Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2008. 9781434768513.
Francis Chan is a popular California pastor who is challenging people to seek a love relationship with God and become more like Christ in their actions. This book is coupled with a website which provides a couple of videos that integrate with the written material; Chan will tell you to put the book down and watch a certain video. Chan is very personable and his videos are straight from the heart. I was a little put off by his begging people to reach out and accept the love of God because in my opinion it portrays God as being needy and insecure. However, this desire on the part of God for us to love him is balanced by the bulk of the book which is about us living out our place in Christ; incarnating “crazy love” for others. Chan’s church donates some 50+% of its income to worthy causes such as his Children’s Hunger Fund, which is an example he wants all to emulate. He also provides a chapter of examples of individuals who are living out his vision of crazy love. These include famous historical figures such as George Mueller and contemporary figures such as our local Regent College professor Marva Dawn. Unfortunately these figures are held up as unblemished examples, something which may overwhelm readers who know their own foibles all too well.
Chan is very committed to his vision of living a life of crazy love and there are a series of Q&A in the back of the book where he attempts to answer some of the criticisms that have been levelled at his approach. For example he says that “lukewarm Christians” are not actually Christians at all, stating “the lukewarm still need to be saved…If someone has the Holy Spirit in them, there will be fruit, and there will not be a lukewarm life” (183). Obviously he is focussing on the statement of James 2:18, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” His approach to this subject is why Luther went as far as to call James a “book of straw.” The greater problem is that Chan will not allow others to disagree with his reading of Scripture, in particular his lukewarm condemnation which he draws from Revelation 3. The other issue is that “crazy love” is a sliding scale. What is crazy love to one person and culture might be normal in another time and place. Also true love may mean not giving people what they want when it is in God’s interests to do otherwise. What is the relationship between crazy love and hard love?
Let me address Chan’s logical fallacy in his approach to interpreting scripture. In essence it is the ‘no Christians play guitar fallacy.’ He states “When believers are alone with the Word, they come to the same conclusion that I do. Crazy Love appeals to thoughts that all Christians have had when they’re alone with God, and they realize that they are supposed to take Scripture literally. These are the things they should do” (185). Chan has left us with few options if we disagree with him; he has not left room for his view to be wrong. Either (1) we have never been ‘alone’ with the Word; (2) we are not Christians (3) or we have never been alone with God, or (4) we do not take Scripture literally. To which I would respond (A) we are never ‘alone’ when we read the Word. We have grown up reading it in community and even if someone has never met a Christian and reads the Bible they rely on translators to express it in language they can understand; (B) to say that ‘all Christians’ must have the same thoughts as Chan is arrogant. Does he have no concept of cultural differences? Does he think that Simi Valley, California represents the totality of how God is working among Christians? (C) To be alone with God is not necessarily to embrace the immanent God that Chan portrays. What about the transcendent God that is present in much of Scripture? Can we encounter the love of a transcendent God who inspires awe, rather than “falling in love” with him? (D) Chan claims to take Scripture literally but surely he must recognise that not all Scripture is to be taken in a woodenly literal manner. The Bible is comprised of poetry, songs, and various genres. Does he read Revelation literally down to every jot and tittle? What influence does its apocalyptic genre play in his understanding of Revelation? Can someone sit down ‘alone’ with Revelation today and understand it? No way! It requires knowledge of genre and context.
I have been rather harsh in the above comments and have not reflected the fact that there is a lot of good in what Chan says. I just wish he would take into account that his view of God has been limited by his context and community and does not comprise the view of ‘all Christians’ who have ever picked up a Bible and heard God speak to them through it. God’s love is crazy and we would be crazy to reject his love but God is bigger than us and his love for us. He is the Almighty, the King of Creation, and we need to approach him as such. Balance would be good, but not crazy :).