Letters to the Church: A Book Review
If you follow any of my writing or online life, you know I am a fan of Francis Chan. His book, Forgotten God, brought me to a turning point in my faith. I grew up with a bit of a mixed bag of good and bad theology in regard to the Holy Spirit. Through research, prayer, and his book, I began a journey that led me to a life calling of exploring who the Holy Spirit is and helping others develop or nourish their relationship with our Advocate, brought to us through the blood of Jesus Christ. I am grateful for his writings and his desire to live as authentically as he can. I know he is not perfect and not to be idolized, but I also know he has played a part in my coming to know my role in the Kingdom.
His latest book Letters to the Church was not one I picked up lightly. I knew he was going to be taking a critical look at the church culture in America and it wasn’t going to be pretty. I wanted to read this book because I value his insight and want to be challenged to lift the status quo up to Heaven and ask how I am contributing to the problem, and in what areas my thinking needs a tune up. The other reason I wanted to read his opinion, was that he has a genuine heart for the church and Kingdom work. He is a pastor and understands the delicate space he is occupying by looking at the church in this way.
In the book you will find his personal narrative of success by American standards and how that left him feeling. He then reminds us all that the church and Who we worship is sacred, and we have lost the reverence for how sacred He is. He then challenges us to unhinge from the talents of a particular preacher and be obsessed with the simplicity of the scripture.
This is a practice I revived after reading this book. Can I tell you, after the detox of fancy commentary wore off, I was fully satisfied by scripture alone for a solid month. I decided to forgo my usual devotional and other fantastic non-fiction, faith-based writing in the mornings and only read the Bible in my morning quiet time. I chose to read only a chapter a day and prayed for the Holy Spirit to speak truth directly to me. It has been a wonderful practice and although I still read the other writings and enjoy how they make my faith come alive, I was reminded that the Triune God and His scriptures were all I need to nourish my soul. The other things are a gift I both enjoy reading and writing myself, but they cannot be the center of my time with God.
One of the more interesting points he brings up is how the modern church model is not designed to nurture and give space for the body to use its gifts. We (the body) become trained to look to the paid staff for their gifts and shy away from allowing ours to be fully used. This is not a chapter bashing the way things are done, rather it is acknowledging that the first church in its healthy state did not rely on the few to operate in the Spirit. He then spends time empowering us as the body to not rely on others’ gifts to be ushered into an experience with God. I loved where he wrote this about the body using its gifts:
“If you are content to receive from others, you will miss out on the thrill of having the Spirit manifest Himself through you. This will cause you to be dissatisfied and the Church to suffer. Your gift is needed.”
He goes on to discuss the traps of ministry in a way that stirs up empathy—not criticism—for your leader. He gives great insight into what pulls them away from the model given in Acts and best ways to pray for them. This chapter is probably my favorite and one that is most needed to see any kind of change in our church culture in America.
He rounds out the book talking about suffering and how quickly we gloss over or bury the idea in our churches today. This is not easy to read, but I think it is important…especially if you have little to no first-hand experience with the level of suffering the global church experiences.
In conclusion, I would recommend this book under a few conditions. First, if you are in a place to humbly look at your own views of church and are ready to ask the Holy Spirit what shifts you can make without growing sour about the Church. Remember, she is the Bride of Christ, and no matter how you see her, God has decided to use her to be the human touchpoint in this life. And second, you need to be able to hear the heart and intention behind Francis Chan’s writing. He loves Jesus and is sincerely working to call the church up, not out. He takes responsibility for being part of the problem more than once and calls us to humbly seek God to make critical changes to see a revival in America! He is hopeful and so am I!
Francis Chan, Letters to the Church, (Colorado, David C. Cook, 2018), 89.