Mark Galli interviews best-selling author and pastor Francis Chan about his new book on discipleship in this month’s Christianity Today. Galli zeroes in on a passage in the book that—as it happens—makes my Methodist blood boil. Maybe it will bother you, too. Who knows? (I’ve underlined the offensive part.)
GALLI: Your writing has what I’d call a “relentless intensity” to get readers to do more for Christ. One example among many in this book: “Being a disciple maker demands your entire life …. It requires everything. It means following Jesus in every aspect of your life, pursuing him with a wholehearted devotion. If you’re not ready to lay down your life for Christ, then you’re not ready to make disciples. It’s that simple.” Where does your intensity come from? Is that a family trait? Something you learned as a Christian?
CHAN: (Laughter.) A family trait. Oh, that’s funny. It could be. I don’t know. When I read the statements of Christ, there seems to be this urgency and intensity. I guess that’s what I get out of it when I read the tone of the Scriptures, which is very different from the tone of our culture.
Beware of someone saying, “It’s that simple.” It never is.
Of course disciple-making doesn’t “require everything.” It doesn’t require “following Jesus in every aspect of your life.” It doesn’t require “pursuing [Jesus] with a wholehearted devotion.” Thank God it doesn’t require that! Otherwise, who could possibly do it?
Could Chan? How convinced is he of his own “wholehearted devotion”? Is he currently giving everything for the sake of the gospel? Yet I don’t doubt for a moment that he’s made and is making disciples.
Look, I get it… Whether Chan knows it or not, he’s an old-fashioned Pietist. We non-Pietists need them to challenge us in our own piety. They keep us honest. They hold us to a high standard—or I should say that they remind us of the high standard to which Jesus holds us when he says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And that’s good.
Forgive me for being Methodist guy, but where’s the grace? Does Chan not realize that as we are making disciples, we are also being made into disciples? I’m reminded of that famous definition of evangelism: It’s one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. We’re all beggars. We’re all constantly in need of God’s grace at every moment. We’re all on a journey toward perfection. Although we Methodists hold out hope, we know the vast majority of us won’t arrive at perfection—what we Methodists call “entire sanctification”—in this lifetime.
When I say “grace,” I don’t mostly mean—as it’s popularly understood—”forgiveness for falling short.” That’s only a small part of it. I mostly mean grace as “the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives.” Disciple-making is a Spirit-filled, and therefore grace-filled, process. Disciple-making doesn’t happen apart from the Holy Spirit—again, thank God.
Believe me, I’m striving to be wholehearted in my devotion. I’m striving to be ready to “lay down [my] life.” I’m striving to follow Jesus in “every aspect of [my] life.” I’m not there yet. Are you?
When I read stuff like this from Chan I wonder if he underestimates the power of sin—how insidious it is. I’d recommend he read some Kierkegaard. Maybe—I don’t know—The Sickness Unto Death? I bet he wouldn’t speak so glibly about wholeheartedness after that!