Crazy Love? Confusing Message...
This book is one of the most confusing I've ever read about the Christian life. Chan offers a mixed view of saying the Christian life is lived out of love and not out of fear-and-guilt, but then mainly tries through fear-and-guilt to persuade his readers to live the Christian life. Throughout the book Chan seems very confused and inconsistent in his approach to either stir up the idle Christian or convert the non-Christian. And you're never sure which of those actions he's trying to do. Frankly, I'm not sure he himself is quite sure at any given point which one he's trying to do.
For instance, he says on the one hand, we're basically all lukewarm, halfhearted, stagnant Christians (p. 22), only to say later that "lukewarm" Christians aren't even Christians at all (pp. 83-84ff), only later to assume again that his reader is a Christian and also a lukewarm believer (p. 111). The inconsistency abounds so greatly throughout the book that it would be difficult to list all the examples. But as a reviewer I would caution the reader to beware of this fact and to be on the lookout for a multitude of false dichotomies (either this, or that, when it very well could be both this and that, or something else entirely, etc.).
Now commendably, Chan recognizes a problem in the church where many Christians seem to have a very shallow Christian life. The reason for this I think Chan presents very well in his preface: "I don't think my church's teachings were incorrect, just incomplete. My view of God was narrow and small" (p. 20). "The core problem isn't the fact that we're lukewarm, halfhearted, or stagnant Christians. The crux of it all is why we are this way, and it is because we have an inaccurate view of God" (p. 22).
To put it clearly, many Christians in today's church have shallow Christian lives because they have a narrow, small, inaccurate view of God. And I would whole-heartedly agree with this assessment. (For a particularly compelling article on this same assessment, I suggest A.W. Tozer's, "The Knowledge of the Holy," which to Chan's credit, he quotes in his book.) However, while Chan sets up the problem clearly in the preface, the rest of the book falls very short of the solution.
The title in full is, "Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God," with two arrows on the cover, the first one pointing down and the second pointing up. Now my first impression from all of this is that the book is going to be about God's relentless, overwhelming love toward us (the sinner), and then following from that, our response of loving Him (the Savior). It seems reminiscent of Paul's style of teaching - the teaching about who Christ is and what He's done (Rom 1-11, Eph 1-3, Col 1-2), then flowing from that, the teaching of our response to Him (Rom 12-16, Eph 4-6, Col 3-4). But when you actually read this book, it is far from any of this.
If the problem is a narrow, small, inaccurate view of God, one would think the solution would be to present a deep, grand, accurate view of God. But Chan seems to give little attempt at this; for he spends only three chapters on the person of God (and really not very well) and the next seven chapters on the person of the "Christian"? This is puzzling.
While the problem assessed is that the church has an inaccurate view of God, instead of writing to correct that, Chan spends most of his time writing to persuade the reader that he or she should be living a more "radical" "risky" "adventurous" life, not once recognizing that sometimes we truly are called "to aspire to live quietly, and to mind [our] own affairs..." (1 Thess. 4:12). This unbalance in his book is truly unhelpful.
And in keeping with this unbalance, instead of Chan writing about how it's the atonement that frees us to live a godly life (Gal. 5:1, 5-6, 13) and the Holy Spirit who enables us to live a godly life (Rom. 8:11; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:16) - for these teachings indeed would be correcting our inaccurate view of God - Chan instead uses fear and guilt to bring about our own self-reformation. [To be fair, Chan does visit the topics of grace and the Holy Spirit; but they really are touched on minimally.]
It's very odd, because Chan himself recognizes that fear-and-guilt is not the solution (p. 101). Yet he can't seem to keep himself from that approach. For before that chapter and after that chapter there's just not a whole lot other than "Shouldn't you be giving more? Shouldn't you be working harder? Shouldn't you be loving better?, etc."
To make matters more difficult, while not really making a clear distinction as to whether or not he's writing to an unbeliever who thinks he or she is saved, or a believer who is saved but is idle, Chan often takes Scripture out of context in order to get across his own agenda. For instance:
At one point he makes abiding in Christ in 1 John 2:28 somehow mean "spending ourselves" (p. 127). He writes: "What matters is that we spend ourselves. 'And now little children, abide in him so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming'" (p. 127). Chan makes this verse mean that we must "spend ourselves" or else we'll shrink from Christ in shame at his coming. (Even though Chan says fear-and-guilt is not a proper motivator, here is a clear example of him trying to use it as such.)
Yet the Biblical context has nothing to do with "spending ourselves" but is rather about abiding in the gospel: "No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you....And this is the promise that he made to us - eternal life. And now little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming" (1 Jn. 2:23-28). Abide in Him, in Christ, in His righteousness!
This is about abiding in the confession of the Son, not "spending" ourselves in human effort. So Chan makes this passage end up meaning the exact opposite of what it means.
There are many more, but probably the most interesting example of a passage out of context is when Chan says, "As I see it, a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there's no such thing" (p. 83-84). And it is at this point that Chan "exegetes" (?) Revelation 3:15-18. He goes to great lengths to explain why these verses are about unbelievers and not true Christians - that lukewarm Christians are not really believers at all. Chan says, "Many people read this passage and assume Jesus is speaking to saved people. Why?"
I think the answer to his question is found in the following verse (Rev. 3:19) - the verse he for some reason leaves out of the passage: "Those whom I love I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent." Why do we think the passage is directed to a church of saved people? Because God loves them and disciplines them! Does God love the reprobate in a way so as to reprove and discipline them (Rom. 1:18-32; Heb. 12:5-11)? It seems clear in Scripture that He doesn't. It also seems pretty clear from the context of this passage that it's directed toward believers, who may have some professing unbelievers mixed in with them; but to say the whole group is purely unsaved...I'm not sure how that interpretation can stand.
But it's here where we start to see why Chan can interpret the Bible apart from context.
Chan again ably recognizes a problem: "In an earlier draft of this chapter, I quoted several commentators who agreed with my point of view. But we all know that you can find quotes to support any view you want to take. You can even tweak word studies to help you in your effort."
Yes, that's true. So what's the solution then? Compare the commentators and word studies in the original languages while examining the context of the passage to find the most likely meaning - given a historical-grammatical understanding of the text? No...instead: "I'm not against scholarship, but I do believe there are times when we come to more accurate conclusions through simple reading" (p. 85).
Translation: don't worry about context, original audience, authorial intent, etc. Just read it.
I wish I was joking about my "translation" but it's confirmed in his very next paragraph: "And so I've spent the past few days reading the Gospels. Rather than examining a verse and dissecting it, I chose to peruse one gospel in each sitting" (p. 85). I have no problem with this. The survey method of study is very useful. However, here's what he says next: "Furthermore, I attempted to do so from the perspective of a twelve-year-old who knew nothing about Jesus. I wanted to rediscover what reasonable conclusions a person would come to while objectively reading the Gospels for the first time." [GASP, says hopefully every seminary student who took a hermeneutics course worth its salt.]
What?!?!? Let me get this straight. To understand the gospels better, we're not going to try to discover the historical/cultural context in which they were written, the original language that was employed in their composition, the original audience to whom they were written? We're not piecing all this together to ascertain the most likely authorial intent in the Scriptures? But instead, we're going to assume the ancient document capability of a twelve-year-old (um...none) and pretend we don't know anything about Jesus (we're in effect now an unbeliever)?
Is that the best way to interpret Scripture? Are we ever told in Scripture to take the mind of Christ off in order to come to a more "reasonable" "objective" conclusion (Eph. 4:17-24; Col. 2:6-10; 1 Jn 2:26-27)? And by the way, unbelievers are not objective (Rom. 1:18-21; Matt. 12:30)! Yet this is Chan's take on how to approach Scripture!
Want to know the Scriptures better? Ask the unbelieving twelve-year-old. This is a bad idea! Read the above referenced Scriptures and tell me if unbelievers are reasonable and objective and whether or not Christians should pretend we don't know anything about Christ when reading Scripture.
Yet this is Chan's approach. It's no wonder he so often confuses the accounts in the gospel literature, of what Jesus says to do to this person or that (and which were always written with their author's own [inspired] theological scheme in mind), with the Christian life laid out in the rest of the New Testament (the things Jesus had not yet said to His disciples but intended to after He was glorified - Jn. 16:12-14). This is why Chan is constantly mixing the aspects of the Old Testament law to which we are not bound (Rom. 7:4-6; Gal. 5:18), and the law of the Christian life of love to which we are bound (Gal. 5:1, 5-6, 13, 6:2).
This confusion is brought out in too many passages to cite, especially in the gospels and Old Testament. But for an instance, take the story of the rich young ruler (p. 74, 90). The point is not that he wouldn't give his money away (which Chan repeatedly makes it), but that this man thought he was actually good enough by himself or could be good enough by himself to inherit eternal life (Lk. 18:18-30).
Jesus plainly tells him, "No one is good except God alone" (v19); yet he stubbornly maintains, "All these [commandments] I have kept from my youth" (v. 21). The crowds are distraught, sure. If this rich man, for whom it's easiest to keep the commandments, and who by his own admission has kept them all from his youth - if he can't inherit eternal life, then what hope is there for the rest of us? "Who then can be saved?" To that Jesus replies, "What is impossible with men is possible with God" (v. 26).
You see, doesn't this in itself point to the very gospel of Christ? [But to interpret it this way we would have to know that Luke was writing with a theological point in mind... we would have to know some context.] Don't you see that Christ is the One (the only One) who was good and truly did keep all the commandments (1 Pet. 2:22), and He is the One (the only One) who was truly rich and gave it all up - and He did it for our sake (Phil. 2:6-8; 2 Cor. 8:9)! Only Christ can meet His own demands! And He did so on our behalf (Heb. 4:14-16, 7:23-25, 9:24, 10:14, 19-23). Truly such a great salvation is impossible with men, but with God it is possible!
But Chan fails to bring this out, as he does in many other ways. He speaks about our offering our best and quotes the older ceremonial covenant (p. 91), but he utterly fails to see that Christ is our best! And it was He who was offered, on our behalf, under the new and lasting covenant (Heb. 8:6, 9:15; 2 Cor. 3:4-18).
What then comes of the Christian life? It's clear throughout the Scriptures. We do love others (Jn. 13:34-35; Rom. 12:9-10; Eph. 5:1-2; Col. 3:14; 1 Thess. 4:9), we do give money (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8:8-15, 9:6-15), we do help those in need (Titus 3:14, Ja. 1:27, 1 Jn. 3:16-18). We do many other things out of love, but it's because we know who God is and what He's done (Gal. 5:5-6, 13). It is because we are free (Gal. 5:1), it is because Christ paid for our sins by his blood (Eph. 1:7), it is because everything has been accounted for and we know that we have no debt toward God (Col. 2:14), it is because of the redemption that we have in Christ and Christ alone that we are able to love the Lord and love others. While Chan somewhat recognizes this in theory, he fails to bring it out in practice in his book.
At one attempt in demonstrating (?) God's "crazy love" Chan says: "In the midst of our failed attempts at loving Jesus, His grace covers us" (p. 87). So after we try our hardest, that's when grace kicks in? Is that the kind of crazy love God has for us?
The Scriptures say that it's not just in the midst of our failed attempts that Jesus' grace covers us. It says that we were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1), enemies of God (Eph. 5:6, 10), hostile in our minds (Col. 1:21), and hateful in our beings (Titus 3:3); and before even having the ability to give a God-ward failed attempt, that's when God saved us (Eph. 2:4-5; Rom. 5:6-11; Col. 1:21-22; Titus 3:4-7)! Grace doesn't just cover our failed attempts - grace does it all from beginning to end (Eph. 2:8-10)!
But grace is profoundly scarce in this book on God's crazy love. The problem that causes shallow, "lukewarm," stagnant Christian living is indeed an inaccurate view of God, as Chan rightly assessed. But this book is nowhere close to providing a solution. Even in the chapter about how much God loves us, Chan simply gives us the analogy of him loving his own kids (p. 55). Sure, it's a nice story, and I'm glad he loves his daughter. But it's natural even for unbelievers to love their own kids. Compare that though to Ephesians 2, where God sees us naturally as children of wrath, and yet still loves us. Or the same concept in Romans 5 where even while we were rebellious sinners toward God, it was then that Christ died for us! It's natural to love our kids; it's supernatural to love rebellious objects of wrath. And that is God's love! Yet that is what is missing from Chan's book.
Because of all these things I cannot recommend the book at all for Christian living. Yet if one must read the book, I would encourage the reader to contrast Chan's style with the apostle Paul. Notice even in Paul's prayer life, he didn't pray so much that believers would "surrender" themselves or "spend" themselves. (Surely he would mention this from time to time, but it was never his emphasis. He knew that the Spirit would bring that about in their lives as they grew in their walk with the Lord.) But what did he pray? He prayed that the eyes of their hearts would be opened (Eph. 1:17) so that they would know the greatness of the hope they have in Christ (Eph. 1:18), that they would know they are somehow counted as riches in God's eyes (Eph. 1:18), and that they would somehow understand that the same power God used in raising Christ from the dead is the same power He used in bringing them into the newness of life in Christ (Eph. 1:19-21, 2:1-7).
He didn't pray that they would do "more stuff." He prayed that Christ (His person and work) would dwell in their hearts (Eph. 3:17) through the power of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:16), so that they would somehow be able to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ's love, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge (Eph. 3:18-19). And from that knowledge Paul would encourage - and charge - the Christian life. But it's that knowledge that is absent from this book.
Contrary to the impression this book gives, the Christian life is not based on who wants it more. It's based on how well we know the Lord Christ our Savior. "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (Jn. 17:3). Our eternal life is dependent on knowing Christ. Our Christian life is no different (Col. 2:6-10). The more we know Christ, the more we will do for Him because it is He who works in us (Col. 1:29; Jn. 15:1-5).
But how are we set-apart (sanctified) from the rest of the world? Chan stated it correctly. We need an accurate view of God. And how do we go about getting that? "Sanctify them in your truth; your word is truth" (Jn. 17:17). We gain an accurate view of God by gaining an accurate understanding of God's Word.
But we have to ask, does Chan know the Word of God?
Chan writes, "The Israelites hid themselves whenever God passed by their camp because they were too afraid to look at Him, even the back of Him as He moved away. They were scared they would die if they saw God" (p. 36).
The Israelites? Whenever? Is there a passage at all in the Old Testament that talks about God passing by the Israelite camp and the Israelites being scared they would die even if they looked at the back of Him?
There's no such passage! Search the entire Scriptures! There is nothing remotely close to this claim in the Bible. It's as if someone told Chan the story of Moses seeing God's glory (Ex. 33:18-34:8 - on the top of the mountain, away from the Isralite camp), and Chan contorted it into this regular occurrence with God and the camp of the Israelites.
Or take for example the time where Chan writes that Jacob "stole" Esau's birthright (p. 114). The Scriptures are explicit in the original story (Gen. 25:29-34) and in the summary story (Heb. 12:16-17) that Jacob “bought” it fairly - opposite of stole. While Chan uses it as an example of encouragement, he condemns Jacob for stealing Esau's birthright. But the problem is that, according to Scripture, Jacob (in this instance) bought it fairly (opposite of stole); and if anyone is condemned, in Scripture, it's Esau (Heb. 12:16-17), not Jacob.
So even in these two examples either Chan doesn't know the Scripture but he thinks he does, or he's making this up. Either option is not one from whom I'd want to learn a more accurate view of God (which, if you remember, is what he says is the solution to stagnant Christian living).
He doesn't know the Scripture, doesn't seem too concerned about context, yet he's writing this book about the Christian life that's supposed to correct our view of God... If you think about it, this is crazy alright...
Chan ends his book saying "one day I will have to stand before a holy God and give an account of my life" (quoting Daniel Webster, p. 174). God's Word tells us that as Christians we've already been judged in Christ and have been found righteous in Him (Jn. 5:24; Rom. 5:1, 8:1, 33-39)! Therefore, we are free, not to do whatever our sinful nature wants (rather, we are free from that - Rom. 6:6-7, 20-23), but we are free and able, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to serve Him in love (Gal. 5:5-6).
So then, I would say, contrary to the message of this book let us not seek a more "radical" Christian life based on out-of-context readings of Scripture. But let us seek the true meaning of Scripture and let us seek Christ (Col. 3:1-4). Let us seek to know Him (Phil. 3:7-8). Let us abide in HIM and in his message of grace, that we may take hold of the promise of eternal life (1 Jn. 2:23-25) and through that have the ability in the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life (Rom. 8:9-11).
I'm glad Chan desires Christians to have a more meaningful Christian life. But desire without knowledge is not good (Prv. 19:2). Let us then seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18) and the live the Christian life from that grace and knowledge (Col. 2:6-7)!