Francis Chan made headlines last year when he announced he was stepping down from leadership of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, Calif., to follow God's calling to do something new for Him. Here, the bestselling author of Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God and Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit explains the radical love that guides his faith and ministry.
Francis, you began your book, Crazy Love, by saying that something is wrong with the American church. Do you think American church members agree with you?
At first I thought it was just me. Then I stood before twenty thousand Christian college students and asked, “How many of you have read the New Testament and wondered if we in the Church are missing it?” When almost every hand went up, I felt comforted. At least I’m not crazy.
I think it’s far too easy to blame the American church without acknowledging that we are each part of the church and therefore responsible. But I think we all feel deeply, even if we haven’t voiced it, that the church in many ways is not doing well.
I get nervous when I think of how we’ve missed who we are supposed to be, and sad when I think about how we’re missing out on all that God wants for the people He loved enough to die for.
So how do you recommend that we begin to address the church’s problems?
We need to stop giving people excuses not to believe in God. You’ve probably heard the expression “I believe in God, just not organized religion.” I don’t think people would say that if the church truly lived like we are called to. The expression would change to “I can’t deny what the church does, but I don’t believe in their God.” At least then they’d address their rejection of God rather than use the church as a scapegoat.
We must begin by looking at how the Bible calls us to live our lives. It is important that we not measure our spiritual health by the people around us, who are pretty much like us. To begin this journey, we must first address our inaccurate view of God and, consequently, of ourselves.
But before we look at what is wrong and address it, we need to understand something. The core problem isn’t the fact that we’re half-hearted Christians. The crux of it all is why we are this way, and it is because we have an inaccurate view of God. We see Him as a benevolent Being who is satisfied when people manage to fit Him into their lives in some small way. We forget that God never had an identity crisis. He knows that He’s great and deserves to be the center of our lives.
So the change begins with an understanding of who God is?
Yes, that is square one. The very fact that a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, fair, and just God loves you and me should be nothing short of astonishing.
The wildest part is that Jesus doesn’t have to love us. His being is utterly complete and perfect, apart from humanity. He doesn’t need me or you. Yet He wants us, chooses us, even considers us His inheritance (Ephesians 1:18). The greatest knowledge we can ever have is knowing we’re treasured by God.
That really is astounding beyond description. The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time. He treasures us and anticipates our departure from this earth to be with Him—and we wonder, indifferently, how much we have to do for Him to get by.
Our love for Him always comes out of His love for us. Do you love this God who is everything, or do you just love everything He gives you? Do you really know and believe that God loves you, individually and personally and intimately?
If we truly grasp the implications of the “crazy love” our God has for us, we would live life differently.
Cornerstone focuses an unusual amount of its resources on giving: to the poor, to the needy, to the outcast. Is this one of your church’s responses to God’s “crazy love”?
Absolutely. If one hundred people represented the world’s population, fifty-three of those would live on less than $2 a day. Do you realize that if you make $4000 a month, you automatically make one hundred times the average person on this planet?
Which is more messed up—that we have so much compared to everyone else, or that we don’t think we are rich? That on any given day we might flippantly call ourselves “broke” or “poor”? We are neither of those things. We are rich. Filthy rich.
God’s definition of what matters is pretty straightforward. He measures our lives by how we love. In our culture, even if a pastor doesn’t actually love people, he can still be considered successful as long as he is a gifted speaker, makes his congregation laugh, or prays for “all those poor, suffering people in the world” every Sunday.
But Paul writes that even if “I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2–3). Wow. Those are strong and unmistakable words. According to God, we are here to love. Not much else really matters.
So how do other churches, and church members, respond to God’s love in life-changing ways? How do they love God more?
The fact is, I need God to help me love God. And if I need His help to love Him, a perfect being, I definitely need His help to love other, fault-filled humans. Something mysterious, even supernatural must happen in order for genuine love for God to grow in our hearts. The Holy Spirit has to move in our lives.
It is a remarkable cycle: Our prayers for more love result in love, which naturally causes us to pray more, which results in more love…