Friday, October 01, 2010

Now That I've Finished the Book:

I don't know why, but I'm a little fearful to hit the publish post button with this one. Every so often I have a post like that where I hesitate before writing and then hesitate before posting. Maybe it's because I'm still working through some of this stuff. It's a long post. If you're interested, might want to pack a lunch or something. Then again, I may just be typing away in the dark for only me, and that's really okay, too.

When I’ve written about the study our church has been going through, Crazy Love by Francis Chan, I’ve clarified that I wasn’t necessarily endorsing it here. I wasn’t sure why I felt that qualm other than the fact that I don’t think we need to put any teacher on a pedestal and need to run everything we read and hear through the Word and think it through, not just assume it’s all okay, and because I am not comfortable recommending things I haven’t read completely first. Though this is a personal blog and I’m not seeking to have a big blog presence or name or following, I do feel a responsibility to be careful in what I promote or endorse here. I do sense a responsibility to anyone who may stumble across my scribblings here to not lead anyone astray when it comes to matters of the Christian faith. If I learn by reading the Bible and better understanding it that I am in error, I pray I’ll be teachable and willing to change as I step heavenward in sanctification.

One reason I’ve been hesitating about writing this post is that I don’t want to write a full review but just share my general impressions now that I’ve finished the book and what I’m taking away positive and negative. Since I didn’t read it with the goal of reviewing it, I know whatever I say here won’t be complete, just what I’m working through as I process what I’ve read, and this post has ended up way too long anyway.

I also should up front mention that I am wary of this type of book campaign. It reminds me of the “Purpose Driven Life” fad a while back when people were getting all emotional and caught up in the hype and group experience, but ignored - or didn’t discern - some problems/potential problems. It was hyped as being “life changing” and “deep” so we all assumed that it must be so and that we had to get that from it. These kinds of campaigns remind me a little of youth camp. You get all emotional, and you know you are supposed to get something deep and meaningful and life changing so you gin it up (sometimes), and it’s very emotional, but once it’s all over and the thing fades you start to discern what was real and what maybe wasn’t so much.

I’m having some of the same qualms and red flags now. And I’m trying to discern where real conviction is occurring, and I think there is some, and where it is just guilt put on us by what someone else says we should feel guilty about. It is scripture that is life-changing. In so far as it is properly studied, taught and applied then we should heed the teacher we are learning from, but always prayerfully search it out and trust the Holy Spirit to open His word to us as well and make sure what we’re taught is right.

That is all a very long build up to say that, though there are good, even necessary things I’m taking away from our group reading of Crazy Love, my ability to hear Chan’s argument was severely lessened when I got to Chapter 9: “Who Really Lives That Way?” I wasn’t familiar with all of the people he chose to give as examples, but one in particular I had read and heard some about and then dug around a little more after reading the chapter because I was surprised he was used as a prime example. When this particular person was presented as an example to look up to as someone who is living out the kind of radical faith Chan is exploring in the book, it gave me pause about the foundation of his whole discernment process.

Because, on the surface, the person does live a radically counter-cultural life, does engage with segments of society that, frankly, we (I) do need to do better about seeking out to love and minister to. But his theology is not sound if you look into it. He is steeped in and committed to, in fact is a fairly known spokesperson for the postmodern, mystical, social gospel, “red-letter” brand of ‘Christianity’ that characterizes the more disturbing branches of the ‘emergent/emerging’ movement. I know that I need to be more aware of the ‘least of these’ in our world and it is a good thing to give oneself and sacrifice to minister to the poor. I need to do better in this, be more intentional about this. I need to do better in knowing and loving people who aren’t so much like me. But, it isn’t enough to seek to end poverty here or reach people if the gospel we seek to win them to isn’t the true gospel. If we merely help here on earth but do not tell them the truth about the life to come, we haven’t really helped. And I’m talking to myself here, too. I need to be much more willing to open my own mouth and hands with the gospel to others, and this is an area where I’m sensing conviction.

Anyway, the fact that Chan had this person as a prominent example of what he’s seeking to teach us toward is a shame, because it taints the good that is in what he’s trying to say. It makes it so much harder to hear what may be good and necessary.

So. Having said all that, here’s what I’m taking away:

I believe that each of us who claims the name of Christ is wise to examine ourselves to be sure we are in the faith and to guard our hearts against anything that steals our joy in Him and causes us to be lukewarm - and there are so many things that pull us in so many directions and make it harder for us to hear and to live a life sold out to Christ and deeply loving Him. And we are wise to be daily on guard against being lukewarm, examine ourselves often, examine what is motivating the decisions we are making. 2 Corinthians 13:5-6; Proverbs 4:23; Revelation 3:14-22

I believe that we must be careful to lay aside any weight that is distracting us and hindering us from running the race well, from running wholeheartedly to Jesus and living life in the light of the truth of His Word and loving Him wholeheartedly. Hebrews 12:1-2; Philippians 3:7-16

I believe that we need to learn to be content with where God has us and seek to obey Him in all we do and in every small or great duty of life as we learn His word and learn to surrender ourselves to it. And in doing this, we need to be learning and practicing loving others well for the sake of the Savior who first loved us. Philippians 4:11-13; Philippians 3:17-21; 1 Corinthians 13

I want to expand on that for a minute. I spent a lot of the reading of this book paralyzed with guilt and feeling beat up because we bought the nice house that we did when we moved here. It is not said, but fairly well implied that you cannot live the radical love for Christ and faith in Him and live in this kind of house.

Through much prayer, thinking on numerous examples in the Bible, trying to look at the whole counsel of the word not only the passages highlighted in the book, and discussions with my husband, I think the way to view it is to commit to hold possessions lightly, to constantly be on guard about being too comfortable with our society’s view of wealth and possessions and to remember that this home, this world, is temporary and we must be Kingdom/Heavenly minded. I am also examining ways in which the way we went about looking for our house when we were in that process a few months ago may need to have a different focus than we have in the past. If our material wealth is a weight that is distracting us from running the race well, we need to examine that and determine what to do about it. We need to be seeking hard after Kingdom living and caring much less about the things our culture says are important. Building up wealth for wealth and pleasure’s sake mustn’t be our aim in this materialistic society where that is what is pumped into us day in and day out. We need to be seeking how to use the material things we have to show hospitality and to bless others. We need to commit to not live right up to our income level so we can free up resources to be used for the furtherance of the gospel and meeting needs. We need to constantly be on our guard and be aware that material blessings and wealth, and let’s face it most people in America are WEALTHY compared to the rest of the world, can be a huge distraction from what is best, what is eternal.

But, I do not think we are all called to sell our homes and live in the New Monasticism way. We are to be faithful bearers of the Name of Christ in the jobs and professions God provides for us to do. We are to be faithful witnesses where He plants us and be aware of needs around us and be prepared to actively seek to meet needs and look for opportunities to do so. We need to see ourselves as stewards of the things we have and use them to honor God and bless others, not be bloated, gluttonous hoarders who are so short-sighted that we only live for what is temporal. But it isn't wrong, either, to live in the house I live in at the moment. It is the attitude of the heart that is important.

In our discussions, we talked about how when you read the Bible you need to look at what is descriptive vs. what is prescriptive. For example, when Jesus told the disciples to take nothing with them on a missionary journey, was that descriptive of that instance or was it prescriptive of how we are to do everything in life? In our discussions we thought of Lydia, who opened her home to be used by the church. We thought of Abraham who generously practiced hospitality - and who was also willing to give up that which was most precious to him when it was God's will that he do so.

The scripture says to be content in want, but also in times of abundance - wherever we are placed at every season of life, be content, and it is only through Christ who strengthens us that we can do all things - be content in all things. It is the Lord who gives and the Lord who takes away, in all things we must learn to say, “Blessed be the Name of the LORD.” We must learn to see it all as His, not just in lip-service but in heart attitude and action. He must be our heart’s desire and focus. We are pilgrims here, and we need to learn to see it that way, to hold lightly to the things of this world.

One more thing I’m taking away from this is that I want to live on purpose, not just let life happen, but determine to live Kingdom minded, asking God to help me to love Him more, asking Him to open my understanding of His Word, asking Him to help me to want to obey and to want to look for ways to serve Him and to want to love others as He commands me to do. One thing I’ve realized that I believe is true conviction is how unwilling I often am to move out of my comfort zone and get my hands dirty for the sake of the gospel. I am far too often complacent to sit at my computer or my kitchen table thinking about these things, but far less willing to act on them. This is something I’m praying for God to change my heart and help me to see how He would have me be. I think one reason that example that I mentioned that bothered me was used is because at least he’s out there acting on what he says he believes. What would it look like if I were to become much more purposeful about acting on what I know is true? This is probably the biggest thing I’m struggling through at the moment to understand and purpose to take to heart, not just keep thinking about. And I confess that even typing that scares me. One of the hardest things to overcome is love of comfort. And that’s where I find myself. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, and I need Him to put what He wants me to desire in my heart.

I want to step heavenward as I learn to surrender to Him each step of the way.

So, I did begin and will continue to work through some things as a result of reading the book. I do think American Christians are so steeped in the self-satisfied gluttony of our culture that we don’t even recognize it and need to be shaken up to see it. I think we’ve been fed such a steady diet of the false health and wealth ‘gospel,’ the false gospel of your best life now and how we deserve material and physical blessings rather than seeing sacrifice and even suffering and trials as necessary for our sanctification and that our focus needs to be on our best life later, that we don’t recognize that it isn’t biblical. We need to learn to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths and be willing to be spent in service to Him - not because we want more stuff, but because of WHO HE IS. We do need a much higher view of our God. I loved the advice at the end of the book to stop before we pray and really think about Who we are praying to, how awesome He is, and then begin to pray. That will revolutionize how and for what I pray. I do need to learn more and more how to love my neighbor as myself and how that is to look in my life.

So, though I have concerns about the book, I’m not sorry I read it. I did glean some good, hard things I don’t want to ignore. And I truly believe that He who began a good work in me will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. I don’t believe He leaves us to spin around and around saying, “How much is too much? What am I supposed to do now?” looking for a sign for some BIG THING I’m to do for Him, rather than realizing it is a heart issue we need to develop of holding lightly to things and developing a heaven-minded view of life. I do believe we need to live every day faithfully for Him, seeking to obey Him in the daily, everyday things, seeking opportunities to meet needs as we are aware of them and acting on the things we know to do. As we do, He will lead us where He wants us to be, big thing or little thing, living faithfully and stepping heavenward throughout a surrendered life.


Kay said...

I'm glad you posted this. I am still about half way through the book. (BSF started lol) He has many 'good' things to say, true. The thing he says about approaching God's word like you've never seen it before was excellent. Doing that one thing many years ago revolutionized my faith. And when he talks about not assuming we are good soil as well. He spent a lot of time breaking down our white washed Americanized, 'cultural' Christianity, so he could make his point.

I am glad I'm reading the book, but be it this book, or BSF or anything I read, I am always aware that this person could be speaking in error. All the more reason to really be listening to God any time I'm reading or studying anything...whether it's a book or the Bible, so He can fill me with His thoughts while I read.

Always love your posts. : )

Leslie said...

THANK YOU for writing this! I know it took a lot of time and effort and courage.

Jennifer said...

I was browsing through your past What's On Your Nighstand? post when I saw that you mentioned Crazy Love. Looked through the archives to find this post.

Thank you for writing it.

I have heard much about this book in teenage circles and youth groups, and since I'm a teenager I decided to give it a try. It was actually a friend who asked me to read it with her simultaneously so we could talk about it. I was quite surprised (before I read it I was sure it would be terrible since it is popular).

But, like you, I see problem areas with it, and wonder if the popularity of this book, of Francis Chan, is a bad thing. You are right about The Purpose Driven Life. I never bothered to read it, but it was so popular and talked about for a while.

I definitely came to the consensus that you did. There are some things that I took away from the book, that helped me to realize (wake up) to some issues in my relationship with Christ. Other things...well, I'm with you about the living situation. I live in a very small abode, some people just think my family is crazy. But, like you, I don't agree with the mentality that we must sell, sell, sell, live under a rock, and eat out of the garbage. Not that Francis Chan said that, but he alluded to something similar.

And I too don't believe we should wait for something BIG to be a part of. We should strive to be content where we are, to serve God boldy where we are, and to lean on Him.

That ended up longer than I wanted it to be. Anyway, thank you for your input. It was much appreciated.