Book Review: Letters to the Church

“Letters to the Church”  Francis Chan, David C. Cook, 2018, 215 pages

  • Critical read Chan-cover
  • Must read
  • Good read
  • Read if you want
  • Read something else

Why read “Letters to the Church?”  Francis Chan has in a very public fashion been going through a metamorphosis in his view of true faith in Christ and true New Covenant ministry.  While there are detractors out there who are saying Chan has wandered off the evangelical map, I believe he has actually wandered onto the New Covenant map.  The evidence of the changes in Chan’s theology and practice began to be public when he resigned as pastor of the “successful megachurch” he started in Southern California.  This was followed by an increasingly public declaration of his new perspectives via videos of testimonies, interviews, and messages one can find on You Tube. Then, this book rolled out two years ago, providing a platform for Chan to chronicle the change process up to that time.  Further videos have expanded on some points in the book and have added additional discoveries he has made.

Francis Chan now gets it about how we “do church” in the western world, and about how far we have wandered off the New Covenant faith map.  Evangelicalism has wandered about as far off that map as has Catholicism, Fundamentalism, Lberalism, Pentecostalism, Reformationism, and the other “isms” that make up what I have for decades called “Churchianity.” Regardless of stripe or theology, if it is expressed as a 501(c)3, owns property, hires pastors, and spends its money mostly on itself, it is off the map.

The Point: Chan makes clear an impressive list of discoveries about the institutional church as well as an understandings of the characteristics of a true fellowship of believers, a true church.  Too many items to recount here, but his effort at explaining the differences and illustrating why he has departed that cultural institutional model are the best list I have seen from a “corporate insider.”  Such insight and perception are usually the province of outsiders to the mainstream religions of the day. What makes the his points all the more powerful is the chronicling of his transition to better understandings and his honest efforts to practice his faith authentically.

Perhaps the key illustration of what drives of all of these changes in Chan is the revelation that by building a church that people will like, we ignore the biblical priority of building a church that Jesus would like.  Pleasing the world has always been the path to error and even perdition for those who would be followers of God.  We have made that path into the dominant strategic foundation and business model in our current iteration of the institutional religion of men.

The Impact:  That Chan Quote 1a well-recognized “corporate insider” of the mainstream, cultural, and institutional religion of men so common today would recognize so many errors in that model, go public with them, and step away to start something more authentic drives the significant impact of the book.  Furthermore, that he and his family would step outside the “churchianity” world and the western culture that it has adopted to give themselves to pioneer church planting work overseas only deepens the impact of this message.

It is interesting to note that when “one of their own” departs the corporate fold to go authentically out into a true expression of the New Covenant, so many of that fold will pile on to denigrate his faith, motives, and actions.  This has begun to happen with Francis Chan.  I have followed Chan’s journey, watched his videos, read the book.  So far, he is spot on the New Testament teachings about the body and bride of Christ.

The Quotes:  Page 30 – “We don’t understand what it means for something to be “sacred.”  We live in a human-centered world among people who see themselves as the highest authority.  We are quick to say things like “That isn’t fair!” because we believe we deserve certain rights as humans.  Yet we give little thought to the rights God deserves as God.  Even in the Church we can act as though God’s actions should revolve around us.  The stories in the Scripture are meant to show us that there exists something of greater value than our existence and rights.  There are things that belong to God.  Sacred things.” 

Page 129-130 – “Forget what you have been told about praying a prayer and asking Jesus to be your personal Savior.  Read what Jesus demanded and ask yourself whether you still want to follow Him.

There is no misinterpreting what Christ was calling for.  This is why He had so few disciples.  The call to follow Jesus was a call to die.  The price tag was front and center.  Jesus laid it out from the start and told people to count the cost before they got themselves into something they weren’t ready to commit to.  Nowadays we just want to talk about the good part—the grace and blessings.  And of course grace, forgiveness, and mercy are central to the gospel, but at the same time Jesus was very truthful and up-front about the costliness of the gospel, a concept we completely neglect.”

Similar reading: You will find themes like these in the writings of A.W. Tozer, Watchman Nee, Charles Spurgeon, Oswald Chambers, and more.  Francis Chan is not plowing new ground for us; writers often praised but rarely read have tread this path before Him.  Chan is certainly one of the more recent “converts” to the practice of the faith as delivered by Christ and the apostles.  He joins contemporaries like Frank Viola, Milt Rodriguez, Juan Carlos Ortiz, John Zens, and others who have discovered the errors of the institutional church movements and have departed to build an authentic faith and life.

You cannot go wrong with this book, unless you ignore it or deny its teachings.

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