The basic thesis of Crazy Love is sound. Since God loves us with a crazy, inexplicable love, our love for Him should be just as crazy and our resultant lifestyle should be radical in its sacrifice for Christ. Chan has no patience for “lukewarm Christians” (pp. 22, 65-88, 97-98), who are chasing the American dream rather than passionately following Christ. This is an important and needed message for many in the Western church today, which may explain the popularity of Crazy Love, especially among the youth, many of whom are not content with the status quo.
In attempting to stress his theme and persuade his audience Chan does well in pointing us to the greatness of God (pp. 30-38), telling us “frankly, you need to get over yourself…your part is to bring Him glory” (p. 44). So far so good; sadly not much else is helpful in Crazy Love.
Crazy Love lacks balance, solid arguments and careful exegesis, draws bad conclusions, is poorly written and redundant, skips from topic to topic with little explanation, is inconsistent and contradictory, comes across arrogantly, motivates by fear and guilt, and offers outlandish and in some cases clearly unbelievable stories. Chan apparently ministers among people who do not or cannot challenge his pronouncements (see his response to criticism on p. 136). Too bad, for I sense that Chan truly loves Christ and wants others to have the same enthusiasm. But his approach lacks grace, is too close to legalism and is frequently unbiblical. Quite frankly, I don’t get it. Are people so thirsty for someone to tell them they need to mean business with God that they will overlook the obvious errors, extremes and ranting to hear that message? A little biblical discernment is in order. Let’s examine some details:
• Chan spends a great deal of time criticizing lukewarm Christians, calling them to step up and sell out to Christ (pp. 22, 65-81) only to ultimately declare that there is no such thing as lukewarm Christians (pp. 83-84). Through poorly selected passages of Scripture he tells us that lukewarm Christians (who remember are not Christians at all) don’t attend church much, give little, choose what is popular, rarely share their faith, love Jesus who is only part of their lives, don’t love God or others as much as they love themselves, have limits on their use of time, money and energy, think about life on earth more than life in heaven and so forth. In short they sound like all of us, including Chan as he occasionally admits. But why would he expect anything more of the unregenerate? And why later (pp. 97-98) does he speak to Christians and warn them not to grow lukewarm? Chan is highly inconsistent throughout this discussion.
• While he occasionally speaks of love Chan’s motivational tools are fear and guilt. Much of the book reads like a diatribe hammering away at the “lukewarm” who do not define the Christian life as Chan does (pp. 81-97).
• Chan believes we are to live as simply as possible in order to give more to the poor. He wants to “start a movement of ‘giving’ churches. In so doing, we can alleviate the suffering in the world and change the reputation of His bride in America” (p. 21). While Scripture certainly calls for Christians to be generous and care for the poor, could anyone show me where alleviating suffering of the world’s needy is given as a mandate to the church? Nevertheless, one of Chan’s major themes is giving to the poor (pp. 33, 75, 78, 117-122, 140, 160-164, 181) and he is on the board of Children’s Hunger Fund. We should also give careful consideration as to whether it is the goal of the Christian to change the reputation of Christ’s bride by such action. Are not believers rather warned to expect misunderstanding and persecution (Matt 5:11-12; 1 Cor 1:18-25; 2 Tim 3:12)? Chan has the wrong mandates and aspirations because he is drawing his cures from the culture rather than Scripture.
• Chan uses guilt so heavily in his book that even he fears, halfway through, that he is evoking both fear and guilt (he is). “[He] hopes [we] realize…that the answer is love” (p. 101), but there is little about love in this book (see pp. 145-148, 203).
• Strangely Chan’s theology is only a small step away from a form of the prosperity gospel. While Chan calls for simple and sacrificial living, it seems to be for the purpose of personal gain. “By surrendering yourself totally to God’s purposes, He will bring you the most pleasure in this life and the next” (p. 21) (see further pp. 117-127, especially the story on p. 122).
• He condemns turning saints into celebrities (p. 137), then turns around and does exactly that through some of the most extreme examples imaginable (pp. 150-164).
• Chan claims he is not motivated by the fear or even the awe of God, but by love (p. 139). This is too bad since the Scriptures are full of examples of being motivated by awe (cf. Isa 6:1-5, 2 Cor 5:11) and the clear teaching that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7; 9:10).
• Some of his stories/examples are beyond bizarre and frankly stretch credibility (pp. 150, 155-156, 159).
Chan never goes to the extreme of demanding that every Christian follow the examples he gives that supposedly exemplify crazy love (e.g. sell your house, pull out all your teeth, live in your car and spend the taxpayers’ money on the homeless instead of getting a job). Instead he asks us to listen to the Holy Spirit Who will tell us what to do (pp. 166-168, 172, 191-192, 198-199, 203). This is perhaps the most dangerous part of the book, since Scripture does not tell us to listen to the subjective voice of the Holy Spirit to discern how to live but rather to the revealed Word of God. This is a recipe for spiritual disaster.
In Crazy Love Francis Chan attempts to motivate Christians to action. This is great but surely we are to be motivated by biblical instructions rather than random diatribes. If you need a challenge I recommend David Well’s Dare to Be Protestant or Michael Horton’s The Gospel-Driven Life, and leave Crazy Love on the shelf.