November 17, 2019

Another Look: Chasing Francis

Assisi, with a view of the Basilica of St. Francis

Another Look: Chasing Francis

Francis was a Catholic, an evangelical street preacher, a radical social activist, a contemplative who devoted hours to prayer, a mystic who had direct encounters with God, and someone who worshiped with all the enthusiasm and spontaneity of a Pentecostal. He was a wonderful integration of all the theological streams we have today.

• from Chasing Francis

One of the places I most wanted to visit in Italy was Assisi, the home of St. Francis. For one thing, I am an aficianado of Giotto, the 14th century Florence artist, who was one of the first “modern” painters, capturing the human expressions and feelings of his subjects. The Basilica of St. Francis is lined within with frescoes by Giotto, both of the life of Christ and the career of St. Francis. I just could not travel to Italy and not see some Giotto frescoes in person.

But then, of course, there is Francis himself. Where some in our day have recommended a “Benedict” option for Christians, I myself would prefer to see the Church take the “Franciscan” route. More about that on Friday.

I am finishing up a book about which Michael wrote a review when I first started reading IM. He also interviewed its author. The book is Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale, by Ian Morgan Cron, the story of a mega-church pastor who goes through a crisis of faith and finds it revitalized by going to Italy and learning about St. Francis and Franciscan spirituality.

I won’t say more now, but will re-post Michael’s original review. You can also read his interview with the author HERE.

• • •

Recommendation and Review: Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron
by Michael Spencer (2007)

There’s a place in Ian Morgan Cron’s Chasing Francis where his spiritually-brokedown-now-on-pilgrimage pastor protagonist returns, looks his congregation in the eye and says “When I left here, I wasn’t sure what a Christian looked like anymore. My idea of how to follow Jesus had run out of gas.” The characters may be (barely) fictional, but with those kinds of sentiments at the bottom of this book, it should receive a wide audience.

Cron is pastor of Trinity Church in Greenwich, Connecticut, an evangelical/Anglican/emerging church that is intentionally designed around the emphases of ministry that come from the life of Saint Francis. Chasing Francis isn’t exactly Cron’s story, but it’s close. It is a kind of narrative fiction that allows the author to tell his story in the form of another story. Chase Falson’s loss and recovery of faith entails a breakdown in the pulpit, a pilgrimage to Italy with a posse of Franciscans, mysticism, food and an unlikely love story. It’s well written, with lots of catchy humor. I read the book in three hours and made plenty of notes along the way.

It’s also a book that includes perhaps the best study guide I’ve ever seen in a book of this type. Cron pulls from all sorts of sources that the readers of this blog will appreciate, from David Fitch to Wendall Berry to Thomas Merton. The quotations and material in the study guide are a second book in themselves. An outstanding bibliography is another bonus. These make the book very usable for groups.

This is a story that makes much of the emerging discussion more accessible by using fiction and narrative, as well as Christian history, to confront the situation in evangelicalism. Chase Falson’s turn to Roman Catholic spiritual resources may make some readers a bit uneasy, but Cron- an Anglican priest- isn’t selling any denomination or tradition as the answer. He’s seeking to find the value in diverse traditions and restore them to the church.

Much of the material in this book resembles standard emerging church apologetics and analysis, but the personal approach of the novel format makes this a book that won’t have more conservative evangelicals flying off the handle. Cron’s forays into politics and environmentalism will stretch those conservative readers, and his critiques of materialism and the current shallowness of church growth evangelicalism may sting, but this book isn’t a screed. It’s not burning down what it leaves behind. The generosity of Saint Francis is a big part of the package.

Statue of St. Francis (detail), Cathedral of San Rufino, Assisi

I understand that this book appeared about a year ago, but factors conspired to sink the book into an invisible profile. Now Navpress is reintroducing Chasing Francis, and I’m glad they are, because this is an excellent book to encounter Saint Francis’s legacy as it represents many of the emerging and post-evangelical concerns of Christians who do feel they are products of a movement that was great at introductions, but has left us without coherent and usable directions for the journey.

A few elements of the book were less than entirely believable, and some characters need a touch more depth. The ready invite of a Protestant to the Roman Catholic Eucharist is rather surprising! All in all, Cron’s first book is creative, interesting, helpful and enjoyable. It was time well spent and I recommend the book, especially to ministers who feel they may be about to stand up and announce they’ve lost their way. Chasing Francis is a great guidebook to one path back to sanity.

Comments

  1. senecagriggs says

    When I saw the post title my first thought was BETO O’ROURKE? Thankfully that wasn’t it.

  2. Christiane says

    Francis of Assisi

    there are four columbariums in the Church cemetery and one of our family members who LOVED ANIMALS is buried there in the one that is named after St. Francis of Assisi

    So when I think about ‘Franciscan’ I think about today’s people who care for and rescue and contribute to the care of animals tame and wild, and may have themselves as I do, a little rescued fur baby who asks little and gives much.
    And I think about the destruction of habitats where the living things are and how some day the Earth itself will fall by the hands of those whose greed exceeded all wisdom

    For the ones among us who are Franciscan in heart, and love the animals who nurture our souls, I found a modern collection of drawings to share that I hope raises awareness.
    Where our son lives now, the politicians in Washington want to open a rain forest national park to logging, which will of course destroy the delicate rain forest ecology, and the animal life there will depart to go away either into other lands or to cease to live and return to the soil.
    For the ones who love them and for those who might care for them in the way of the Franciscan saint, this:

    https://www.demilked.com/destroying-nature-is-destroying-life-surachai-puthikulangkura-robin-wood/

  3. What is “standard emerging church apologetics”? I thought the emerging church had pretty well fizzled out.