Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit
Review of Francis Chan and Danae Yankoski's, "Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit."
Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2009. Paperback. 169 pages. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-4347-6795-0.
Most Christians raised in the western hemisphere know the lyrics to the Sunday school song, “This Little Light of Mine.” I suspect very few of us would admit that we have allowed Satan to blow out our light. Yet that is precisely the charge Francis Chan, founder of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley and best-selling author of Crazy Love, confronts us with in the introduction to his latest book: “The light of the American church is flickering and nearly extinguished, having largely sold out to the kingdoms and values of this world.”
If you are crazy enough to read Chan’s second book, Forgotten God, buckle up. Like his first work, this isn’t La-Z-Boy literature. While he is consummately pastoral and practical in his theology, he speaks with a prophetic voice that is daring, direct, and disturbing. It is meant to rouse and resuscitate a church that has fallen asleep.
The reason darkness has all but overtaken the church in America is, according to Chan, because of our tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit. We are too distracted by our pursuit of happiness (speciously identified with wealth and comforts) to spend sustained time in prayer. As self-absorbed consumers who eagerly embrace entertainment, we willingly drift with the crowd, but ironically disdain being led by anyone other than ourselves. Relying on our own raw talent we have fashioned “a whole brand of churches that do not depend on the Spirit, a whole culture of Christians who are not disciples, a new group of ‘followers’ who do not follow.” Rather than being “self-sacrificing servants” who take up their crosses for the sake of the gospel, we have developed an aversion to suffering. In short, we have successfully managed to mimic the rest of the world.
In spite of these hard-hitting criticisms of our assemblies, Chan spends most of his time casting a positive vision for a renewed church and calling us into a deeper, more passionate relationship with the Spirit of the living God. His desire is to raise up disciples who are thoroughly committed to what he calls “exegetical living.” That is, allowing Scripture to shape our lives and behavior or as he so pointedly puts it, “We are called to pattern our lives after the Way described in the Bible.” Chan is convinced that if we simply and honestly pursue the Holy Spirit our lives will be radically transformed. In other words, the fact that our lives so closely resemble the world is an indication that we need to reexamine our faith to ensure that what we believe is really based on the Bible and not merely derived from our comfortable cultural traditions. Again, he contends, the essential element missing from our spiritual lives is a vibrant connection to the Holy Spirit. The enormous gulf between the extraordinary existence and expansion of the early church and the dissatisfaction and conformity of contemporary congregations is due to one indispensable difference: they lived beyond themselves in humble dependence on and total abandonment to the Spirit, while we continue to operate in our own strength and for all intensive purposes forget the Spirit.
Chan’s remedy for our practical cessationism is a reminder. In order to recover a living, active link with the Holy Spirit we must relearn some crucial truths we already know. However, before we evaluate this core element of the book, there are a couple minor drawbacks to his sweeping, pragmatic approach that demand attention. First, although his obvious aim in writing the book is to stir our hearts and alter our actions, he seems to think skirting the more nuanced debates and controversial aspects of what it means to keep in step with the Spirit is the best way to achieve that purpose. While I am sympathetic with his concern not to get bogged down over secondary matters, they are not so easily sidestepped. In fact, since careful readers are still able to discern his stance on many of these potentially thorny theological topics, it might have been better to explicitly address them through clear, cogent arguments. For example, it is evident that he seeks to maintain a radical middle ground when it comes to being filled with the Spirit. That is, his statements regarding believers possessing the Spirit of God and being filled with the Spirit clearly exclude the Pentecostal doctrine of subsequence. His rather contradictory statement that it is needless to speculate about when the Holy Spirit becomes a part of a person’s life appears to be an attempt to either avoid the issue altogether or appease readers on both sides of the dispute. If he were completely forthright on this point I suspect he would admit that he thinks believers receive the Holy Spirit upon conversion, but that in some cases conversion is more of a process than a point-in-time experience. Also, there may be cases in which a person’s conversion is deficient or incomplete. On the other hand, his comments concerning the manifestations of the Spirit and the supernatural power of God are tacit rejections of the view that the gifts of the Spirit are not available to us today. (Though he is strangely subdued about how to exercise the so-called “sign gifts” – tongues, prophecy, miracles, and gifts of healing.) My quibble comes down to this: readers deserve a more robust exposition of his convictions on these matters. I say this not because I am likely to disagree, but rather, because I think he is on solid biblical ground and would welcome the engaging explanations he could provide.
My second concern is similar to the first, namely, that some of the discussions seem underdeveloped. This is especially the case when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity. Without question he effectively communicates that the distinct person of the Holy Spirit is God and suitably reviews several of the divine attributes of the Spirit such as omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. He also plainly states at the outset that this book is not a scholarly theological work; nevertheless, the two to three pages he dedicates to the doctrine represent a rather small percentage of the overall book. Moreover, his statement that “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are One” needs clarification. One what? Surely, he doesn’t mean one person. That would be a contradiction: three persons are one person. I have no doubt he meant three whos (subsistences or persons) and one what (substance or essence). But he should have said so. The book would have been even stronger had he articulated certain beliefs in more detail.
Returning now to Chan’s central theme – our lives should be dramatically different from the world because we are filled with the Holy Spirit – we must give due attention to a few of the fundamental truths he wants us to explore so as to revive our faith and revolutionize our behavior. We have already touched on one of these significant, life-changing truths, which is the reality that upon genuine conversion the Spirit of God indwells believers. The promise that the Holy Spirit resides within Christians provides a deep level of intimacy, security, and encouragement, which ought to empower us to overcome our fears and failures. This infilling is not a one-time act, but is a repeatable, even an integral part of an ongoing relationship that we are to actively pursue.
Another important truth that Chan reminds us of is that the Spirit is given to us so that we might become sanctified and holy. Since the Spirit dwells within us, our lives should exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as well as evidences such as intimacy with the Father, mortification of the flesh, freedom from sin, effective witness, spiritual gifting, and abundant hope. In other words, the presence of the Spirit enables us to radically love God and others. Indeed, the manifestations of the Spirit are meant for ministry; that is, for the worship of God and the edification of the church.
Lastly, we must give attention to the truth that God desires our wholehearted devotion to Him as demonstrated by faithful, sacrificial living in this present moment. As Chan puts it, “God wants to see His children stake everything on His power and presence in their lives.” This radical adventure of faith is learning to live in a state of complete and utter dependence on God such that we are doomed if he doesn’t show up.
Although I would have preferred more detailed theological discussions in certain places, I enthusiastically applaud Chan’s provocative book. Not only does his contagious passion give me hope that the Forgotten God has not forgotten us, Chan’s fearless faith stands as an example to emulate. Indeed, by including short biographical profiles at the end of each chapter he has provided us with several stalwart examples of empowered living lest we are tempted to dismiss his exhortations as unrealistic or unattainable. My prayer is that you will read this book and that the fire of the Spirit would begin to burn and shine through your life long after you turn the final page.
Let it shine til Jesus comes,
I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.
Michael Kallenberg, M.A.