January 27, 2021

No Super-Christians

Would you describe yourself as totally in love with Jesus Christ? Or do the words halfhearted, lukewarm, and partially committed fit better?

– Francis Chan, Crazy Love

* * *

We’ve been having quite a discussion since I posted Francis Chan’s video about “Aging Biblically”  yesterday and said that I found it worthy of a rant. Though what he had to say about aging Christians was bad enough, I was more concerned about the entire approach to the Christian life that his words and attitude reflected.

I called it world-denying, dualistic, pietistic, and totally bereft of the Gospel.

When Chan says, “Respectfully, I don’t meet a lot of elderly who live like they are about to see Jesus, and saying goodbye to the things of this world,……and risking more than ever, and some of you are buying stuff like you are going to enjoy it…and saving stuff…my life has been about letting go, letting go, letting go…” his words may carry some truth regarding the dangers of materialism, but they go beyond that. He comes perilously close to denying the existential value of material “stuff” — period. As if God didn’t make that “stuff,” didn’t mean for us to have it, enjoy it, savor it. The only logical end point for this approach, as I said in the comments, is the monastery. That kind of “letting go, letting go, letting go” lifestyle, in my mind, is perfectly legitimate for some, who are called to a cloistered vocation, though I can’t picture any good monk or nun being as frantic about it as Chan sounds.

However, for Chan, the stakes are black and white for every Christ-follower. This is reflected in Crazy Love, where the contrast he draws is between “lukewarm” or “totally obsessed.”  Really. It’s one or the other. Unless a person is (and these are his words) — obsessed, consumed with Christ, fixated on Jesus, risk-taking, radical, wholly surrendered — that person may not even be (likely is not) a Christian. “As I see it, a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are ‘lukewarm’ are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven.”

This is the essence of the kind of “discipleship” people like Francis Chan tell us is necessary: “Do you understand that it’s impossible to please God in any way other than wholehearted surrender?”

Well, and I thought trusting Jesus and what he did was enough.

In Crazy Love, Francis Chan spends a chapter highlighting examples of people he thinks fit the bill of “obsessed” Christians who have shown us what “crazy love” looks like.

  • Nathan Barlow, a medical doctor who served in Ethiopia for sixty years. Once when he got a toothache, he had to leave the field to get dental work done. He had the dentist pull all his teeth and give him dentures so he wouldn’t have to leave for a toothache again.
  • Simpson Rebbavarapu, an Indian man who lives solely by faith and runs and orphanage and evangelism ministry.
  • Jamie Lang, a woman who adopted a little girl from Tanzania and has returned there to work with Wycliffe to translate the Bible.
  • Marva Dawn, a scholar and teacher with severe medical problems who has committed to living a simple life and still drives her 1980 VW Bug.
  • Rings, a homeless man who uses his monthly check to buy food for his fellow homeless, which he serves them out of the back of his truck while telling them about Jesus.
  • Rachel Saint, whose brother Nate had been one of the five missionaries killed in 1956 in Ecuador. She went back to those same people, lived among them for twenty years, translated the NT into their language, and is now buried there.
  • George Mueller, well-known English pastor who started orphanages for two reasons: (1) to care for the needy, (2) to show that God provides by prayer alone.
  • Brother Yun, who came to know Christ at age 16, preached the Gospel in China and was imprisoned dozens of times, and on the last occasion had his legs severely beaten and broken. He escaped China and now works for a mission establishing fellowships of believers in all the countries between Jerusalem and China.
  • Shane Claiborne, a leader in the “new monastic” movement, who lives and serves in Philadelphia in The Simple Way community.
  • The Robynson family, a family of five who celebrates Christmas by making breakfast for the homeless in their community.
  • Susan Diego, who feared speaking in front of people, and yet who went to Uganda and led a conference for women.
  • Lucy, an older woman who was a prostitute in her early years. She now opens her home to other young women who are in trouble on the streets.

I have to say, stories like these move and inspire me. They always have. I could tell you a hundred more from my own experiences and reading. And I too have been to places where poor Christians, in living conditions that would be intolerable for comfortable Americans, are trusting Christ and serving their neighbors faithfully. I know people who have made great sacrifices and left much behind to serve Christ. I too have used them as examples to encourage and challenge others in their faith and service. Many of them are personal heroes to me.

But I also remember a conversation I had with one of my best friends from college many years ago that chastened me and gave me caution in telling “heroic” stories. He was young and struggling in ministry and feeling very discouraged. He had sought help from others, and they had suggested he read some biographies of great people of faith from the past, Christian leaders they thought might inspire him. He said to me sadly, “Mike, I’ve read several of these biographies, but they don’t encourage me, they make me feel completely inadequate. I’m not like those people.”

What my friend needed was a different story, a story that wasn’t on a heroic level. He needed an example that made it seem like doing the work of an ordinary pastor in a small rural parish was worth it. He didn’t have to go overseas or start some big mission project or adopt a child from an impoverished country. He wasn’t necessarily called to trust God to provide all his needs solely in answer to prayer, or build a great church, or do anything other than be himself, walk with Jesus, and love his neighbors.

I’m afraid, by Chan’s definition, the majority of Christians are “lukewarm,” and therefore unworthy. But I wonder:

  • Is it “crazy love” to devote my life to loving my spouse and staying together through thick and thin? If I never did any more than that, would it be enough to prove I’m not a “lukewarm” Christian?
  • What if I never did any more than show up at my job day after day and do my work well, as a faithful employee? Would that please God enough?
  • What if I’m a private person, a shy person, a deeply wounded person, a physically disabled person, a person with mental or emotional problems? What if I’m a person who needs to be cared for rather than one capable of actively caring for others? What if someone in my family is ill and I must devote most of my time, energy, and resources to serving them in obscurity? Do people like Chan ever talk about passages like 1Cor 12:22-25? “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”
  • What if I’m part of a small congregation of few means, and I work together with my brothers and sisters to keep it going year after year, and we never do anything particularly creative or risky or “crazy”? What if we just meet every Sunday, teach our children, do a few things now and then to make our community a better place, and support a few missionaries? Is that “obsessed with Jesus” enough?
  • What if I take to heart a NT text like 1Thessalonians 4:11-12 and use it to define my understanding of the Christian life — “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.” (NLT)?
  • And, most importantly, what if I’m a miserable failure and all I can do is come to church and cry out, “God be merciful to me, the sinner!”? Will God be pleased with me? With my doubts? With my lack of trust? With my depression? With my poor social skills or embarrassing appearance? With my constant stumbling and fumbling through the most basic matters of life? Am I worthy enough to be called a disciple?

It seems to me that some preachers simply have no tolerance for ordinary, daily life with all its messiness and imperfection as a realm in which God is at work, and in which we participate through simply being who we are, trusting God, and loving our neighbors. No, the message is loud and clear: do more, give more, sacrifice more, serve more, be more obsessed, take more risks, go farther, reach higher, run faster, be more like this extraordinary person and not like your ordinary self.

Chan’s vision of the Christian life is more, more, more. In Crazy Love, he writes, “If life is a river, then pursuing Christ requires swimming upstream. When we stop swimming, or actively following Him, we automatically begin to be swept downstream. Or, to use another metaphor more familiar to city people, we are on a never-ending downward escalator. In order to grow, we have to turn around and sprint up the escalator, putting up with perturbed looks from everyone else who is gradually moving downward.”

I’m worn out just reading those words.

When did “discipleship” come to mean a manic sprint up a down escalator? I thought it was “walking with Christ.”

I don’t think people who promote this kind of discipleship read the New Testament correctly.

  • They realize, don’t they, that Jesus himself only lived a “radical” life of active ministry for two or three years?
  • They realize, don’t they, that the exciting, non-stop action of the book of Acts describes primarily the acts of the apostles, who had a different calling than most Christians?
  • They realize, don’t they, that none of this frantic, manic, obsessive activism that is being promoted as an antidote to nominal Christianity is represented in any of the epistles?

There are no super-Christians in the New Testament.

Just people, saved by grace, called into a variety of vocations in which we live our ordinary, daily lives in Jesus.

Some may have extraordinary callings, some may have great gifts. Most are normal people, walking with Jesus day by day in the context of family, work, church, and community.

Nor do Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, or John preach at us incessantly to live a “letting go, letting go, letting go” lifestyle that is focused on “heaven” and dismissive of the ordinary stuff of this world. Indeed, they tell us we are free from the voices of religious demand that cry out continually, “More! More! More!” They remind us of a good Creator and a faithful Redeemer who has given us freely all things to enjoy and the greatest gift of all, contentment in his love.

What some people call “crazy love” I call “crazy-making.”

And Jesus calls us away from that:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

– Matt. 11:28-30, MSG


  1. Michael Newtown says

    I have wanted to ask Steve –and those who share his views — this question for a while now: Shall we rip these verses out of Scripture to comport with your theology?

    “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

    But, you will tell the Apostle Peter, how do you KNOW those qualities are increasing. How do you KNOW you’re practicing those qualities sufficiently to never fall? Oh, Peter, if only you had heard the gospel!

    Or how about Paul, who also didn’t know the true gospel: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed.”

    Examine yourselves? That’s morbid introspection! You’ll never have peace if you look inside! Do what is right? That’s THIRD USE OF THE LAW talk!

    Seriously, there is so much rich teaching in the New Testament that flatly contradicts this “I do nothing — ever — that’s pietism, semi-pelagianism — I just accept my forgiveness and…and…and…nothing…” that I do wonder what you do when you encounter the FULLNESS of the New Testament teaching. (And no, I’m not Roman Catholic…)

    • Michael Newtown,

      If you take Christ out of the Scriptures, what are you left with?

      A lawbook.


      There’s a purpose to the law (read St. Paul), and it’s not to make us ‘better Christians’. It’s so that we can live with another, as best is possible, and to expose our unrighteousness before God. That’s it.

      The law demands good works and obedience…the Holy Spirit inspires it.

      Doing things because you are prodded by the law and some self-righteous preacher, does not make for a good work.

      And, as the Bible tells us, anyway…”all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags.”

      Jesus himself told us (when asked what it is to do the works of the Father) said, “Believe in the one whom the Father has sent.” That’s it.

      Semi-Pelagianism is alive and well. It breeds pride…or despair. That’s it.

      • Steve,

        Maybe I just don’t ‘get’ the sharp division between ‘law’ and ‘grace’ in Lutheran theology, but what you have written does not look like an answer to Michael’s question. I think he has a serious point that has to be addressed.

        Why does the New Testament exhort Christian believers to (a) examine themselves or (b) make every effort, or (c) do good works? What’s the point of all this stuff? Surely it’s not merely to help us get along with each other!

        Do you really think Peter and Paul are trying to make their readers feel guilty by exhorting them in this way? Sorry, but it just doesn’t add up to me.

      • LOL. Anti-nomianism is alive and well also.

    • Michael – There’s a lot of diversity in the Body of Christ and we who disagree with Chan don’t all take the same approach to the Gospel. Let me explain how I view the verses you quoted. For me, Galatians is the key that unlocks a lot of this. It was one of the first (if not THE first) epistle Paul wrote and it lays the foundation for understanding the Gospel. The verse you quoted, especially out of 1 Peter 1, dovetail very well with the Fruit of the Spirit. They are the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives achieved by grace through faith. Even in the verses in 1 Peter faith is step number one upon which all the rest depend. According to Galatians the effort he is referring to is the same effort you put forth in order to acquire your salvation. What was that? And if that is how the Gospel saved you then why are you looking to some other (human) effort in order to grow and bear the fruit of the spirit in your life?

      The problem with much of evangelicalism, and Chan in particular, is that they act as though the Gospel is limited to the “conversion experience” and then we grow by self-help, will power, guilt, principles, etc. No! The same Gospel message and method that saved us is the one that will grow us in our faith and transform us into the likeness of Christ. The Gospel is the only thing in the universe with the power to do that from the inside out.

      • “The problem with much of evangelicalism, and Chan in particular, is that they act as though the Gospel is limited to the ‘conversion experience’ and then we grow by self-help, will power, guilt, principles, etc.”

        I’m currently reading Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel, probably on a recommendation from here, and he makes exactly that point. The plan of salvation is only a small component of the gospel, but we have made it the end-all and be-all, the full gospel itself.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Which is a natural corollary and side effect of a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. Entropy sets in, and it eventually decays to Selling More Fire Insurance for the purpose of Selling More Fire Insurance.

    • Michael Newtown & others,

      I’m very interested in this post, and all these comments—these are conversations my husband and I have quite often.

      Michael, while I see your point, I think you may be missing the true point of the original post. Nobody is out to say that Jesus demands nothing of a follower’s life; what’s being debated is whether one human has the right to *interpret* for another human what “enough” sacrifice to God looks like. (Or to imply in their message that “most” people don’t understand this and “You should look at me, or this person, or that person, to see what an appropriate level is”)

      I have a particular interest in this subject. As a teenager, after hearing a lot of messages like this one from Chan, I became so depressed at my own inability to “live up to” that level of sacrifice/radicalness/sold-out-for-Jesus-ness…..that I actually questioned my salvation for many years. Such exhortation to *constant* self-examination completely strangled my relationship with God, to the point where I could not even pray anymore. All I could do was obsess over my own worthlessness, and messages like this (supported by some of the verses you’ve mentioned) bolstered my belief that my inability to reach this “level” of holiness was proof that I wasn’t a real Christian.

      In short, it kept me looking at myself instead of looking at God. And the irony was, the thing that kept me so distracted was the question of “Are you looking at God enough? Well, are you? Are YOU? Are YOU looking at god enough?”

      That is the spirit that our dear Internet Monk is here questioning. He is not questioning whether the Bible has something to say about how we live and how we love Jesus.

      I’m happy to say that God pulled me out of my downward spiral. After I quit worrying about what spiritual level I was on, my relationship with God grew–and I naturally became more able to sacrifice and let God change me.

      In Him,

      A Visitor

  2. “It may sound absurd:but don’t be naive
    Even Heroes have the right to bleed
    I may be disturbed:but won’t you conceed
    Even Heroes have the right to dream
    It’s not easy to be me ”
    – from “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” by Five for Fighting

  3. I know many Christian whom I admire dearly who are just wonderful people and who do quite wonderful and remarkable things. They do inspire me to take risks and to courageously and lovingly serve with grace and joy. They never say “look at me” or “why are you being so lazy?” – not even in a pious, saccharin, passive-aggressive way. They don’t have to. That’s why they inspire. You want to be like them, like a son wants to be like his dad.

    The Apostle Paul had the audacity of telling others to follow him as he follows Christ. He did so fully aware of the responsibility. In contrast were the super Christians who acted so wise and spiritually strong, even trying to make Paul himself look weak, perhaps even look-warm, in comparison. Paul lists all the reasons why he could consider himself superior those super-saints, but instead concludes with II Corinthians 12:9-10: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

    This isn’t about faith without works. It isn’t about devaluing mission work or sacrifice. Perhaps it’s about how (and how not to) approach discipleship. I know not everyone likes John Wesley, but he understood sanctification as a work of God’s grace. His religion was indeed methodical, but his faith was not in the methods or the effort. Rather, it was God’s grace. Just study Wesley’s life before Aldersgate: his efforts to improve himself by himself drove him to the brink of despair. At Aldersgate, he heard those words from Luther’s commentary on Romans and finally understood God’s grace. He went on to preach many sermons on holiness, but it is how he did it – from the perspective of God’s grace – that made the difference. This view is in stark contrast to later sinless-perfection teachings of Charles Finney and Phoebe Palmer, which were centered back on ones own efforts. Wesley is often lumped in with them, but there is no comparison.

    • “I know not everyone likes John Wesley, but he understood sanctification as a work of God’s grace.”

      +1 Amen!

  4. I mentioned this post on Facebook just as a FWIW to a person who had posted the “a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron” statement – I didn’t take a side for or against Chan – and later found that I had been subsequently unfriended by them. 😕

  5. Scrapiron says

    I skipped the Chan video in the earlier post, but I have seen he direction he’s been going lately and I can guess the general idea. My hunch is that God gives us these over-the-top crazies every so often to provide us with clarity, inspiration and a prophetic message/image. I’m personally thankful for them. Their stories and messages often pull me back away from the edge of a life that is drifting farther from Jesus and closer to a life that is more nearly centered on Him. I recognize the unsustainabilty of a life lived that way, so I don’t attempt to imitate their lives. When I think of how some of these often die young, I wonder if God removes them from our midst before their message starts to fade. Imagine what a letdown it would be to hear of Jim Elliot or Keith Green settling into middle age in a comfortable suburb, drawing a salary, golfing on Saturday morning and driving a late-model Camry like the rest of us. At this point I would not be shocked to learn that Francis Chan’s trailer park gets hit by a tornado and we lose him before he starts to cool off.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I’ve heard it said that a certain John F Kennedy had the good timing to get killed when his legend was at its peak and before any scandals broke that could detract from the JFK legend.

  6. Matthew N. Petersen says

    I think my answer to him is very Zen: He is attached to non attachment. This is good. But it is not the best. Maybe someone should hit him 40 times.

    He also should read a little Luther. We do need to be perfect. And we shall be. God is making us perfect. But we are not. Are we receiving the Sacrament? Then God is still speaking to us, still making us perfect. Christ will save, not my faith in Christ. Stop being attached to non-attachment. The perfect are not attached, not even to non-attachment. He gives Himself to all of us.

  7. Margaret Catherine says

    Wondering off-handedly what an evangelical whose ideals are suited to a,monastery does about it, exactly…

    • Clay Crouch says

      If the subject of this post and the previous one (Francis Chan) are any indication, they beat up on old folks.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      If they’re female, they join a Christian Dating Service to snag a “husband” who’ll foot all the bills while they spend 24/7/365 On Fire in Super-Christianese Prayer and Contemplation and Devotions with their REAL husband Jesus.

      (Distilled from “Who I Am”, “What I Like”, and “What I’m Looking For” on a LOT of Christian Dating Service applications. May as well have been pre-printed.)

    • Margaret Catherine says

      Let’s try “supposed to do about it.” 😛

  8. Booklover says

    Chaplain Mike,
    Thank you, thank you! I am a young woman who loves Jesus passionately, but I have struggled and still struggle with a mother who has severe mental illness and a father who was often absent as I was growing up. It has been a hard and long fight to keep my head above water. I am now a wife and mom, and I feel as if just trying to keep my little family together might not enough in the eyes of folks like Chan. I have often felt as if I wasn’t doing enough for for other people; that I was so focused on my own pain and needs. I have so often fallen asleep feeling inadequate that I wasn’t saving the world, let alone my little corner of it. I loved what you wrote when you said, “Well, I thought trusting Jesus and what he did was enough.” I will savor those words. I needed to hear them. You are so right! And doing, doing, doing is okay for those who are able. But for those of us who have very full plates emotionally, I pray that resting, resting, resting in the capable arms of Jesus is all He asks of us.

  9. Stitchinseminary says

    “Please check to prove that YOU ARE human!”. Why yes! I am. A flawed and imperfect human. And so is Chan. However, I don’t hear that in the video. That’s my main problem with it. There are a lot of first person statements that set Chan up as always doing the right thing and the masses as always doing the wrong thing. “my life has always been about letting go.”. I’m discouraged when I start hearing religious leaders speaking as if they’ve got it all figured out. I don’t need to be more like you, I need to strive to be more like Christ. And I need to acknowledge that none of that is possible without God’s grace. Point to Christ, not to yourself.

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    According to the counter, this is Comment #236. In less than two days.

    Usually it takes Homosexuality or Evolution to rack up that many comments that fast.

    • Complementarian vs. egalitarian and political topics come pretty close as well.

      • I’ll bet IM could get 1000 posts with an article about a homosexual, Republican, egalitarian, YE creationist, super-Christian.

    • Francis Chan is pretty popular HUG. I know several people who like him. However, it seems as if in Christianity today there is a “fan boy” mindset. I fell into this with John Piper. You follow, you listen, obey, don’t questrion, and they are always right. Some people I’m sure would blindy follow Francis Chan over a cliff. We haven’t leanred much from Jim Jones and Jonestown have we…?

  11. Rick Ro. says

    (Long post alert…)

    Okay, all you Chan-bashers…I’m about to make you smile. I’m not going to say you’ve converted me, but I will say that I’m coming around more and more to your perspective. Oh, Lord-y, Lordy…God does indeed have a sense of humor…

    At my church’s board meeting last night, my pastor came in with a short devotion on the rich young ruler. Now I know there three accounts of this (Mark, Matthew and Luke) and many different translations from which he could’ve read – thus many different versions of how this is written – but for whatever reason (God-ordained, specifically for me?), my pastor chose Matthew’s account, v.19:16-22, out of the NIV. And when he got to v.21, the verbage nailed me between the eyes.

    “Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'”

    I had an epiphany like a ton of bricks falling on my head! Jesus gave the guy an out! “If you want to be perfect…then come, follow me.” I think all the guy had to do was respond, “Lord, I will never be perfect. Can I still follow you?”

    I guess what I got out of this version of the account is that Jesus sensed the rich young ruler’s desire to be “perfect.” If you look at the lead-in to Jesus’ statement, the ruler is basically asking, “I feel I’m just short of perfection. Am I right about that? And if so, what can I do to be perfect?” And Jesus’ response is basically, “If you think you need to be perfect, then I’m going to point out to you that it is impossible. Give up that which makes you imperfect.”

    When I looked at it this way, I then put Chan in the shoes of the rich young ruler. Chan does indeed seem to be looking for “perfection” in terms of living in this world, of trying to get rid of all imperfection in himself and other Christians. If you make that leap with me, then I guess the conclusion is that the Chan’s of this world keep asking Jesus, “What will make me perfect?” And Jesus’ response is, “If it is perfection you seek, you must get rid of that which is making you imperfect.” An impossibility, pointed out in his follow-on discussion with his disciples (Matthew 19:23-26). So I guess the Chan’s of the world will continually strive to get rid of that which makes them imperfect, and when they get rid of that ONE thing, there will always be ANOTHER thing making them imperfect. No wonder the rich young ruler went away sad. It’s an impossible task!

    To support this notion, I will again point out to this statement: “If you want to be perfect…Then come, follow me.” When did Jesus ever demand perfection from anyone before they could follow Him!?!?! Never. No, he just grabbed imperfect of people right off the street and said, “Follow me.”

    Okay, that said, I’m still not going to join the Chan Bash-party. My introduction to Chan was through Crazy Love, and what I appreciated about what I felt he was telling ME was this: “Stop being a pew-sitter, Sunday only Christian; be in a relationship with God 24/7; be ready to be compassionate on those who need compassion, whenever you sense it.” Some of you seem to think that Chan is demanding Christians Super-Christians, when I believe he is just challenging us to do more than be 3-hour a week Christians. And 24/7 Christians doesn’t mean we’re always DOING (which is how I think some of you interpret Chan’s messages), but rather that we be 24/7 “READY”. I’ve lead an adult Sunday school class through the gospels of Mark and Matthew these past 4 years (yes…very in-depth…LOL), and the one thing I picked up on was Jesus’ willingness to meet a need whenever he sensed it. He had compassion at times when you and I would’ve said, “No way!” He was in constant communion with His Father. He was 24/7 “ready,” even when he wasn’t 24/7 “doing.”

    I have a few questions for those of you with issues with Chan’s approach. Would you agree or disagree that at times we all need to change? If a pastor senses a spiritual change is needed in his/her congregation, how should they communicate that? Have you ever been convicted by a message? Do you tend to discount convicting messages as “the pastor is trying to guilt or shame me into change”? How can guys like Chan, who feel convicted in helping other Christians recognize the need to change, get their message across to people who are going to get defensive about “change”?

    This list of questions could go on. Hopefully you all get the gist of them, trying to get the sense if any of you have ever felt a “good” conviction or if all conviction leads to defensive response. Maybe those of you who are or have been pastors can respond, too. Do you ever sense the need to convict your congregation’s of change? How do you do it effectively, to avoid the reactions I see from most of the people here.

    • Rick – I’ll answer your questions from my perspective, which I’m sure others may disagree with. I want to hear messages that follow the balance of New Testament Scripture and that means they need to focus on the work of Christ. I think convicting messages are necessary, I see them in the epistles. However, between the periodic convicting messages the Gospel needs to be the regular theme communicated by anyone claiming to represent Christ.

      First time I heard Chan I thought “this is good stuff.” But then six sermons later he was still harping on “you need to love more, you need to be more passionate, you need to be more sold out God, you…” and he hadn’t said anything about the work of Christ on my behalf or in my life. It was all about what I needed to do to please God. If Jesus had never died and raised again, Chan’s messages would have been essentially the same. It was all Old Testament love the Lord your God stuff. That is all true, but Jesus came because I COULDN’T do that on my own.

      See my response to Michael Newtown at the top of this page. It is the Gospel that changes me from the inside out. The same method God used to save me is the method He uses to transform me.

  12. Victorious says

    Rick Ro.

    What would happen if pastors encouraged the sheep to keep their eyes open as they walked through life. Stay alert for whatever the Lord may put in your path. See here….as I mentioned above, I’m near 70 yrs. old and often feel useless in the kingdom. One day when I went to Walgreens drugstore very early on a Sunday morning, I heard a voice calling to me from behind the counter. A young African American employee asked me if I would be her mother for a few minutes. I said I would do so. She needed advice about an abusive boyfriend and I was able to help her with a little advice and a phone number to the dv hotline.

    We just need to walk and make ourselves available when needed. That’s what Jesus and the disciples did….walked and met needs along the way. Remember how the Holy Spirit summonded Peter for a specific need? And Philip? It shouldn’t be a chore. We don’t need sermons on “have to’s; ought to’s; or musts.” They do nothing to edifiy or encourage, they only inflict guilt. As I see it…..

    • Rick Ro. says

      I see what you’re saying. But what if you are a pastor and see that your congregation isn’t living as you describe? Isn’t it a pastor’s obligation/calling to help the sheep move toward the Master’s voice? What if they aren’t? Isn’t some conviction necessary? I see Chan as responding to the fact that a great percentage of Americans call themselves “Christian,” yet don’t seem to live at all like you describe. What percentage of those who even come to church every Sunday (not that that is a yardstick, just using it as a data point) even live like you describe? Heck, I’m not even sure I live as you describe! And isn’t it the role of those who feel called to lead a flock to get the flock moving in the right direction? How do you do that without a little conviction and stepping on people’s toes?

      • How does the Pastor know a person’s heart? I’ve been there and done that. Actually I got hammered by such a system. You don’t know how hard it is for a person to try and develop theology. Maybe they are trying to overcome alcohol but its messy. The point is Rick is this: You are not God. And you will know know the depths of the person’s heart. Maybe it took an incredible step of faith for a person tetering on the edge of faith to drag themself out of bed and go to church. Your approach is kind of like taking a drowning person and throwing them a 2 ton anchor.

        Some faith system…

        • Rick Ro. says

          With respect, I do differ with you here.

          1) While a pastor can’t know a person’s heart, he/she probably has a general sense of the “congregation’s/body’s” heart. I think he/she has a general sense of the health of the church and body. So individually, I can basically agree with you there. As a body, probably not.

          2) I don’t see this approach as “kind of like taking a drowning person and throwing them a 2 ton anchor.” I see the approach as asking Christians (who, since they are already saved, are standing on the shore) to take life preservers and toss them to those who are drowning. True, some sitting in the pews may be drowning, but the message isn’t for them, it’s for the believer who has decided to follow Jesus and thus has somewhat of a “burden” to be a life-saver.

          Let me go back to the Obamacare debate that was waged here a few days back. A consistent comment from the Obamacare supporters, and maybe even the detractors, was, “If we Christians and the church did a better job of reaching out and helping those who need the medical help, most citizens of the USA wouldn’t need the government’s help and we wouldn’t need Obamacare.”

          Okay…so how should a pastor preach a message of “help others with their medical needs” to their congregation? And assume YOUR pastor preached it to YOUR congregation…would you hear the message and say, “Here we go again…we’re being guilted and shamed into a works-based faith” and then sit back and write on blog sites that if only we Christians did a better job of helping our neighbors, the good ole USA would be better off?

          • And how might I ask are people going to discern who is and isn’t saved? Everyone is going to be swept up and guilted into doing something. Heck when I went to a fundagelical mega church years ago I tried to get plugged in and struggled . In the process the church swarmed upon me like flies on crap. While new I was pestered to do greeting. I was pestered to do child care. I was pestered to do this and that. And much of it was through guilt trips. I basically said “no” to all of it.

            You’re making broad, sweeping generalizations. And in the process you giving people a milstone and guilt tripping them.

            Oh and by the way….the message in most churches is for all who are there. The won’t say, this applies to the mature believer, and if you’re just visiting today’s sermon has no purpose what so ever. The only time churches separate the two is when it comes to tithing. And even then they have other ways to guilt people.

            Oh and I really don’t have a pastor as a skeptic. Just a few friends here and there in the DC area and beyond. Someone who works in Capital Hill, a couple of others in the military, and a couple who work in a homeless shelter and health care. Plus there’s Chaplin Mike and Dee and Deb at Wartburg Watch. But since I am outside the church as an agnostic I really don’t have a pastor! 😛

      • Victorious says

        The primary function of a pastor/shepherd is (as I see it in scripture) is:

        1) to protect the sheep from false teachers; i.e. wolves in sheep’s clothing. One of Paul’s primary concerns as he writes to the various churches is deception from within. Both he and Jesus warn often about false prophets and false teachers.

        2) to live as an example to the flock. Here’s how Paul said it to the Philippians:

        Php 3:15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you;
        Php 3:16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
        Php 3:17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.

        Notice he recognizes that different/bad attitudes/views are the work of God’s revealing. Pastor/Shepherds put their lives on display by living in transparency and accountability thereby providing the flock with an example to follow.

        Paul does speak often of living exemplary lives so far as conduct and behavior goes so as to not bring shame to Christianity.

        That’s how I understand the function of the pastor.

  13. Jim McDonnell says

    Yes I am human 🙂 I disagree with this article. Your hyper focus on the Gospel can be an excuse to settle for mediocrity. This also allows people to play it safe, a breeding ground for slothfulness and worldliness, thus putting ourselves before God and others. I really think that this ministry is geared toward intellectualism and arm chair theology that never gets off the couch.

    I am convinced that we should be using our God given talents like we mean it, not pulling back in fear and unbelief. This tight reformed theology can kill the fire in people and leave them lifeless, especially if they are not intellectually strong. I have spent some time reading your books and in the reformed circles (i am in agreement with much of the reformed movement) and I have to say “let go” be more faithful, move forward in faith, trusting that God will do the rest!! And yes I know, He has done it.

    • You can “go” and be excited for good theology. Francis Chan often looks like his head is going to explode when he preaches because he is so wishing to make the church on earth the church in glory. The new testament has nothing in common with Chan’s preaching , except in the fact that he would be condemned as one seeking to be justified by the law. Hold Chan up to the book of Galatians , and he sounds a lot like the Judiazers. The Gospel is “not enough”.

      “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself”

  14. Jason Thorp says

    I only object to the quoting of the Message Paraphrase. Use a real Bible! ESV, NIV, KJV, NKJV, KJV1611, Geneva 1560 or 1599, Wycliffe, RSV, I don’t care if it is the NAB or Douay Rheims 1899 but at leas use a real translation and not a paraphrase.

    • Personally I like the Message. Unless you are reading an interlinear Bible they are all paraphrased to a greater or lesser degree. And often the more literal the translation the more the average reader will miss. This is because the ancient idioms and phrases no longer have meaning for us. A looser translation or paraphrase solves the problem of meaningless idioms. Eugene Peterson translated the Message from original language texts and took great pains to convey the original meaning.

    • I only quote The Message when I want to cite an inerrant text.

  15. Rick Ro. says

    One more thought, then maybe I’ll shut up. (Did I just hear a collective “Halleuljauh”?)

    If I boil this thread of messages down to its basic element, Chan’s critics don’t like the way he is presenting the gospel, don’t like the way he is telling Christians that their walk might not be Jesus-like, don’t like him telling people that they should change, and wish that Chan should just shut up.

    In other words, Chan’s critics think Chan’s walk might not be Jesus-like and that he should change.

    Oh, glorious hypocrisy! How does one go about trying to convince Chan of his potential wrong-doing except by confronting him with it? And how does that differ from what Chan is trying to do with those who call themselves Christian but don’t live like they are?

    • Rick, I think it’s great that you continue to hold this issue up to the light. I believe in some ways we’re all talking past each other. This reminds me of the blind men and the elephant. We’re all talking about the evidence of Christ’s work in the lives of believers; we’re just describing different characteristics of it.

      Change is vital to the Christian life. We come to Jesus just as we are, but thankfully He doesn’t leave us the way He finds us. There will be undeniable evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of a follower of Jesus. However, what that evidence looks like is up to the Holy Spirit, not the dictates of other Christians or even the desires of the believer himself. “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9).

      Who here hasn’t, like the Apostle Paul, pleaded with God to deliver him from something only to continue struggling with it many years later? And who here hasn’t experienced radical transformation in areas of his life he never expected? This is not to say that we should practice passive faith, but we’re not always going to be able to proactively direct the change we think God should be causing in our lives. The lessons God wants us to learn most are almost never the ones we would choose for ourselves.

      Certainly the Spirit can prompt change through the words of a pastor just as easily as He can through a burning bush or a talking donkey, but pastors need to be careful with their words lest they, as you pointed out earlier, speak the truth but leave out the love. And we congregants need to be careful in our listening lest we take offense at something without cause. All of us can go off the rails or grace when we forget that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

      Chan is right to tell the brethren that bench warming is not an option in the Christian life – God’s grace is not a free pass to Easy Street – but I don’t think he’s right to tell the brethren that only extraordinary acts of service can please God. The corollary to this is that ordinary acts of service do not please God. I doubt he meant his message to be taken that way, but in my opinion he didn’t put enough love into it for it to be taken otherwise.

      We are not all brains or feet or hands in the body of Christ. Some of us are tonsils, spleens or kneecaps. If all of us became extraordinary pastors or missionaries who would be left to wipe the ordinary noses – and bottoms! – in the infants’ room on Sunday mornings? We must look to our Lord as our example. Yes, He healed and fed and raised people from the dead, but He also humbly stooped to wash the feet of His friends.

      • * rails OF grace *

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        If all of us became extraordinary pastors or missionaries who would be left to wipe the ordinary noses – and bottoms! – in the infants’ room on Sunday mornings?

        That’s what you keep Those Heathens and Lukewarms around for.

        During its peak as a superpower, a quarter of Spain’s population was cloistered in monasteries and convents being Contemplative Monks and Nuns — the “extraordinary pastors and missionaries” of their day. And all was good and Godly — until the river of free gold and silver from their American conquests dried up.

      • Rick Ro. says

        Good stuff, Jenny. Thanks for the balanced perspective.

    • Encouraging people to change is not a bad goal. What’s upsetting people is the way Chan deals with sanctification. I’d say the proper way to encourage the necessary change in people’s lives is just to preach the gospel – that by going back to Jesus and what he has done, they will see that they don’t need to cling on to their comfort, material possessions, etc., that because Jesus is so much greater than what we have on earth, we can be free to take risks for his kingdom. The key is to point people back to Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit do the work of internal conviction rather than externally imposing behavior via the law and threats.

      But I’m a fan of Tullian Tchividjian, so of course I’d say something like that.

      • Rick Ro. says

        This, too, is good stuff. Jesus certainly mixed the way He dealt with “change” in people’s lives. Sometimes He let them come to Him when they knew they needed it, other times He approached them with the need.

  16. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    We’ve been having quite a discussion…

    Not a discussion, CM. More like a knock-down-drag-out.

    Just like most Church Councils throughout history.

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