January 19, 2021

Recommendation and Review: Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron

51q1e9h1pyl_sl210_.jpgThere’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.

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.


  1. Re: Catholics inviting Protestants to the Eucharist — if you’re a Christian known to be of good standing in your own tradition, and clearly respectful of Catholic Christianity, you get invited, often by priests, to the Table. Monasteries, convents, congregations, once at a cathedral — and it hasn’t been just liberal, “let’s-sing-Kumbayah” sorts, but even some pretty darn traditional Catholics. In my own midwestern context, i think it’s been because there are so many Protestant pastors who deny the Christianity of Catholicism at all, that when you do the least little thing to acknowledge the people you work with on Habitat houses and homeless outreach and community healing are also fellow Christians, they want to return the favor, and the best way to do it is invite you to the Table.

    And when i’m invited, i go. I’d never go up otherwise at a Mass, but when i’m specifically invited by people who know who/what i am, i’m delighted to join the feast. They’re not gonna ask me to stand on the other side of the table with the concelebrating clergy, but hey, one step at a time, says this Disciples of Christ clergyman.

  2. Jeff….I seriously need a Catholic priest or similar person to confirm what you are saying. This is a MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR issue in my life right now. It’s tearing apart relationships.

    Is this just bad priests being naughty or is this something that I can count on priests that I know understanding.

    Fr. _________________: email me an answer, please.

  3. As a Catholic deacon and a Director of Religious Education and Formation at a cathedral church, I can assure you that it is not enough to be a Christian in good standing in your own tradition and be respectful of Catholic Christianity to be invited to receive communion. Such an invite would be counter canon law and Church discipline. By the same token, as a Catholic, canonically I am not free to receive communion in non-Catholic churches. Despite this prohibition, all are always welcome to attend the Eucharistic Liturgy and to participate fully with the exception of receiving communion.

    The specifc canon that governs this is Canons 844 with its five paragraphs. Canon 844 §1 states: “Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone, without prejudice to the prescripts of §§2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and ⇒ can. 861, §2.” Paragraph 4 of canon 844 sets forth the conditions under which a member of Protestant Church may receive communion:

    a. danger of death, or, other grave necessity,
    b. the norms of the diocesan bishop, or, the conference of bishops are complied with
    c. cannot approach a minister of his or her own community
    d. asks on his or her own for it,
    e. manifests Catholic faith in the sacraments
    f. properly disposed.

    To give an example of the application of paragraph 4, a couple who formerly lived in our parish, one of whom was Catholic and the other person an Episcopalian, would request permission from the Cathedral rector to receive communion together at Christmas and at Easter. The Epicopalian spouse had to comply with d., e., and f. above.

    In most parishes you will find the statement asking non-Catholics not receive communion, but pray to for the day all Christians can approach the table of the Lord together on the missalette or in the worship aid. So, even the priest presiding at the liturgy cannot licitly just invite a non-Catholic to receive communion, even under Canon 844.

  4. I should point out that Catholics have a more liberal stance with regard to Orthodox Christians receiving communion in Catholic churches and Catholics receiving communion in Orthodox churches. This is due to a shared understanding of Christ’s real and abiding presence in the eucharistic species and the validity of their sacraments, due having validly ordained priests. Nonetheless, in order for an Orthodox to receive communion at a Catholic Mass or for a Catholic to receive communion at an Orthodox liturgy, condition c. above has to be the case (i.e., you are unable to receive in your own community). Integrity, not canon law, would dictate that you speak with the presiding priest prior to presenting yourself for communion, especially in a close-knit community where a stranger approaching for communion would be noticed.

    This is a major issue, an important issue that in no way denigrates ecumenism. In fact, it respects the beliefs of all by recognizing legitimate differences. I apologize for my poor writing. It’s Labor Day weekend, I woke up late, I am working on first cup of coffee, and I feel embarassed about my poor writing! But it would appear, Jeff, there are, to use Michael’s word naughty priests, though I wouldn’t say bad priests, in your mid-west milieu.

  5. Michael wrote: […] 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 […]

    I dunno, I don’t know too many conservative Christians who like being stretched. The whole goal of being conservative is to not change.

    You know: “Jesus is the Rock and we’re called to be like Him.”

  6. Scott describes what the rules are, and Jeff attests that they are frequently broken (or bent). I am an Evangelical in Austria, and I know of situations where Catholic clergy publicly invite Protestants (even to con-celebrate, so to speak) to flaunt the rules because they disagree with them on principle. I am not in favor of this, and it usually meets with appropriate disciplinary action. On the other hand, I know of at least one bishop who has said publicly that any baptized Christian who can in good conscience join in the eucharistic prayer is welcome to come to communion. Of course in the eucharistic prayer you acknowledge the Catholic understanding of that sacrament, you acknowledge the role of the pope and the bishop, you pray for those who have passed on, etc, and I don’t think many Evangelicals can sincerely and in good conscience pray all this. On the other hand I am also aware of Evangelicals and other Protestants being admitted in private setting.
    The most famous such incident (and not so private), which is still being speculated over, was then-Cardinal Ratzinger serving communion to Frere Roger Schuetz of the Taize community, on the occasion of Pope John-Paul’s funeral, shortly before Frere Roger became the victim of a disturbed female assassin.

    Yes, Scott, it’s contrary to canon law. So are a lot of things which happen all the time in the Catholic Church, not just in Jeff’s mid-western milieu. Is that o.k.? No. But then neither are our divisions.

    (As a personal note, my wife comes from an “exclusive Brethren” (Plymouth Brethren) background, and in her immediate and extended family, I am not welcome at the Lord’s table. This so irritates me, because there really is not doctrinal reason for it, that I refuse to attend any Lord’s Day meetings with these Brethren. On the other hand, having had the invitation extended to me by the bishop mentioned above, and by one or two priest friends of mine, I am content to refrain because I do understand that there are real differences, mostly in ecclesiology.)

  7. I’ve often wondered how a grief-stricken person would feel by coming to our modern, casual worship service, seeing flip flop clad dads toting their big study bibles. Is this a place where they would find true spiritual meaning? This post addresses an uncomfortable truth in the evangelical church and I am grateful you have brought this book to my attention.

  8. What Scott says is true… Yet there was Cdl. Ratzinger–days from being Pope Benedict XVI–giving Communion to Brother Roger of Taize, a Protestant. (A Spanish newspaper claimed Br. Roger had become a Catholic secretly, but there were apparently no grounds for thinking this except that Cdl. Ratzinger gave him Communion.) Br. Roger had made clear in the past that becoming Catholic would have betrayed the meaning of his work at Taize.

    I’ve never heard anyone offer a convincing explanation of this. It wasn’t orthopraxis, but it happened. It’s interesting to note, though, that Br. Roger was in fact close to death at the time: he was murdered by a deranged woman not long after.

  9. I am not a catholic at this time but I am thankful that there is not “open” communion. If it were not so there would be more of a “so what” aditude about the distinctives that protestants would rather not face and do the hard stuff of working through and truly facing what was lost at the reformation.

  10. “Yet there was Cdl. Ratzinger–days from being Pope Benedict XVI–giving Communion to Brother Roger of Taize, a Protestant”

    The specifics of this are not known and so cannot be commented upon with any accuracy. I’d be surprised if this was done illicitly. As layed out, there are circumstances under which non-Catholic Christians can licitly receive communion.

    Of course, I have no idea what occurs around the world everyday, or even on any given Sunday, in Catholic churches. My post was not an attempt to impose Church discipline, but to answer Michael’s question about what the discipline is in the Catholic Church. I gladly leave the “naughty” priests under the authority of their bishops. I do not see how such “rule breaking” fosters genuine ecumenism, however.

    It should bother us all that we’re not in Communion and, as Christians, we are obliged to work to heal divisions within Christ’s Body.

  11. >the conditions under which a member of Protestant Church may receive communion:

    a. danger of death, or, other grave necessity,
    b. the norms of the diocesan bishop, or, the conference of bishops are complied with
    c. cannot approach a minister of his or her own community
    d. asks on his or her own for it,
    e. manifests Catholic faith in the sacraments
    f. properly disposed.

    Scott: I have somewhat of a legal disposition and when I read these things, I see loophole after loophole. There’s enough wiggle room here to drive a truck through, especially with moderate to liberal VII types who think Protestants were pretty much let in the door anyway.

    d,e,f could be sincerely claimed by millions of Protestants, especially if there’s no inquest before, during or after.

    And “c.” My church has communion 3-4x a year. Does that count as “can’t approach minister?”

    I think the truth is that if the priest is so disposed, knows the Protestant involved and has a bishop who either doesn’t care or is looking the other way, it can happen a lot.

  12. Well, Michael, given your situation and your desire, you may well be able to receive under c. What really matters, at the end-of-the-day, is that you are a validly baptized Christian, that you manifest Catholic faith in the sacraments (i.e., believe what Catholics believe regarding the Eucharist), and that you are properly disposed-both outwardly and inwardly. Now, many Catholics do not take being properly disposed inwardly as seriously as we should, but it is not the role of the bishop, priest, deacon, or extraordinary minister of communion to judge inward disposition, though judgments can be made regarding outward disposition. If you desire to approach the Lord’s Table more frequently, I’d urge you to discuss this with the local Catholic pastor.

    You are also correct in that there a lot of loop holes. This is not an oversight, but charity and discretion. Truth be told, there probably a lot of non-Catholics who receive Communion each Sunday at Mass. I serve at a large Cathedral. On weekends that I preach, I serve at 4 masses. During these Masses I probably distribute Communion to close to 2,000 people. Even on a non-preaching Sunday I distribute to hundreds. Of course, I am not personally acquainted with each everybody who presents themselves for Communion.

    Now, when somebody approaches and obviously does not know what to do, I simply ask them: “Have you received Communion before?” Typically, they’re honest and answer “No”. Then, I ask them “Are you a Catholic?” Again, the answer is usually “No.” So, I say, “You can’t receive Communion, but please let me give you a blessing.” But for someone who simply comes to Mass and, during the Communion Rite, walks up, responds “Amen” to the words “The Body of Christ/The Blood of Christ,” receives Communion and sits down, this is “on” that person, not the person distributing communion. Conscience matters and, despite the many caricatures, Catholics respect conscience and expect people act morally based on conscientious judgments. For people who know better, it is not acceptable at all because one important aspect of Communion is the community bonded together by it. It is not just Communion with the Lord, but with each other.

    I wouldn’t clandestinely receive Communion in another Church, both out of obedience to the Catholic Church and out of respect for the fact that I am not in Communion with that community. This does not prevent me from attending non-Catholic churches from time-to-time nor does it prevent me believing their celebration of the Lord’s Supper is not in vain or wholly lacking Christ’s presence.

  13. I couldn’t receive because I don’t hold the RC view, but it’s interesting to me that you are so gracious. Closed communion Protestants would never say what you’ve said.

    Conscience is important, and that is where I would have to draw the line. The RC view demands a lot, even though RC liturgical language often seems to open the door to almost everyone at some point. (I’ve always been amazed at how some of the liturgical prayers emphasize the memorial aspect.)

    What I would prefer is the opportunity to share a communion outside of denominational structures. An ecumenical table is more recognizable to me as the table of the Lord.

  14. Interestingly enough… I just got back last night from my Grandfather’s funeral in Michigan. Monday was the Funeral Mass, and so I was fortunate to be able to observe everything. During the communion time, my Dad actually went up (he’s not a “good Catholic”, but he was raised in the RCC), but I refrained out of respect for closed communion (although I would have loved to receive–especially since I missed communion at my SBC by being out of town).

    I wonder what would have happened had I talked to my uncle about the question of closed communion prior to the service (he acted as a Eucharistic Minister–cup bearer– during the Mass). My uncle and Grandmother actually let me help them pick readings, prayers, and hymns when they were planning the service, since he knows I’m a Christian. I think that’s a step in the right direction.

  15. Michael,

    I am a convert to Catholicism who greatly appreciates your writing.

    Upon your recommendation, I purchased and read Chasing Francis. It was a very good read. I spent years in non-denominational Christianity, and currently work for a large evangelical ministry, so I can relate to the Chase Falson’s struggles with the evangelical culture, or as a well known Lutheran theologian calls it: “Generic Pop Protestantism.”

    The ending of the book left me with a strange feeling, though. Chase after being immersed in the life of Francis and Catholic thought comes back and plans to start a new church based on the “principles” of Francis and the Catholicism that he was exposed to.

    The book was written by an Anglican and published by Nav Press; so of course it wouldn’t end with Chase crossing the Tiber. Still, it struck me as a strange ending to the story. There is a huge difference between emulating Francis and incorporating Catholic worship styles, contemplative prayer, social thought etc…and actually becoming a Catholic.

    For one who has (through great struggle) come into full communion with the Catholic Church, the idea of starting a new church, picking and choosing ideas to incorporate, seemed…well, strange and, in all due respect…very protestant. Wouldn’t it make more sense to actually enter the Church to which Francis belonged and the Church which produced, and continues to teach, the principles which so captivated Chase?

    I mean no offense by this post, and hope none was taken. I just wanted to express my feelings as to the ending of the story.



  16. Michael,

    Sorry. I should have added “spoiler alert” at the beginning of my prior post.


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