serve His church65 and love Him above everything else66 and love our neighbor as ourselves.67

In other things there is freedom.  Where the will of God is not clearly outlined in the Scriptures, we have freedom to decide whether we want to act or not.  We have freedom to decide whether we want to try to change the reputation of the church in America.  We have freedom to decide whether we want to do something crazy in our Christian lives.

Make no mistake about it: the Christian life itself is crazy. To follow a crucified Savior and believe that you will be physically resurrected to live forever with Him on a resurrected earth is crazy.  That is why Paul writes in First Corinthians 1:22-23:

For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.

But what Chan seems to be advocating in this book is craziness as defined by society.  Society would consider it crazy to sell your house, move to Tibet, and begin ministering to orphans. Society would not consider it crazy to stay in the Midwest and raise a family and minister to your neighbors. It seems that Crazy Love is saying that we all must move to Tibet.

Which raises another question: Is Crazy Love just giving us one man’s experience or is it teaching doctrine?  Is Francis Chan saying: “This is what worked for me and I hope you can learn from it?”  Or is he saying: “This is what you must do if you want to live in obedience to Christ?”

This type of ambiguity seems to be popular nowadays.  David Platt’s book, Radical, sounds very similar when it says:

That’s why I’ve written this book. I am on a journey . . . I invite you to join the journey with me. I do not claim to have all the answers. If anything, I have more questions than answers.68

But, if Radical and Crazy Love are nothing more than a journey, then they are nothing more than one man’s opinion.  They are not commanding us to do anything.  This may have worked for David Platt and Francis Chan but it does not have to work for the rest of us.  On the other hand, if these books are more than a journey, that needs to be communicated more clearly.  What Kevin DeYoung writes in regards to the Emergent Church needs to be repeated here.

It’s one thing for a high school student to be in process with his theology. It’s another thing for adults to write books and speak around the world about their musings and misgivings. I agree there must be space for Christians to ask hard questions and explore the tensions in our faith, but I seriously question that this space should be hugely public where hundreds of thousands of men and women are eagerly awaiting the next book or blog or podcast arising from your faith journey.

No matter what new label you put on it, once you start selling thousands of books, speaking all over the country and world, and being looked to for spiritual and ecclesiastical direction, you’re no longer just a conversation partner. You are a leader and teacher. And this is serious business, for as James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (3:1).69

My wife and I drive cars that are pushing 200,000 miles.  We shop at the Good Will.  We live in a modest, older home and have hobbies that are inexpensive.  Some would even say that we are boring.  And we live this way so we can adopt an orphan and give our resources to the church.

Is Francis Chan saying that we are in sin because we are not traveling across a Third World country looking for hungry people to feed?  Is he saying that we are missing out because we are not doing something “radical” and “crazy” for Christ?  Is he saying that it is not enough to just be a Godly housewife and a faithful pastor of a church?  Maybe he is not.  But, as a teacher of the Word of God, he needs to make that more clear.

Biblical Accuracy

Biblical accuracy has already been discussed to some extent in the section above.  There are many areas where Crazy Love faithfully represents the Scriptures.  However, there are areas where it does not.

One is in its interpretation of the Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats.  This Judgment, recorded in Matthew 25:31-46, describes what will happen when Jesus comes in His glory.  He will separate all the nations into two categories: the sheep and the goats.  The sheep will go to Heaven and the goats will go to Hell.

The qualification for going to either place is how the nations treat Jesus’ “brothers.”  Verse 40 says:

The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

In other words, if the nations treat Jesus’ brothers with kindness, Jesus will treat them with kindness.  If they feed them, give them water, invite them in, clothe them, and visit them, then it will be a sign that they are truly His followers.  If they do not, it will be a sign that they are not His followers.

Chan interprets the Judgment this way:

If one person invests his or her resources in the poor – which, according to Matthew 25, is giving to Jesus Himself – and the other extravagantly remodels a temporary dwelling that will not last beyond his few years left on this earth, who is the crazy one?70

At another time, he says that this passage taken literally can be seen “as a fresh perspective on poverty rather than a literal picture of impending judgment.”71  As Chan sees it, Jesus’ “brothers” are the poor.  How you treat the poor is how you treat Jesus.

The problem with Chan’s interpretation is that nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus call the poor His “brothers.”  He calls the disciples His brothers but never the poor.72  In the words of D. A. Carson:

By far the best interpretation is that Jesus’ “brothers” are his disciples. The fate of the nations will be determined by how they respond to Jesus’ followers, who . . . are charged with spreading the gospel and do so in the face of hunger, thirst, illness, and imprisonment.73

In Matthew 25, Jesus is saying that “however you treat My disciples is how you treat Me.”  He is not saying that “however you treat the poor is how you treat Me.”

This wrong understanding of helping the poor is repeated over and over again in Crazy Love.74  While the poor should be helped, the principle in Scripture is not to go to the ends of the earth to find them but to go to the ends of the earth to make disciples.75 In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus describes a Samaritan who helped a wounded man who came across his path.76  He does not describe a Samaritan who went to Africa in search of a wounded man.77

The biblical command is to make disciples of people everywhere and, in doing so, help the poor.  This does not take away from our responsibility to the poor; it just puts it in the context of making disciples.  In John 6:26-27, when some poor men come after Jesus to get food, He tells them:

Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.

In other words, Jesus did not always help the poor.  These men only wanted physical help from Him, so Jesus refused to give it to them until they understood that He was offering more than that.  Which leads me to the next point.

Crazy Love overlooks a lot of statements in the Bible concerning the poor.  It never mentions Mark 14:7:

For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me.

The goal of Christianity is not to abolish poverty on the earth because Jesus says that it will be impossible.  The poor will always be with us.

Crazy Love never mentions Galatians 6:7-8:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Some people are poor because they are reaping what they have sown.  They have made bad decisions and they are suffering the consequences.

Crazy Love never mentions Second Thessalonians 3:10:

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.

Paul says that it is wrong to feed a man who refuses to work.  There is a difference between a man who is poor because he is disabled and a man who is poor because he is lazy.

Crazy Love never mentions First Timothy 5:8:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

All of this is left out of Crazy Love.  While Francis Chan’s crazy love for the poor is admirable, his unbalanced approach is not.  His idea of “helping the poor” seems to be more in lines with American liberal politics than with Scripture.78

Consistency

Crazy Love consistently teaches that the way to improve the church in America is to help the poor.  What is not consistent is how this plays out in real life.  For instance, in the “Profile of the Lukewarm” it states that:

Lukewarm People will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go or how much time, money, and energy they are willing to give.79

The confusing part of this statement is that there are always limits to how much time, money, and energy someone can give.80  No one has an endless amount of cash or time in their schedule to serve God and others.  All of us have to do mundane things like wash the dishes or mow the grass or pay bills.  So does this mean that every Christian on the planet is lukewarm?81

Another inconsistent statement is made in the same chapter.

Lukewarm people tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict. They desire to fit in both at church and outside of church; they care more about what people think of their actions (like church attendance and giving) than what God thinks of their hearts and lives.82

This is a strange statement coming from a book that was written to “change the reputation of His bride in America.”83   One of the purposes of Chan’s work is to change the unpopularity of the American church by calling it to action.  Does this mean that Francis Chan himself is lukewarm?  Does his “desire to fit in both at church and outside of church” mean that he is not pleasing God with his life?

One more inconsistency will show why this is a confusing read.  In the same chapter on the “Profile of the Lukewarm,” Chan describes how Jesus looked at success.  He says:

In the United States, numbers impress us. We gauge the success of an event by how many people attend or come forward. We measure churches by how many members they boast. We are wowed by big crowds. Jesus questioned the authenticity of this kind of record keeping.84

In the previous chapter, the author describes a time when he was preaching at a young girl’s funeral.

I shared the gospel and invited those who wanted to know Jesus to come up and give their lives to Him. There must have been at least two hundred students on their knees at the front of the church, praying for salvation. Ushers gave a Bible to each of them. They were Bibles that Brooke had kept in her garage, hoping to give out to all of her unsaved friends. In one day, Brooke led more people to the Lord than most ever will.85

While it is touching that this girl’s life had such an impact on her friends, it is inconsistent to say that Jesus “questioned the authenticity of this kind of record keeping” after reading how Chan kept a record of how many people responded to his altar call.

Scholarship

Crazy Love does a good job with many texts of Scripture as has already been mentioned.  It also quotes from such well-respected authors as R. C. Sproul,86 A. W. Tozer,87 Robert Murray M’Cheyne,88 and John Piper.89  The greatest detriment to the scholarship of the book (aside from its misuse of Scripture) is its use of stories and mysticism.

Crazy Love is full of stories.  One whole chapter is devoted to the stories of people who practice what Francis Chan is preaching90 and the book itself is the story of Francis Chan’s own faith journey away from American Christianity into “crazy love.”

The problem with stories is that it that have the potential to confuse a message.  If Francis Chan is saying that this is what happened in his life and in the lives of other people that is one thing.  If he is saying that this is what must happen or else we are in sin, then that is something else entirely.  Stories can illustrate truth, but the truth that is being illustrated in Crazy Love is ambiguous.  Is the book saying that American Christianity is wrong?  Yes.  Is it saying that Third World Christianity is right?91  That seems to be the case but, again, the way the story is told makes it unclear.

Mysticism is the doctrine that God speaks to a person without any outside help.  It says that the Word of God is given to a person completely internally with no help from the Bible or creation or another person.92  Francis Chan makes this claim when he explains why he decided to serve the Lord in San Francisco.

Then I believe the Lord spoke to me. I can’t explain it. I didn’t hear an audible voice. I just had a strong sense that He put certain thoughts into my mind . . . When this happens, I first examine the Scriptures to make sure these thoughts are consistent with biblical commands and principles. Then I examine my heart to make sure that I’m not just taking my own selfish desires and telling myself they’re coming from God. After prayer and examination, I believed it was the Spirit of God leading me.93

While it is certainly commendable that he made sure to search the Scriptures and examine his heart; the Scriptures do not say anything about where we should minister.  The Word of God does not speak on the issue of Francis Chan going to San Francisco.  It is silent on that matter.

Furthermore, it is not commendable that Francis Chan believed God was speaking to him because he got a “strong sense.” A strong sense could mean anything and come from anywhere.94  It could come from indigestion, weariness, heightened emotions, stress, sin, etc. and it could mean that a demon is speaking to us instead of God.95  It would have been more accurate for Chan to say that he had a strong desire to go to San Francisco and leave it at that.

Conclusion

Donald Grey Barnhouse served as the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1927 until 1960 and was one of the first successful radio preachers.96  During one nationwide broadcast on CBS radio, he was asked the question: “What would it look like if Satan took over a city?”  Here is Dr. Barnhouse’s answer:

If Satan took over Philadelphia, the bars would be closed, pornography would be banished, the streets would be clean and full of happy people, the churches would be full, and Jesus Christ would not be preached.97

That is a great description of the Social Gospel.  The Social Gospel taught that the way to save sinners is to save society and to leave Jesus Christ out or change His message.98  But, as Donald Grey Barnhouse pointed out, that thinking is more in line with Satan than it is with God.

While Francis Chan does not imitate all aspects of the Social Gospel in his book, he does paint a picture that is very similar.  Crazy Love is when people close the bars, abolish pornography, clean the streets, make everyone happy, fill the churches, and sort of preach Jesus Christ.  That may sound strong but consider that in his chapter on “Who Lives That Way,” Chan gives 15 stories of people who live with “crazy love.”  Only 8 of those stories mention salvation.

Maybe that is a good place to end this Book Review.  Is the greatest problem of the American Church that we do not help the poor or that we do not get salvation right?  Chan gets salvation right but he leaves it out of his discussion on how to fix the American Church.

The poor should never be forgotten.  Jesus loved the poor.99  Jesus lived among the poor.100  Jesus died for the poor along with the rich and everyone in between.101

It is good to serve the poor and it is good to read a book that encourages you to do so but the real problem with our country is a spiritual one, not a physical one.  Society will only change when people change and that can only happen through the preaching of the Gospel.

If you want to build wells in Africa and end human trafficking in Asia and stop hunger in America, that is fine.  Go do it.  The Lord bless you in your efforts.

But you can build a well in Africa and leave out the water of life.  You can stop human trafficking in Asia and fail to stop human beings from perishing in Hell.  You can feed the entire continent of North America and let their souls starve to death.

The greatest problem with the American Church is not that the poor are forgotten but that salvation is forgotten.  Jesus Christ came first and foremost to save sinners.102  He came preaching a message of repentance and faith in Him.103  He came to tell us that the only way we could have eternal life is through His substituionary death on the cross and His victorious resurrection from the grave.104

Until the churches in America get that right, nothing else matters.

 

 

 

  1. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. by J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978) 911. To be specific: “No clear definition can be given to the term [Social Gospel], nor can its first use be dated, but the ideas it represents were those of the nineteenth century.” []
  2. Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel (New York: Abingdon Press, 1945) 79, 80. []
  3. Millard J. Erickson, The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2001 ed.) 185. Erickson defines the Social Gospel as “a tendency to replace the gospel of regeneration with an emphasis on transformation of society through alteration of its structures.” This is why the end result of the Social Gospel is often a forced Socialism or Communism. []
  4. Quoted in Marvin Olasky’s The Tragedy of American Compassion (Washington, D. C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1992) 54. []
  5. Paul Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995) 324. This is very similar to the End Times view known as postmillennialism. “[Postmillennialism] is the belief that a golden spiritual age will come upon this earth (the Millennium) because the world will progressively get better and better through the preaching of the gospel. It is at this time that Christ will return to the earth. This return is after the Millennium is over.” []
  6. Francis Chan, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, Revised and Updated (Colorado Springs, Col.: David C. Cook, 2013) Back Cover. []
  7. Ibid., 176-177. []
  8. Ibid., 177-178. []
  9. Forgotten God (Colorado Springs, Col.: David C. Cook, 2009); Erasing Hell (Colorado Springs, Col.: David C. Cook, 2011); Francis Chan & David
    Beuving, Multiply (Colorado Springs, Col.: David C. Cook, 2012). Forgotten God and Multiply are New York Times Bestsellers. []
  10. Crazy Love, Back Cover. []
  11. Ibid., 199. Danae’s biography also says that she enjoys “biking, running, and being outside; thought-provoking conversations; interacting with different cultures; and playing with her new black Lab puppy, Eliott. She and [her husband] recently spent several months living in African and South American communities affected by a lack of clean water. Their heart is to write about these experiences in a way that moves readers beyond statistics, to truly loving their neighbors as themselves.” []
  12. Ibid., 4. []
  13. Ibid., Front Cover. []
  14. Ibid., 17. []
  15. Ibid., 1-2. []
  16. For more information about Chris Tomlin, see www.christomlin.com as of 4/15/14. []
  17. Crazy Love, 13-14. []
  18. Ibid., 1. []
  19. The emphasis on the personality of Francis Chan and his own experiences in this book is hard to miss.  His picture is on the back cover and on page 15 and page 224. There is also a “Conversation with Francis Chan” on pages 191-198 and23 pages of promotional material for his other books (pages 201-224). In Chan’s defense, this may have been the choice of the publisher and not his own but it does not change the fact that there is a heavy emphasis in this book on the personality of Francis Chan. []
  20. Ibid., 22. []
  21. In the author’s own words: “This book is written for those who want more Jesus. It is for those who are bored with what American
    Christianity offers . . . I believe [God] wants us to love others so much that we go to extremes to help them. I believe He wants us to be known for giving . . . In so doing, we can alleviate the suffering in the world, and change the reputation of His bride in America . . . We need to stop giving people excuses not to believe in God” (Ibid., 23). []
  22. Ibid., 191. []
  23. Ibid., 198. []
  24. Ibid., 80-81. []
  25. In his own words: “We are all messed-up human beings, and no one is totally immune to the behaviors described in the previous examples. However, there is a difference between a life that is characterized by these sorts of mentalities and habits and a life that is in the process of being radically transformed” (Ibid., 81). []
  26. Ibid., 69. []
  27. Ibid., 71. []
  28. Ibid., 72. []
  29. Ibid., 74. []
  30. Ibid., 78. []
  31. Chan says at the end of the chapter that “while these descriptions combined don’t necessarily answer the question of what it looks like to be wholly surrendered to God, they represent important pieces of the puzzle. Hopefully you are beginning to imagine and pray about what this looks like in your own life” (Ibid., 145). []
  32. Ibid., 130. []
  33. Ibid., 131. []
  34. Ibid., 133. []
  35. Ibid., 134. []
  36. A description of all of these categories is found on pages 134-145. []
  37. Ibid., 148. []
  38. Ibid., 151-152. []
  39. Ibid., 156-157. []
  40. Ibid., 153-154. []
  41. The descriptions of these people are found on pages 152-156. []
  42. Ibid., 161. []
  43. Ibid., 18. []
  44. Ibid., 91-92. []
  45. Ibid., 104. []
  46. Ibid., 27. []
  47. Erickson, 18. The attributes of God are “the characteristics or qualities of God that constitute him as what he is.” []
  48. These attributes are mentioned on pages 32-36. []
  49. He writes: “God never excuses sin. And He is always consistent with that ethic. Whenever we start to question whether God really hates sin, we have only to think of the cross, where His Son was tortured, mocked, and beaten because of sin. Our sin” (Crazy Love, 36). []
  50. Ibid., 62. []
  51. Ibid., 33. The verse reference of Isaiah 6:3 is not mentioned in the book but the first portion of the verse is quoted from and interpreted correctly. []
  52. Ibid., 34. []
  53. Ibid. []
  54. Ibid., 35. []
  55. Ibid., 23. []
  56. Ibid., 166. []
  57. One example of such a suggestion is found on page 168: “Just as there are different utensils in the kitchen that serve diverse functions, God has created unique people to accomplish a variety of purposes throughout the world. That is why I cannot say in this book, ‘Everyone is supposed to be a missionary’ or ‘You need to sell your car and start taking public transportation.’ What I can say is that you must learn to listen to and obey God, especially in a society where it’s easy and expected to do what is most comfortable.”  But what commands is he referring to and what does he mean by listening to God?  Mormons claim to listen to God as do Muslims and unconverted Jews. They also do a lot to care for the poor but they are not going to Heaven. Again, Crazy Love is ambiguous on this point. []
  58. Chapter 9, entitled “Who Really Lives That Way?” is full of examples of people who live with “crazy love.” []
  59. How to Study the Bible (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009 ed.) 62. []
  60. Robert Dunan Culver, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2005) 71. Theologians typically refer to the will of God in two ways: the revealed will and the secret will.  The revealed will of God is what God has revealed to us in the Bible.  The secret will of God is everything else. “Everything God has not yet made known to us of the destiny of mankind and of things . . . constitutes His secret will and is not accessible to us. However, the revealed will of God, that is His own word ‘is very near to you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it’ (Deut. 30:14).” We do not have to search for the revealed will of God and we should not search for the secret will. We should trust God with what He has told us and with what He has not told us. []
  61. Lk 9:23-25. []
  62. Galatians 1:4 says that Jesus “gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of God our Father.” []
  63. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Also see 2 Corinthians 7:10. []
  64. 1 John 2:17 says: “The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” []
  65. A person cannot do the will of God without serving the church. Just as you cannot love a husband without loving his bride, you cannot love Jesus without loving the Church. Ephesians 5:25 says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” []
  66. Matt 22:34-38. []
  67. Matt 22:34-40. []
  68. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (Colorado Springs, Col.: Multnomah Books, 2010) 3. []
  69. Quoted in Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck’s Why We’re Not Emergent (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008) 17. []
  70. Crazy Love, 134. []
  71. Ibid., 116. []
  72. See Matthew 12:48-49; 28:10 for some times when Jesus calls His disciples “brothers.” []
  73. Matthew in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984) 520. []
  74. Crazy Love, 158. For example, Chan writes: “Shane and the other residents at The Simple Way work to expose structures that foster poverty and to imagine alternative ways to live. They take Christ’s words in Matthew 25:40 literally when He said, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Their lives are about loving the very poor and broken in one of America’s hardest cities. They do this in their own community as they feed hungry people, spend time with neighborhood children, run a community store, and reclaim decrepit blocks by planting community gardens.” []
  75. Matt 28:18-20. []
  76. Luke 10:30-37. []
  77. This is not to say that it is wrong for Christians to go to foreign countries to help the poor and needy. This is to say that we are not commanded to do so. We are commanded to minister to the poor in our own neighborhoods. James 1:27 says: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  It does not say where we are to find those orphans and widows but the Parable of the Good Samaritan says that we will find them as they cross our path. []
  78. Olasky, 184. A classic example of how American politics is not helping the poor in a lasting way is found in the efforts begun during the administration of President Lyndon Johnson. “Lyndon Johnson’s economic advisors warned in 1964 that the poverty rate, in the absence of federal action, could be as high as 13 percent by 1980. After sixteen years of multibillion-dollar programs, the poverty rate at the end of that year was – 13 percent.”  The point is that more money and more effort will not necessarily help the poor. That effort must be in line with Scripture and sometimes it will mean letting people suffer the consequences of their actions as Galatians 6:7-8 and 2 Thessalonians 3:10 tell us. []
  79. Crazy Love, 74. []
  80. Francis Chan may mean by this that there is a difference between ability and desire. He may mean that a Lukewarm Christian can give more but chooses not to but that is not clarified in the book. []
  81. Ibid., 87. In all fairness to Francis Chan, in Chapter Five, he writes that: “Each of us has lukewarm elements and practices in our life: therein lies the senseless, extravagant grace of it all. The Scriptures demonstrate clearly that there is room for our failure and sin in our pursuit of God.” The problem with this, however, is that it is not a failure and a sin to have limits to how much time, energy, and money you are willing to give in service to others. Very few of Chan’s points in the “Profile of the Lukewarm” can be shown to be sinful according to Scripture. []
  82. Ibid., 69. []
  83. Ibid., 23. []
  84. Ibid., 66. []
  85. Ibid., 50. []
  86. Ibid., 28. []
  87. Ibid., 32. []
  88. Ibid., 89. []
  89. Ibid., 100. []
  90. Chapter 9 is entitled “Who Really Lives that Way?” and is discussed in the Content section above. []
  91. Ibid., 22. Chan admits that Third World countries had a big impact on his thinking. In the Preface, he writes: “The conviction I felt through the teachings of Scripture, coupled with several experiences in third world countries changed everything. Some serious paradigm shattering happened in my life, and consequently in our church.” []
  92. Arthur L. Johnson, Faith Misguided: Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988) 20.  Johnson defines mysticism this way: “When we speak of a mystical experience, we refer to an event that is completely within the person.  It is totally subjective . . . It contains no essential aspects that exist externally to him in the physical world.” []
  93. Crazy Love, 177-178. []
  94. This is not to say that the Holy Spirit does not remind us of biblical commands to evangelize or minister to others. This is to say that in areas where the Bible does not speak, the Holy Spirit does not speak. Does the Spirit tell us to witness to unbelievers? Yes. Does the Holy Spirit tell us what town we should live in? No. He gives us freedom where the Bible is silent. []
  95. This is why Jeremiah 17:9 says: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” []
  96. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, 106. []
  97. Cited in Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008) 15. These are not Barnhouse’s exact words but my own paraphrase. []
  98. Rauschenbusch, 247. For an example of this, Walter Rauschenbursch writes in his Theology for the Social Gospel: “Jesus did not in any real sense bear the sin of some ancient Briton who beat up his wife in B. C. 56, or of some mountaineer in Tennessee who got drunk in A. D. 1917. But he did in a very real sense bear the weight of the public sins of organized society, and they in turn are casually connected with all private sins.” []
  99. In Matthew 11:4-5, Jesus tells John the Baptist’s disciples: “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” []
  100. In Matthew 8:20, Jesus says: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” []
  101. Jesus had followers who were as rich as Nicodemus (see John 3) and as poor as the woman at the well (see John 4). []
  102. Matt 9:13; 1 Tim 1:15. []
  103. Matt 4:17; Jn 3:16-18, 36. []
  104. This is the idea of Jesus’ statement in John 6:53-58: “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.’” []