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Who's Behind 'Crazy Love'?





Francis Chan, senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, Calif., is serious about making the church look more like Jesus and actually doing what the Bible says we should be doing. Beyond highlighting him for our cover story in November/December 2008, we spoke with Francis about everything from lukewarm Christianity to Joel Osteen to the state of today’s church.

Ministry Today: Besides the catchy song connection, what’s the meaning behind the title of your book, Crazy Love? Why did you choose that title?

Francis Chan: We chose the term “crazy” because when you look at the gospel it’s really a ridiculous story—that the creator of the universe would watch His Son be tortured for us. We can’t even fathom having that kind of love for someone, especially if we were that great and powerful. We hear the story so often that it loses its shock. It’s crazy, so our response should be crazy as well. If we’re showing Him, casual lukewarm, complacent love, it doesn’t make sense. Why did the people in the Book of Acts give up everything they had? Why didn’t they care about their stuff? Because they saw a man rise from the grave. Now if they saw a man rise from the grave and nothing changed in their lives, that wouldn’t make sense. Yet, that’s exactly what we do.

Ministry Today: What’s “spiritual amnesia” and what can be done to combat it?

Chan: There are times when we are so struck by the truth of God’s Word and the truth of God’s being, and yet a couple hours later, we’re so into a Lakers game we forget all about God. It is because we live in America and have a love of entertainment. In the words of John Piper we “amuse ourselves to death.” So that’s where the enemy hits. It’s similar to going on a mission trip. We have such amazing experiences, and we come home saying, ‘I swear I’ll never forget that.’ Then a week later we forget it and life is back to normal. That’s spiritual amnesia.

Ministry Today: You tip a lot of sacred cows in your book, even writing that lukewarm Christians are grateful for comfort and luxuries.

Chan: A lot of people have determined what they want to believe. So when they go to the Scriptures they go in making them say what they want them to say. I would love to just take care of myself, have enough retirement for my family and me. That makes sense to me. It’s logical to me, and I have the means to pull it off. I could very easily make a case for that biblically and say it’s OK for me to do that.

But when I really read the Scriptures as objectively as I can and ask, ‘What’s it really saying?’ it’s nothing of that sort. It’s all about caring for the least of these, sacrificing and risking my life. I can’t be thinking about what my life will look like in 30 years if my true brother in Christ is dying right now and will die this week unless I get food to him. In America we try to mesh what is American with what is biblical, and we come up with this church we have today.

Ministry Today: One of your chapters is titled “Your Best Life … Later.” Is that a conscious refutation of some of the more popular teaching out there?

Chan: Absolutely. I just think it’s just a bunch of bull. I even played with the idea of titling the book that. I think it’s such a dangerous heresy that’s out there that says God just wants you to be rich and healthy. It goes against the way Christ lived and against the way He told the disciples they’d have to live. I don’t want to be this person who is against anyone who is rich, but I just think if you’re a Christian you don’t really care about money. Why would we lure people into the Christian life promising physical riches? Isn’t God enough? Isn’t the fact that I’ve got a relationship with Almighty God enough? Jesus’ message was you should want to follow Me even if it means losing everything. That’s what Scripture teaches.

Ministry Today: You write that we tend to turn saints into celebrities. Being the pastor of a large church do you fear that could happen with you?

Chan: Yes. It’s happening with the speaking and now with this book. It’s weird. I hate all that stuff. I have to admit sometimes it’s nice to be recognized. But for me personally I’m so aware that at any second my life could end. That’s something that’s been so real to me ever since I was a kid. I think it’s because of the deaths of my parents. I’m very strange this way, but I think about death probably every day. I think: “This could be it. Am I ready?”

At the moment of death nothing else matters. I’m standing before a holy God. That’s the reality. And I think about it a lot. It’s not a fear. I couldn’t care less if I die. But I do think about it a lot. Maybe it’s because I do funerals or maybe because a lot of my family has died, but I’m constantly aware of death in a sober, humbling way. … I think the Lord has given me that awareness as a gift so I don’t get stuck in pride. When I come before Him I say, “God, I could be coming home to You today.”

Ministry Today: Your mother died giving birth to you. Your father was distant and physically abusive. Talk about how that affected your view of God and how you got past that.

Chan: I always gravitated to those passages about God’s holiness. They click with me because I understand fear and respect for authority. I also think the Asian culture teaches that. But understanding the intimate side really changed when I had kids of my own. I remember the moment it clicked. I took my daughter out of school one Friday and took her camping, just the two of us. There was so much laughter, and I’d never seen her so happy. She was just jumping, screaming and laughing. And I remember how great I felt, that I had made her happy. At that moment I wondered: ‘Does God feel that way about me?’ Does He think of me that way?’ It was all the fatherly attributes I’d seen in Scripture but didn’t really understand until I experienced it myself.

Ministry Today: What’s the number one problem you experience in your church getting men mobilized? Or, is there a problem?

Chan: There hasn’t been that much a problem here. We’re actually doing quite well in that area. But we’ve emphasized strong male leadership from the start. Men rise to the challenge when they’re told that they need to. We’ve always placed the responsibility on the men. I’m very quick to put everything on my own shoulders. If my wife or kids aren’t acting a certain way I don’t blame them. I’m supposed to be leading. I immediately look to myself. It’s my issue. There’s this concept of biblical manhood that a lot of people are scared to preach. But I’m not saying that there aren’t others out there preaching this. I’m not trying to get into a bashing session. Unless you’re talking about Joel Osteen.

Ministry Today: OK, I’ll send him after you.

Chan: (Laughs) I think I could take him.

Ministry Today: I’m not sure. I read he can bench 300 pounds.

Chan: No way! Are you serious?

Ministry Today: That’s what I read.

Chan: That’s funny.

Ministry Today: He’s pretty wiry, I guess. One more question. This is a little more serious. What do you see as the number one challenge for the North American church over the next 10 years?

Chan: I think the number one challenge is to get the church to really be the church. The church was meant to be a light. People were supposed to live so differently in the church. On any given Sunday you can go to church and then go into your neighborhood and meet unbelievers who have more love, joy, peace, patience and kindness than the people you sat in the pews with. If the Holy Spirit is literally in these people at church, shouldn’t there be an obvious difference between them and those who are spiritually dead? And I don’t see that. For so many years my non-Christian friends were more giving and dependable. How’s the world supposed to believe that something has happened to us if we’re no different than anyone else?

 

—Interview by Drew Dyck

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