I can’t imagine that there’s much suspense here, though, because I haven’t held my cards very close to my chest on this one. In my previous post on The Shack, I called Crazy Love, by Francis Chan, “one of the best books I’ve ever read.” After having had, now, three weeks to reconsider that statement, I don’t think I will. I like that accolade just fine. This is an absolutely outstanding book, and one that I will likely ask every person I disciple to read from here on out.
Here’s what you have to understand though—and this is key in my excitement over the book: One of the things I like so much about Crazy Love is that I’m excited to recommend it to people. Because it’s simple. It’s very easy to read. But (defying all my expectations, because of its popularity) it’s not fluffy. Really great books that are really difficult are pretty common. And almost no one reads them. Really worthless books that are easy to read are also very common. And unfortunately everyone reads them. Evangelical Christians, in particular, are known for reading a lot of easy, fluffy crap.
But narrow is the selection and hard to find are the simple books that are also substantive. That’s one of the reasons I love Crazy Love so much: I can give it to anyone. I can give it to mature elder saints in my church, some of whom have digested Edwards, Calvin, Luther, Augustine, etc., who will nevertheless eat this up and be recharged for the work of the Kingdom in their last decade or two on earth. And I can also give it to a brand-spanking new believer so that they can get started on the right foot in understanding what following Christ is really about from the outset.
Maybe the simplest way I have explained this book to people in the last month is to say, “The first half is John Piper lite, and the second half is Shane Claiborne without being quite so far out on the nutty fringe.” That is, Chan explains the goodness, love and glory of God without being quite so intimidating as Piper’s books can be for less well-read believers, and he challenges Christians to get really, really serious about taking Jesus really, really seriously without going off the deep end and suggesting that we should all make our own clothes and build our own cars that run on vegetable oil (see Claiborne’s mostly excellent Jesus for President).
A few choice quotes:
“Because God hates sin, He has to punish those guilty of sin. Maybe that’s not an appealing standard. But to put it bluntly, when you get your own universe, you can make your own standards. When we disagree, let’s not assume it’s His reasoning that needs correction” (34).
“Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. They don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it; they’re merely sorry because God is going to punish them. Lukewarm people don’t really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one. …They want to do the bare minimum, to be ‘good enough’ without it requiring too much of them. They ask, ‘How far can I go before it’s considered a sin?’ instead of ‘How can I keep myself pure as a temple of the Holy Spirit?’ They ask, ‘How much do I have to give?’ instead of ‘How much can I give?’ They ask, ‘How much time should I spend praying and reading my Bible?’ instead of ‘I wish I didn’t have to go to work, so I could sit here and read longer!’ (70, 76). (NB: The entirety of chapter 4, “Profile of the Lukewarm,” was earth shattering for me.)
“Let’s face it. We’re willing to make changes in our lives only if we think it affects our salvation. This is why I have so many people ask me questions like, Can I divorce my wife and still go to heaven? Do I have to be baptized to be saved? Am I a Christian even though I’m having sex with my girlfriend? If I commit suicide, can I still go to heaven? If I’m ashamed to talk about Christ, is He really going to deny knowing me? To me, these questions are tragic because they reveal much about the state of our hearts. They demonstrate that our concern is more about going to heaven than loving the King” (86).
“Suppose the flood had never come—Noah would have been the biggest laughingstock on earth. Having faith often means doing what other see as crazy. Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers” (115).
Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay this book is this: When I finish most books, I write a brief summary of it and copy out a few key quotes for my files, put it on the shelf and don’t take it down again unless someone wants to borrow it. Some books are good enough that, when I finish them, I set them aside for a few weeks and then come back to them and reread everything I highlighted and read all my margin notes so that I can digest it and internalize it more thoroughly. Crazy Love falls into a third category: The rare book that demands that I take at least a full-day retreat to reread much of it and prayerfully, meditatively, thoughtfully, thoroughly consider how I need to apply it to my life and figure out how my life needs to change in light of it.