My first interaction with Francis Chan’s works was, like most people, Crazy Love. I like the uncompromising manner in which he writes and was certainly challenged by some aspects of that book. However, I must admit that now that I’ve had a couple years to digest that book before I got into this book I feel that my overall opinion about his works are starting to wane.
I want to get this out of the way first so I can go on to talk about what I really like about his new book, Letters to the Church. I’ve started to feel that part of why Chan’s works are so well-liked is because he’s good at convicting. He’s particularly adept at pointing at a certain aspect common to the Christian faith and say, “This shouldn’t be this way.” What’s unfortunate about this fact is I don’t think he presents a clear way from “This shouldn’t be this way.” to “This is the way it should be.” He’s certainly good at pointing out the difference between the two but offers few practical ways on how to get from one to the other.
For example, in Letters to the Church, Chan points to the corporate nature of the modern church and challenges it outright. Why should we have professional ministers? Why should we have a big building? Why should we have any type of programmed ministry? He goes on to say that we’ve enabled consumeristic Christianity with our current church model and paints the 1st-century church “small group house church” as the ideal. I take issue with this stance on a couple points.
Firstly (and maybe most controversially), I don’t believe that every aspect of the 1st-century church that we read about in the New Testament represents the ideal for what the church should look like today. I could say more here but suffice to say that the church has progressed in some ways that I think God is pleased with and that the “how” of church should change as culture changes.
Secondly, there are very few who would disagree that any large church can benefit from facilitating small groups but to transfer entirely to this model (which Chan offers no insight into what this type of transfer could look like) is simply not the best move for every church. I don’t think Chan intended this at all but I can’t help feel a sense of arrogance in how he asserts that the current model for church isn’t the best way. It seems just as feasible to me to assert that if every church was a small group it also would not be the best way. The best way will always elude the church because it’s made up of people who are striving to do what’s best but will come up short more often than not. Hence, Jesus.
I really did like a lot of what Chan had to see about some of the inherent problems with the corporate church. Even with his disclaimers, his blanket statements as they apply to all churches seemed to be made in a way that will sell books and will benefit churches as they are very little. That may seem too scathing but it was just my take. Again, I know Chan is doing good things and has done good things for many people. There’s no book he could write that’d say the things every church, ministers, and Christian needed to hear about what’s best. I’m glad he tried anyway. A good read that provoked some good thoughts and discussions in my context.
Next time I review the late Dallas Willard’s Hearing God.