Crazy Love Book Review
I begin this review with a bit of trepidation, because after stalling and procrastinating for weeks on end, I still can’t decide if I’m going to recommend that you read this book. Crazy Love was (and still is) a conundrum to me.
Our summer book club chose Crazy Love, by Francis Chan, thinking that it would make for some good discussion…and it most definitely did. It was interesting to see the opinions of our book club members shift and change as we made our way through the chapters. Most of us came to similar conclusions, but we took different routes on our way to those conclusions.
I’ll admit that I literally judged this book by its cover. (Check it out online and you’ll see what I mean.) Add to that the fact that Crazy Love is written by the pastor of a mega-church, and I certainly didn’t expect to agree with very much of it.
Francis Chan’s book is geared toward the “average” Christian in America today. It is directed at the conservative, upright, church-going believer who “does all the right things.” The premise of this book is simple: God’s love for his people is so illogically, absurdly gracious and undeserved that it could be considered “crazy” by someone looking in on the Christian faith from the outside. If we as Christians really believe this, shouldn’t we be responding in a fashion that is similarly “crazy” when viewed by unbelievers? We as believers can identify with and agree with this premise. The life of the antithesis will always appear crazy to the unbeliever. We do not (or should not) care about the things that the world cares about, such as money, fame, and outward beauty.
Our book club agreed with the premise of the book, but in the practical working out of the premise, we at least partially parted ways with Chan. Chan encourages the Christian to perform radical acts in response to God’s radical love for us—radical acts such as moving to Africa to serve the poor, downsizing our houses so that we can give more to the church, moving to the ghetto so that we can witness to gang members, quitting our jobs to stay home with our kids, and staying committed to one spouse for our entire lives. Oh, wait a minute. The last two are not mentioned by Chan. But marriage for life is considered radical in today’s society. A college-educated woman who quits her well-paying job to be a mother in the home would be considered crazy in the eyes of the world. My point is this: although we might not agree with everything Chan says, we can certainly apply his ideas to our own lives.
As mentioned already, Chan encourages remarkable acts of self-denial in our Christian life. This raised many questions in our minds and in our discussions: Does true, Biblical love for God always look “crazy”, or is there room for quiet, humble, everyday Christianity (i.e. mothers in the home, faithful schoolteachers, good stewards of time and money)? Are we able to serve God and respond in love to him right where we are, or are we called to uproot our families and live somewhere less comfortable? If everyone moved to Africa to minister to the poor, what would happen to the church here? Is there a problem with our “typical” stable church community of fellow believers worshiping together, helping each other, and giving evidence of our love for God in this way? Does it mean that we don’t love God enough if we are comfortable? Should we feel guilty for being socially, spiritually, and financially comfortable? Personal evangelism makes some of us uncomfortable. Does that count? Do sacrifice and service equate to Christianity and a closer relationship with God? Or are sacrifice and service a manifestation of a close relationship with God? Some of these questions were rhetorical, others made for great book club discussion, and still others had to be answered for ourselves.
We noted that many of the radical acts referred to by Chan involve money, giving, and financial self-denial. He attacks the comfortable, middle-class lifestyle of many Christians with a vengeance. While it was good for all of us to examine our hearts in this matter, we felt that Chan focused heavily on financial giving as a way of showing our love for Christ. The impression is left that if you give more, you are a better Christian. The author at times causes the reader to feel guilty for experiencing God’s good gifts instead of encouraging us to enjoy them and use them in his service.
Any prospective reader of Crazy Love needs to be aware that pre-millennialism and the social gospel are sprinkled throughout the pages of this book. This was no surprise, given the topic of the book. What was surprising to us was that in spite of all Chan’s talk about doing good works, he is careful to avoid a works-righteousness theology. He addresses this in the third chapter, insisting that God’s mercy cannot be earned. He stresses that all our good works could never outweigh our sins, and refers to Isaiah 64:6: “…all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”
Chan makes many good points throughout the book…and then stops. There were many times when we felt like we were left hanging. Some of his thoughts and ideas were not fully developed, and the reader is left to decide what comes next. Whether intentional or not, this was at times frustrating.
Many of the chapter titles in this book are designed to get your attention. “Marketing tactics” was the term used by one of our members. Titles such as “Stop Praying”, “You Might Not Finish This Chapter”, and “Serving Leftovers to a Holy God” will definitely draw in the reader. In spite of the catchy (and sometimes annoying) titles, most of the chapters had interesting, thoughtful points to make. “Stop Praying” refers to standing in awe of God and his works, before just “rush[ing] into God’s presence with words.” “You Might Not Finish This Chapter” is all about how our lives are fragile, and each day could be our last—so are we ready to meet our Maker?
In addition to the points mentioned in the chapters above, there are many other thought-provoking themes fleshed out in this book. Chan writes an entire chapter on lukewarm Christianity, and although some of the specifics focus heavily on finances, there are other aspects of a lukewarm faith that should resonate with all of us. “Lukewarm people think about life on earth much more often than eternity in heaven,” and “Lukewarm people will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go…” were two that stuck with me.
The author has an interesting way of looking at and interpreting Scripture passages. Sometimes this sent me scrambling for the context and my commentaries, and other times all I could do was nod in agreement. A great example of this is when Chan suggests inserting your own name into the well-known chapter on love. Read 1 Corinthians 13, and every time the word “charity” appears, replace it with your own name. “______ suffereth long and is kind. _______ envieth not…” Then ask yourself if those things are true. Are you squirming yet? I am.
Crazy Love is a good book for the discerning reader. Read it carefully, read it thoughtfully, and read it with your Bible nearby. Francis Chan will entertain you, challenge you, frustrate you, prod you, and yes, lead you to the foot of the cross.
Although I do not agree with everything in Crazy Love, I still liked the book. It made me take a good, hard, look at myself and how I live my life. Chan’s words resonated with me in ways I did not expect. Crazy, huh?
Special thanks to Brendan Looyenga and Sarah Kamps for putting their thoughts on paper and thus contributing heavily to this book review. Some of “my” words are direct quotations from their wonderfully detailed and copious notes. Thanks also to the rest of our book club (Michael DeBoer, Mitchell Kamps, Justin and Cathie Koole, and Kelly Looyenga) for their insightful comments during our lively discussions this summer, thereby also contributing to this review.