Friday, December 10, 2010

Chan and Crazy Love

Just finished Francis Chan's book Crazy Love, and I really thought it was overwhelmingly another great call to faithful discipleship. However, like Radical by David Platt, I thought it also raised a number of questions.

I agree with these men that it is far too easy for the "American Dream" to become equated with discipleship. Chan asks what would be substantively different about our lifestyles if we suddenly stopped believing. And for so many, very little would change. Agreed. And I think Chan walks a really careful line of insisting on the grace and love of God while challenging Christians to really examine their commitments. He's startling and disconcerting in good ways. Everyone recognizes that discipleship must include sacrifices in time and energy, relationships and evangelism, mercy and prayer, and one of the big issues is money. But Chan is good about seeking to ground that sacrifice in grateful, overflowing love.

Here are several questions for these guys and others raising similar concerns:

1. First, to their credit, these brothers are being careful about not laying out many specific guidelines or rules. Searching the Scriptures, searching our hearts, praying eagerly for direction and opportunities, seeking counsel, and then looking for ways to bless -- all of these things will combine together in God's providence to lead God's people in faithfulness. But this means that it will necessarily look different for different people. It's easy to point to Zacchaeus who gave away half of his income and restored all that he had stolen, or to point to the rich young ruler who is asked to sell everything and follow Jesus. But is there room in these visions of radical sacrifice and radical discipleship for radical obedience that includes large houses, several cars, large tracks of property, and big savings accounts (for some)? We know that there were some in the early church who provided for Christ and the apostles and the early church out of their abundance. They shared money, food, and houses with the needs of the saints. And this means that they didn't give it all away at once. Every disciple must lose their life if they ever want to find them, but not every disciple is called to lose their life in the same way. Everyone must give away everything ultimately, the only questions are when, how, and to whom.

2. Another way to ask the previous question but in a different direction: How does the Dominion Mandate given to Adam and Eve and the gospel's intention to renew all of life and creation fit into "radical discipleship"? While evangelism is obviously central to the Great Commission, so is "discipling" the nations. And presumably, this includes teaching new believers the entire Bible, which includes instructions to pursue artistic endeavors, musical vocations, scientific and medical investigations, etc. In other words, radical discipleship for some will/ought to include going to college and studying hard and spending lots of money to become an excellent doctor and for someone else it might mean becoming a cellist, and for someone else it might mean foregoing college and going on the mission field. The point, similar to the previous one, is that the love of Christ drives the body of Christ into a wonderful diversity of callings and vocations that can and must be used for the building up of the Kingdom. Some people should not send all their money to starving children in the third world; some people should take up their cross and study horticulture at the local university. And other people should send large portions of their income to missionaries or go on the mission field themselves. Crazy love is as broad and diverse as Christ's Kingdom and God's world.

3. What about those who wrongly object to extravagance in the name of mercy? Judas objected to pouring a jar of expensive perfume on Jesus' feet because it might have been given to the poor. In other words, Paul says that there may be some who give their bodies to be burned or give all their belongings away in order to feed the poor, but without love God is not pleased with their actions. Here is where Chan is exactly right in insisting on love, but I do wonder about some who will read his book and start downsizing because they are insecure instead of out of love. And this can result in false assurance. What they really need to do is get right with the Lord, but now they're living off half their incomes and telling themselves that they are obeying.

4. This is an extension of the previous question, but what about the Ananiases of the world? Peter says that for some people who are getting caught up in a radical discipleship movement, it would be better for them not to sell off a bunch of their stocks and bonds and put it in the offering on Sunday. It would have been better for Ananias and Sapphira not to sell that field. It would have been better for them to have studied their hearts and motives and looked to Christ and His word and His Spirit for direction in all honesty. Or in a similar vein: the generous widow who gave her last mite in the temple treasury appears to have been a great saint full of love for God, but Jesus had just finished talking about the way the scribes were devouring widows' houses. When Jesus sees this widow's house devoured, He leaves the temple and orders its demolition. God may be pleased with some peoples' sacrifice, and at the same time He may be very displeased with the fellow who convinced them to give it all away.

5. This is all another way saying that "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" applies to the people turning mercy into sacrifice as much as it applies to people who think God actually prefers sacrifice. Mercy is grace, lovingkindness, joyful love. These are the people who think they need to give more to missions because they think God will be more pleased with them if they have less to spend on themselves. These are the people who volunteer to lead various ministries because they think God will be pleased with their sacrifice of time and energy. We even use the phrase "labor of love" sometimes to describe people who do jobs that they would really rather not do. Of course sometimes we have a duty that we must perform (obedience), and we need to pray for the grace to do it well, do it cheerfully. But if you're heading up the Sunday School program because it's just the right thing to do (*snarl*), and if you don't do it no one else will (*growl*), then you need to tender your cheerful resignation at the earliest opportunity.

6. Do these brothers adequately account for the faithful and radical sacrifice that occurs daily in godly, Christian families? I described this to a friend recently as something of an individualistic streak in some of these conversations which (ironically) are concerned with unity and love in the body of Christ. For example, I was watching a video clip the other day of an interview with Shane Claiborne who was describing his life in the inner city living in a communal house with all sorts of different people from different backgrounds with different priorities, and he was describing the blessing of sanctification that occurs in that context. But then it dawned on me that I experience something very similar to what he's talking about every day. There are four (soon to be five!) other people living in my house with me, and they are all very different from me. Another way of getting at this is pointing out that a faithful, sacrificial disciple of Christ may be giving a good bit of his income away by providing a Christian education for his kids, not to mention food and clothing and a warm house.

Now I fully grant that some Christians hide behind these clarifying statements. Some Christians refuse to take up their crosses to follow Jesus, and they make excuses about their comfort, about what is reasonable, and how they could never do something like that. And Jesus says that such cowardice will be judged. Jesus didn't call us to comfort; He called us to resurrection life. He didn't call us to a comfortable middle class lifestyle; He called us to give up our lives for the sake of the gospel.

But the point here is simply that some people run away from their duties to their families in the name of discipleship and missions. But when the Spirit is at work, when the George Muellers and Jim Elliots and Dietrich Bonhoeffers of the world lay their lives down, it's still crazy and insane, but it's full of crazy love.


Peter Jones said...

With some of these men it seems like they are always looking for the dramatic, something similar to the revivals of old. The slow,everyday work of the average believer isn't radical enough for them. Just being in a normal home with numerous children, doing a normal work is not holy enough, not sanctifying enough.

I have always appreciated your approach of using all of Scripture, all the examples, not bits and pieces. Keep up the good work. In Christ, Peter Jones, Pastor Christ Church of Morgantown

Unknown said...

Just an additional thought on your point #6 and Peter Jones's comment. Both appeal to the sacrifice of a "normal home with numerous children" as an equal substitute with what the Claibornes and Chans of the world are suggesting. My instincts are with you, but don't our instincts run into conflict with Jesus' words on this very point: "if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same" (Lk. 6:32,22)? Doesn't it seem Jesus is suggesting that loving our families sacrificially is something of a no-brainer, compared to what he's asking?

Doug Jones

Toby said...


Good point, and I had thought to put something in there recognizing that on the surface there are more "extreme" sacrifices made by some. While family life may have real and significant challenges, I'm not in prison for the sake of the gospel. So that's definitely worth noting.

On the other hand, Jesus does seem to make a big deal about children and their important place in the kingdom. I do often wonder about these "calls to discipleship" -- or the new monastic communities, how much emphasis is put on the importance of children? (honest question) -- Jesus makes them prime examples of kingdom life, nearly as central as orphans and widows.


Peter Jones said...

Doug, I have never really thought of my family as automatically loving me or me them. It could be argued that the family situation and a church situation are some of the places where we get the least amount of reciprocal love. Loving those nearest is often the most difficult. I am not saying it should be that way, but it often is. If my wife bakes bread for the next door neighbor she is likely to get more compliments than she does at the evening meal she prepared for her family.

I would add here that generally Paul's exhortations to parents tell them to do normal things, like bearing and nurturing children and loving their spouses. It seems that sometimes, Christ is pitted against Paul, especially on issues like these. Now I know in many reformed circles, including mine, we have the opposite problem of hearing only Paul and ignoring Christ. That is why I think reading these men are helpful, but they often overcorrect. Peter Jones

Alex T said...

Glad to see you dealing with Crazy Love on your blog. Just a couple of points from a former member of Cornerstone Church under the pastoral care of Chan:
1. Francis' focus on family was very strong in his ministry and I found there was a great balance. His leadership as husband/father were exemplary. Where he would differ from many though, is in his emphasis on the Church as the family of God. Good families are an outgrowth of a strong sense of mission within Christ's body. The body of Christ is built through the adoption of sons and daughters (the outcast, the fallen, the marginalized, etc) and this then affects the nature of our own home lives. The church (and the family) lives for the sake of the world. Crazy love in the church breads crazy love in the nuclear family.
2.In your first point you ask "But is there room in these visions of radical sacrifice and radical discipleship for radical obedience that includes large houses, several cars, large tracks of property, and big savings accounts (for some)?" is very interesting. Cornerstone Church was in Simi Valley a city in Ventura County which is one of the wealthiest counties in the country. I would say that an answer for your question would be - yes but for very few. The love of money is a major discipleship issue today (as it was in Jesus' day as well).

I will be down for Christmas break and look forward to connecting and maybe discussing this book or Exclusion and Embrace.

Alex T said...

Toby...this is Alex... Luther was an incognito sign on when I first joined blogger....

Toby said...

Thanks, Alex. I look forward to connecting with you when you're in town. Blessings.