Chan’s new book saves the best for last (to say the least)

January 3, 2013

chan_multiplyOne of my most popular recent blog posts was about something Francis Chan talked about in an interview. How fortuitous, then, that the second part of our “Vinebranch Book Club” sermon series concerns his new book, Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples. My blog stats are about go through the roof!

The title of the book and its opening chapters are misleading. He (and his coauthor Mark Beuving) don’t talk much about how to make disciples. Instead, the book’s main theme is this: if you’re going to be a disciples-maker—and he emphasizes that all Christians should be—you need to have your life transformed by God’s Word.

In my earlier blog post, I criticized the following statement from the 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.”[1]

I went on to say that it’s not nearly that simple: How often do we follow Jesus with wholehearted devotion? How many of us give everything for the sake of the gospel? How confident are we that if someone placed a gun to our head we would be ready to lay down our lives for the sake of our faith?

We are disciples in progress. Most of us haven’t arrived yet. I certainly haven’t. I’m getting there. And when I arrive (most likely not in this lifetime) it will only be by God’s grace.

Having now read the book, Chan’s words about “wholeheartedness” weren’t the only troublesome, less-than-grace-filled ones. Chan is obsessively concerned about our motives. Say you want to be a disciple-maker (which, again if you’re a Christian, you’re supposed to be). “If you look at your heart and find even a trace of desire for the glory and prestige that come through teaching and leading other people, take some time to let James’s warning [about unloving speech in James 3:6] sink in… As a disciple maker, you could make a huge impact for the kingdom of God. Or you could lead people horribly astray.”[2]

If even a trace of the wrong motives can do us in, heaven knows I’m ruined. You longtime readers know me well enough to know that I want at least a little “glory and prestige”—and money and popularity, and would a little fame be such a bad thing? Worse: if we’re not nearly perfect when it comes to loving others, we’re also in trouble. When you’re in a group of people, for example,

Are you overly aware of the ones who are wealthy, attractive, or have something they can offer you? Do you worry about what people think of you? Or do you look for ways to love and opportunities to give?[3]

If this were a quiz, I would have to answer yes, yes, and yes. See, I’m all three of those things at once! Chan doesn’t allow for that possibility: it’s either/or with him. Yet I find that I am a bundle of mixed motives most of the time. Most of us sinners are, right?

Not according to Chan: “As followers of Jesus Christ, we should be focused on making disciples. But if we don’t do it with the right motives, we are wasting our time.”[4] As you might imagine, since the most important part of being a disciple-maker is being a Bible study-er, we frequently bring our wrong motives to bear on reading the Bible. Did you know this, for example? “The fact of the matter is that most Christians study the Bible for the wrong reasons.” [5]

It’s wrong, he says, to read the Bible out of guilt (never mind how guilty he’s making me feel at this point in the book!), a desire for status, or only to offer something for a sermon or a Bible study.

Who knew we had all this errant Bible reading going on? Who knew that reading and studying the Bible—not failing to do so—was such a major problem in our Christian lives?

After all, when we read the Bible, we’re not simply hearing the Word of God in a metaphorical way (as orthodox Christianity teaches), we are hearing God’s direct, unmediated words. “Think of how you would respond to hearing a voice from heaven speaking directly to you. We should approach the Bible with the same reverence.”[6]

Sorry, Francis, I call foul here. I can tolerate a little hyperbole, but this is beyond the pale. Do you really believe that we should approach the Bible the way Moses approached the burning bush? Do you approach it that way? Of course you don’t! And if you did, that would be a form of bibliolatry. As you well know, it’s not the words on the page that make the Bible the Word of God; it’s the Holy Spirit who speaks God’s Word through the reading of it. You say as much later on in the book!

In fact, later on—after Chan lays this pretty heavy guilt-trip on us for failing to be sufficiently transformed as disciples—the book features a more than half-way decent overview of the Old and New Testaments. The authors describe the grand narrative arc of the Bible, emphasizing God’s saving plan from Adam and Eve to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Exile, and, lastly, to Jesus. The authors make the case for the continuity between the two testaments. They have a good discussion of the sacrificial system in the Old Testament and its relationship to Jesus’ sacrifice. Their eschatology, including their emphasis on the resurrection of the dead and a renewed Creation, is perfectly orthodox.

I’m also pleased (and surprised) that the authors come back around (finally) to the Holy Spirit: They say it’s only through the Spirit that we’re able to be transformed. It’s through the Spirit that we hear and respond to God’s Word. It’s through the Spirit that we are successful in making disciples. In other words, living a Christian life—and being sanctified—really is a matter of God’s grace, after all. What a relief!

Why didn’t they say this earlier in the book?

The contrast between the first and second part of the book is a little jarring. It feels like the work of two authors and a poor editor. I suspect that Chan delegated most of this good Bible stuff to Beuving, his coauthor. It’s as if the latter part of the book is written in a different voice, with a very different tone.

In fact, I would happily recommend this latter part of the book—from pages 139 to the end. As for the first 138 pages, I’m reminded of a scene from Dead Poet’s Society

1. Francis Chan and Mark Beuving, Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2012), 47.

2. Ibid., 42.

3. Ibid., 43.

4. Ibid., 39.

5. Ibid., 93.

6. Ibid., 92.

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