Francis Chan. Letters to the Church. Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2018. 219 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-0830776580. $16.99.
Francis Chan shocked the evangelical world when he stepped away from Cornerstone, a megachurch platform, and moved with his family to Asia. The shock was that Chan stepped away willingly not because of some moral failure or internal scandal. He walked away from the church he planted in 1994 because of a stirring in his soul. Out of the wake of this life-changing move, Chan has written this book to “point out areas where the Church is lacking” (p. 211). When Chan talks about pointing out the flaws of the Church, he primarily focuses his work on the church in America.
Chan’s book was written with a tone of complete humility. He does not want to condemn the church in America because he loves the church (p. 22). However, he loves the Bride of Christ with such passion that he desires to help point out some of the ways the church might be displeasing God from the Scriptures. Chan desires for any of his writings to be checked by the Word of God (p. 24). In other words, the author desires to bring to light issues while maintaining a posture of humility. His humility becomes more prominent by his own admittance that he contributed to some of the issues he points out in his book (p. 44).
The author begins by providing a theology of the church from Scripture. His main emphasis is on the church as sacred. As sacred, the Bride of Christ requires that all members are to be “devoted” (p. 55). The motif of devotion really drives the rest of his understanding of the church as a place of worship, but also as a family. The family dynamic of the church seems to be Chan’s emphasis in his newer model. The family dynamic he proposes is one of both love, unity, and service.
Chan concludes his book with a note to pastors, a theology of suffering, an empowerment of children and youth, and his model for church out of his reflections. Chan concludes with his “afterword” on killing pride from a posture of complete humility. Throughout the book a reader can sense the pain and the love for the church and the people within the church as he speaks this exhortation.
I admire Chan’s humility in this work. I think the church should always been in a posture of reformation or change (p. 190). Chan seeks to change the consumer mindset that has intruded into the Bride of Christ in America. He does present some problems that he has observed, and he provides a solution through his own model of ministry for those problems. We must not be resistant to change as the church because we are always changing to become more like Christ and more like the Scripture we hold as both innerant and authoritative. Chan doesn’t propose a one-size fits all model for the church, but a way to think about how to be a more biblical church in America.
While this book does well in presenting some of the problems within the church, I want my readers to be aware of two concerns I have with the content. First, sometimes Chan’s writing can be more experiential rather than biblical. I don’t want to downplay his theology because I think his view of the church is correct. However, he does posit his arguments for the church through many of his experiences overseas. His experiences seem to indicate that the persecuted church is better off than the church in America because of our freedoms. He creates this “fear of missing out” in America with his experiences. The Bride of Christ-no matter where it is located-has problems that are in need of change. We all must be cautious of elevating experience with special revelation-even unintentionally. The Bible explains and helps us understand our experiences and feelings.
Second, Chan concludes with what his new model of ministry looks like in the present. I think we must be careful to heed Chan’s warning that this is the way he is working at doing church, but he would not claim this as the ONLY way to do church. My concern is that some reading may scrap the whole church in America to do their own church design like Chan. Chan can do this because I think he is strong theologically, but I fear that others might launch this same model with a minimal understanding of theological clarity or accuracy leading to heresy. Some may be able to reform in new ways, but others might have to think through solutions to Chan’s observations in other methods for established churches. My question is, “Can we reform without abandoning ship?” I think we can by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit.
Nevertheless, this book is worth you to read. I would recommend it to any believer who wants to think more biblically about the church and the issues that are plaguing the church in America. May we prayerfully search the Lord, his Word, and be guided by the Spirit to change the consumerist mindset within God’s bride. May we become more unified in our congregations to reach more people in our communities and across the globe. I encourage you to read Chan’s work with an open mind and heart. Reform is needed, but the Scriptures are our standard for any reform.