Crazy. Love?: First Review of Francis Chan’s Book, Crazy Love (and What it Reveals About Conservative Christianity)

If you were holy rollin’ like me in the late 2000s, you might have been part of the Francis Chan craze that swept conservative Christian circles across the nation — and the New York Times Bestsellers List.

Some of you might remember him. Tall, slim Chinese American guy with a book that took conservative Christian church Sunday Schools by storm. It was called Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God. Chris Tomlin, a darling of the contemporary Christian music world, did the forward, for chrissakes. And the book, well, it was supposed to awaken a revolution.

In some ways, Crazy Love WAS revolutionary. It was a bold, fierce, scolding reminder that if the Bible was completely true like Evangelicals insisted, then its God was inconceivably more powerful, beautiful, awe-inspiring, and terrifying than the American church currently acted. It urged Christians to embrace a new idea of what Christian looked like: to fall madly in love with such a god as this, and to live radical lives to prove it. “Because when you’re wildly in love with someone, it changes everything” (back cover.)

But it was so much more than even that. Because to Chan, if God was that unspeakably enormous, it followed that humans owed everything in service to him. Chan took conservative Christianity’s fondness of servitude and self-deprecation and burst out in full-throated insistence that anyone who thought God didn’t demand their obedience was absurd: “Can you worship a God who isn’t obligated to explain his actions to you? Could it be your arrogance that makes you think God owes you an explanation” (33)?

Chan came out and said it: all the toxic things conservative Christianity already believed about humans, but 10x more blunt.

  • He proclaimed that in the movies of our lives, we are extras in one scene with “two-fifths of a second where you can see the back of your head” (42).
  • That worry and stress “communicate that it’s okay to sin and not trust… [and] reek of arrogance” (42).
  • That no matter how good you try to be, your deeds will be like “menstrual garments (think used tampons)” (60).
  • That God’s “courting, luring, pushing, calling, and even ‘threatening’ demonstrate his love” (62).

In Chapter 3, Chan described the abuse he suffered under his own dad, and struggling to heal his ability to imagine a non-abusive love with the Heavenly Father. In Crazy Love, he then goes on to construct a dynamic between human and God that is horrifically abusive. The title of his next heading is “In Love with the One I Fear” (56). And that, I think, sums up the book. 

There is SO MUCH about broader conservative Christianity’s problems that we could talk about here. Crazy Love is, after everything, a perfect lesson, a magnification, of the psychologically toxic ideas conservative Christianity teaches about humans. Mental illness and basic human feelings are made into sin. Your life is not your own, and you’re insane to think otherwise. Don’t just understand you have no choice but to be God’s slave, you should be OVERJOYED for the opportunity. God is so amazing, you’re pathetic, Jesus had to die for you, and you just keep forgetting. Abusive dynamics are dressed up as the ultimate love. 

Crazy love.

In fact, skimming the book, this is some of what I can talk about in this review:

Chapter 1 (Stop Praying): Chan says that Christianity’s God is beautifully incredible (and this is where my love for God came from; the accompanying videos shook me), but turns this around to say he’s so big you have to worship and fear him by default, and for you to question the order of things is just arrogant. Like a fire devouring what it burns on, God’s greatness runs on humans’ supposed patheticness.
Chapter 2 (You Might Not Finish This Chapter)Chan showcases Christianity’s fondness for “death scare”, aka trying to worry people into accepting the message faster by reminding them how short life is and that there’s a chance hell could be real.
Chapter 3 (Crazy Love — so well named)Chan proposes that people being afraid of God isn’t right. You have to love AND fear him, then it’s fine. He writes about his experiences with parental abuse with seemingly no self-awareness about creating a new abusive dynamic between himself and God.
Chapter 4 (Profile of the Lukewarm)Just a straight up list of what American Christians are doing wrong today.
Chapter 5 (Serving Leftovers to a Holy God)Chan convicts lukewarm Christians with Biblical backup that God thinks they’re evil, so useless they’d ruin manure, and wants to spit them out. God demands everything you have.
Chapter 6 (When You’re in Love): By making your entire life about making God look good and realizing how tiny you are, you will become free, because that’s what love does. Here we see the language getting as intense and weirdly sexual as lots of prayers and CCM: “Be all in me. Take all of me. Have your way with me” (111).
Chapter 7 (Your Best Life… Later)It’s foolish to seek fulfillment outside of God, and the only way to please Him is by total surrender. You should give up your time, income, job, and entire lifestyle to advance God’s kingdom.
Chapter 8 (Profile of the Obsessed)A list of what people who are “obsessed” with God do: love everyone who hates them, put God’s kingdom before their very safety and lives, connect with the poor, look weird to mainstream society, are intimate with God, live thinking about heaven, can never be humble enough and take slavery as joy.
Chapter 9 (Who Really Lives That Way?)Inspiring stories (including his own megachurch.)
Chapter 10 (The Crux of the Matter): So how are you supposed to change your lifestyle? Pray about it. God will tell you. 

Why am I doing this?

I spent 18 years, from birth,  in the world of Evangelicalism. When I think back on what it was like, I see magic. I smell campfire smoke, wild, tangy and familiar as my own blood, hear the thick snaps of sparks and the wind in the darkness as I pledged myself to a whirlwind romance, an all-out pursuit of a god who held me in everything. I see the morning light falling in meek golden bars against my palm as I turned the pages of my devotional, the red spotting my knees from praying so long on my bedroom floor. But most of all I remember the feelings. Our congregation, our family, in the dim warmth of the sanctuary, one in minor-chord melody. The explosion of emotions in my chest when I stood in a lake with storm rain lashing my face as I begged God to show me his. My heart, on a Sunday morning, full to burst with sensations I could not name.

So I called it love. 

Crazy Love was a huge part of helping me see it. This magic I called love.

It has taken me so long to see the crazy.

LOVED this book. I read it again and again in my head, and every time I was interrupted I went back and read the whole chapter again. I watched the accompanying videos over and over on my bathroom (and bedroom) floor until I cried. Skimming it now, I walk the paragraphs as familiar as streets from my childhood.

I loved Chan’s understanding of how amazing God was. I never saw how deeply his conclusions about what that meant for us as human beings fucked me up. Until now.

And I still have this book, because when I left and lost my faith, I held onto it as proof that I wasn’t making up everything I had believed and the passion with which I believed it. Now, it’s time to make use of it.

This review is my hope to make it up to myself. To honor the awe and beauty and glory I saw in everything God, could be and the love our relationship could have. To explain myself forgiveness for all the reasons why this cosmic romance, electrified by Chan’s Crazy Love, turned so abusive that it destroyed my very concept of self. And to open this conversation up to others. Your stories, your feelings, your adventures and your hurt. To talk about what it is to be in crazy love.

When I was looking up Francis Chan videos to share in this intro, I came across a Ted Talk by a woman who’s now one of my favorite humans. Her name is Lilia Tarawa, and she left Gloriavale, a Christian cult in New Zealand. When she speaks of the good memories of her upbringing, you should see the smile on her face. But just a few minutes later, her voice breaks as she describes the pain of the dysfunction, trauma, and abuse that came with them. I hear echoes of my Christianity, and Crazy Love itself, in her story.

How beautiful and radical Francis Chan’s idea of God was, the God of E-minor and pine needles. And how fucking terrible his view of humans is, that believing means “beating your body and making it your slave”. How it all went so very wrong. How it hurt me beyond belief. And I’m writing this because I bet there are others out there too.

See, Francis Chan has a huge influence. In 1994, he founded Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California. Crazy Love, published in 2008, sold over 2 million copies, followed by Forgotten God and Erasing Hell. By the time he left in 2010, it was a 4000-member megachurch, and by some accounts, a cult. He is Chancellor and Founder of Eternity Bible College. He has spoken at major conferences to tens of thousands, and he now leads We Are Church, a San Francisco-based network of house churches. His ideas have reached so many people.

Other than other Christians put off by Chan’s radicalism, I have not found any articles about how Crazy Love hurts. No one is talking about it. So I’ll start. I invite you to follow along. And, maybe, talk a little about it too.

I’ll try to post one chapter a week, 10 in total. And all of them, I think, are just already-toxic ideas and tendencies in conservative Christianity taken to the extreme.

Francis Chan’s book is a perfect example of so many of the more “mainstream” Christian ideas that hurt human self-esteem, minds, and hearts. And I mean to drag every one out into the open.

So, here we go. This is Crazy Love.

Crazy.

Love?

 

14 thoughts on “Crazy. Love?: First Review of Francis Chan’s Book, Crazy Love (and What it Reveals About Conservative Christianity)

  1. Wow, this sounds so different from the kind of Christian cult I experienced, but also the same in that it’s still a very toxic relationship with God? I mean, Mormonism was rather distrustful of the “passionate and loud” Christian traditions and didn’t encourage people to read anything like this. Mormonism was more toxic in that it asked its members to downplay themselves and their individuality into bland, gray conformity. It was incredibly boring and love wasn’t really as emphasized as duty per se. I mean, even in Mormon marriage ceremonies it’s all about a covenant to God and each other, with nothing said about love at all.
    And then Crazy Love reminds me of those toxic relationships (described in Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? ) where the man treats his partner poorly, especially when they argue, but she continues to describe it as a “passionate whirlwind romance” and thinks it’s all she deserves.
    I look forward to hearing more about this book because the contrast is so interesting to me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Cinnia! I love that there’s a contrast between what we experienced, it’s cool to hear a different perspective from a similar background. My church was pretty distrustful of flashy worship services and especially ~the Pentecostals~, which is why some people didn’t think that Francis Chan was all that.

      What you said about Mormonism is interesting. In my subculture people were encouraged to literally become nothing, to “die to themselves,” which sounds similar to being told to downplay your individuality (same category different species?)

      Yeah, it’s crazy (haha) how much Crazy Love and its idea of love sounds SO MUCH like abuse. Can’t wait to hear what you think about the book!

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  2. I never read this book, but I recognise all the ideas it presents all too well.

    I grew up in ‘mainstream’ Christianity, but with a mother who was *terrified* of the Devil “getting me.” That fear of hers messed me up for a very long time, and from my childhood I was a very religious person, but it was faith driven out of fear.

    I ended up trying to totally “surrender to God” and it only made my ancient and depression worse. Looking back I feel a bunch of conflicted feelings for that time in my life, but I’m progressing in moving away from the toxic mindsets I used to hold.

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  3. Spot on!! Thinking about getting all the Chan books out and highlighting everything I dont agree with in those pages since I haven’t read them in a few years. Ironically his book, Erasing Hell, was a catalyst for my disbelief in hell altogether lol…I think we grew up very similar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh man. I never got to read Erasing Hell but so glad that I didn’t, honestly. I actually went through and highlighted a lot myself in Crazy Love! (I forgot and thought little me ACTUALLY thought those parts were zingers and almost had a heart attack.) I can see how Erasing Hell would push you further away from believing in it; reading through Crazy Love now, all I feel is pushed even further away from that view of “love” and God. Maybe we did grow up very similar! I find that there are way more people out there than I first expected who can resonate. That’s why I write 🙂

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  4. I found Crazy Love to have a similar effect as Not a Fan, by Kyle Idleman. The premise of the book was we are not fans of God but slaves to God. It centered around Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.'” My 15-year-old self ate that shit up. This kind of rhetoric successfully manipulates human emotion, especially guilt. Step one) Amp up the feeling of awe towards God. You know, that feeling you get after camp or a mission trip or with a big crescendo before the chorus of How Great is Our God. Step two) Trigger the lingering feeling of guilt every “lukewarm” Christian has. Tell them their indifference is a result of their disgusting, sinful nature. Step three) Offer a solution: lay everything down at the feet of Jesus, and by everything they mean hopes and dreams, identity, career, relationships, sexuality, and more. That is, of course, what it means to love God. Many Christian authors are taking this same message and rearranging it into different books, but they are all the same. They manipulate your emotions so you surrender everything and call it love.

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    1. Oh man, I’ve never read Not a Fan (or even heard of it to be honest), but it sounds god awful. I think your breakdown is on point. Christian churches can be great at setting up emotional environments where you’re primed to listen to their pitch. “They manipulate your emotions so you surrender everything and call it love…” I just read pretty much that sentence in Crazy Love when I was writing the review of Ch 1. Ugh.

      Here’s hoping that by speaking out and building ourselves back up, we create a world that’s one step closer to being rid of all that, one voice at a time. Thank you for sharing what’s on your mind! It seriously means so much to me.

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  5. I never read Chan’s book, but I was aware of him. My last church was an old time Southern Baptist Convention Fundamentalist Church that, “rejected the heresy of Neopentecostalism.” So I expect he wouldn’t have flown among the flock. Be that as it may, we had all of the abusive boyfriend love Dynamics going on. Thanks for undertaking this noble task.

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  6. I never read Crazy Love, but I’d heard of it and probably event had a copy. But I always thought it was about loving unbelievers in a radical way. BOY I was really wrong about that! Looking forward to your posts.

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