Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Douglas Groothuis' review of "Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God " by Francis Chan and Danae Yankoski.
Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God 2008. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2008. Paperback. 205 pages. ISBN 978-1-4347-6851-3. $14.99.
We often forget how radical, how disturbing, and how countercultural the Bible is. Consider this blast from Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Or this: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:24-26). This is not the theology of the Precious Moments greeting cards.
Too often and too easily, we read God’s fiery and blazing summons from heaven with a veil over our eyes and with layers of ice covering over our hearts—if we read it at all. Our worldly propensity is to dilute the demands of the Scripture to the level of self-help advice, to downgrade the Gospel from good news to one of many views, and to domesticate the deity himself, shrinking Him down to manageable, comfortable, and respectable proportions. By habit, we hamstring holy writ—to our own shame and peril. But Jesus warned against theological deformation with a penetrating question: “Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3). Or, even more pointedly, Jesus thundered, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15; see also James 3:1-2).
Quite often, a prolonged and meditative reading of Holy Writ itself will cure us of our conformity to the world and its wiles. Shut yourself up with Bible for several hours and allow yourself no diversions: miracles may occur. (See Psalm 119, Hebrews 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:15-17 on this.) As J.C. Ryle put it in Practical Religion: “Begin reading your Bible this very day. The way to do a thing is to do it, and the way to read the Bible is actually to read it. It is not meaning, or wishing, or resolving, or intending, or thinking about it; that will not advance you one step. You must positively read.” There is no royal road in this matter, any more than in the matter of prayer. If you cannot read yourself, you must persuade somebody else to read to you. But one way or another, through eyes or ears, the words of Scripture must actually pass before your mind.”
But the Holy Spirit also equips teachers, preachers and writers, men and women with “fire in their bones” (Jeremiah 20:9), to rouse a sleeping church to repentance, renewed faith, and zealous service unto God, who is (after all) a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). Francis Chan is one such messenger, and his short, direct, but cogent book, Crazy Love, is both an invitation and a rebuke to the American church to read the Bible and be courageous enough to believe what it says and to do what it says. The book itself is brim full of biblical quotations and commentary.
Francis Chan is a young (40ish) pastor of the large Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. He is quite evidently enthralled and disturbed by the God of the Bible and wants us to take God seriously and live appropriately. While he is not an acerbic or pugnacious firebrand, there is fire in his words. He writes as a pastor who engages Scripture in the context of leading a church as well as trying to conform his own life to the way of Christ. We hear of how his church has changed and how his parishioners have responded to his desire to affirm and embody the “crazy love” of God. The tone is somewhat autobiographical, but mercifully without the annoying narcissism that mars so much contemporary Christian writing by younger writers. The style is informal and conversational (there are, in fact, too many one sentence paragraphs for my taste), but Chan is never trivial, flippant, or self-indulgent.
The book’s first chapter is provocatively called, “Stop Praying,” (Practical Religion) in which Chan challenges us to stop talking at God and to start fathoming who God is—a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful Being who designed solar systems and caterpillars. Although this chapter is short (as are all the chapters), Chan invokes a sense of wonder and worship before God. Sadly, this sensibility is abysmally absent from so much of Christianity today. It is this awe-inspiring and glorious God who loves us through the matchless achievements of Jesus Christ. Any sense of abandoned discipleship must keep the majesty of God firmly in mind. One could go much deeper into the character and attributes of God (see J.I. Packer, Knowing God), but Chan communicates something of his own fascination and amazement at God in an infectious way.
In light of the holy eternity of God, we should recognize our own mortality and the fragility of life in this fallen world. Without being morbid, Chan speaks to the urgency that should characterize the life of a follower of Christ. Since our life is a vapor that quickly passes, we should savor every moment and offer it without reservation to God. “Frankly, you need to get over yourself.” Chan admonishes. “The point of your life is to point to Him,” he adds. Throughout the book, Chan uses simple words to make significant points. Even in the very short chapter, “Crazy Love,” Chan is able to capture something of the meaning of God’s love for us and the kind of love we should have for God: “reverent intimacy.” That is, we should both love and fear God. This relationship should be like no other.
Chan indicts the contemporary church of falling short of its calling to know and love God and to live accordingly. In “Profile of the Lukewarm,” he lists no less than sixteen traits that typify people who identify as Christians but fail even to approach what Christ calls us to. However, Chan does not believe that our standing with God is based on good works. His view on faith and works is thoroughly orthodox: we are saved through the work of Christ alone, which we receive by faith. He could have articulated the nature of justification by faith alone in more detail; but, nevertheless, he holds to the Gospel of grace. But as Paul said, while we are saved by grace, we are saved for works, which God prepared for us ahead of time (Ephesians 2:8-9). And if our lives are habitually lukewarm, then there is no evidence that we have exercised saving faith. Here are a few of the indicators of the lukewarm:
- Lukewarm people give money to charity and to the church…so long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living.
- Lukewarm people tend to choose what is popular over what is right.
- Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want to be saved from the penalty of their sin.
- Lukewarm people rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends.
- Lukewarm people are thankful for their luxuries and comforts, and rarely consider trying to give as much as possible to the poor.
One of my students referred to this chapter as “brutal” in its relentless exposure of our evasion of Gospel responsibilities. But it is a kind severity, since Chan argues that living large for God is the most fulfilling life, even amidst suffering and struggle for the Kingdom. But Chan also warns readers that a life characterized by being lukewarm is not a Christian life at all. The reader should consider whether he or she is really a Christian. As Paul says, “examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
The balance of the book exhorts us not to give our leftovers to God, but to passionately seek God and to put the Gospel into practice, especially regarding our service to the less fortunate. Chan reports that his church gave up an expensive building project and saved about $20 million and that “this year we committed to giving away 50 percent of our budget.” He speaks of selling his home and buying a smaller one in order to help the poor with the proceeds. But Chan never brags; he rather lets us discover what God has done to move his life closer the biblical command of loving God with all our being and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). In the chapter, “Profile of the Obsessed,” he writes: “People who are obsessed with Jesus live their lives that connect 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 (1 John 2:4-6; Matt. 16:24-26).” Chan does not directly address what political policies would benefit the poor (which, of course, is a much debated issue among Christians), but rather focuses on what churches and individual Christians can accomplish by living lives of “crazy love” for God and his creatures.
Playing it safe just is not biblical: “Christians like to play it safe. We want to put ourselves in situations where we are safe ‘even if there is no God.’ But if we truly desire to please God, we cannot live that way. We have to do things that cost us during our life on earth but will be more than worth it in eternity.” As Chan writes, “God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.” This is reminiscent of Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s goal for their L’Abri Fellowship: to live in such a way as to demonstrate the reality of God. (See L’Abri by Edith Schaeffer.)
In the chapter, “Who Really Lives that Way?” Chan briefly profiles several well-known and unknown Christians who have not played it safe, but have thrown themselves into serving God and neighbor, such as George Mueller, Brother Yun (Chinese evangelist), and members of Chan’s own church who are less known. These sketches prove that the life that God calls Christians to live is possible; indeed, it is wonderful—full of God’s wondrous provisions and surprises. (On this theme, I especially recommend the full story of Brother Yun’s work in the underground church in China, found in his autobiography, The Heavenly Man.)
While Crazy Love is not an in-depth theological treatment of discipleship, prayer, the Holy Spirit, or the church, it is an inspiring primer on Kingdom living. It motivated me to ponder the greatness and grandeur of God, to believe God for great things, to resist the blandishments of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and to seek God in ways that may flummox even friends and family. Self-denial, faith in a wonder-working God, and the willingness to risk are truly the ways of the Kingdom. Is it crazy to live this way? Let us give the last word to Blaise Pascal from Pensées: “Men are so inevitably mad that not to be mad would be to give a mad twist to madness” (see 1 John 2:15-17).
Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy