This past week I read a really fun novel titled, “Chasing Francis,” (2006, 2013) by Ian Morgan Cron, a speaker, counselor, and author of several books. A brief summary of the story is available at this link. “Chasing Francis” has endorsements from Mark Batterson, Eric Metaxas, Tony Campolo, Rachel Held Evans, as well as from several other folks. Mark Batterson stated: “Caution! Reading this book may cause spontaneous kindness, charity towards others, and a total overhaul of the way you think about what it means to be a follower of Christ.”
The book centers around a life changing journey taken by a pastor of a megachurch who has lost his faith, and finds it again in a most unlikely place. Here’s a sample taken from the beginning of the book on pp. 12-13:
These days, lots of people dismiss you when they discover you’re cut from evangelical cloth. Once you’ve been outed as a conservative Christian, they assume you’re a right-wing, self-satisfied fundamentalist with all the mental acuity of a houseplant. Every Christmas, my Uncle Bob greets me at the front door of my parents’ house, gripping a martini in one hand and a fat Cuban cigar in the other. He slaps me on the back and yells, “Look who’s here! It’s Mr. EEEeyah-vangelical!” It’s disconcerting, but Bob’s an idiot and suffers from an impulse control disorder.
For many a year, the terms “New England” and “evangelical” have been considered mutually exclusive. My church history professor told me that Jonathan Edwards referred to New England as “the graveyard of preachers.” Baleful as that sounded, it didn’t dissuade me from heeding the call to head east after seminary. My three closest friends were incredulous when I told them about my decision to start a church in Thackeray, Connecticut, a bedroom community thirty-five miles from Wall Street.
“Have you lost your mind? Even God’s afraid of the Northeast,” they said.
I laughed. “It’s not so bad. I grew up there.”
“But you could probably get a job at a megachurch somewhere,” they argued.
Truth be told, I wasn’t interested in working for a church someone else had built. I wanted to be the pioneer who “broke the code” for the spiritually barren Northeast, heroically advancing the cause of Christ into the most gospel-resistant region of the country. As a native, I was certain I knew the cultural landscape well enough to reach the Ivy Leaguers whose homes lay discreetly hidden behind stone walls and wrought-iron gates. A little self-important, but there you have it.
And yet, I had delivered the goods. I’d built a church where, at last count, over three thousand people came to worship every Sunday–a Herculean feat in a part of the world that’s suspicious of things that are either big or new.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that Putnam Hill Community Church had been built on the appeal of my belief in a God who could be managed and explained. I’d held such an unshakable confidence in my conservative evangelical theology that even some of the more skeptical locals had been won over. After I’d put in years of seventy-hour work weeks, Putnam Hill had become a church brimming with young Wall Streeters and their families, many of whom had come because they were disappointed that happiness hadn’t come as optional equipment in their Lexus SUVs.
That world had detonated ten days ago. Gazing down on the terra-cotta roofs dotting the approaching Tuscan hills, I found myself on a forced leave of absence, and chances were good that when I returned home I would be out of a job… (pp. 12-13).
Does that whet your appetite for more? It did mine. . . .
I am more of a nonfiction reader, so I don’t often pick up a novel. However, the title of this book caught my eye, and when I turned to the opening page and read the following sentence–“Once you’ve been outed as a conservative Christian, they assume you’re a right-wing, self-satisfied fundamentalist with all the mental acuity of a houseplant”— I knew I had to read it. “Outed” is a term that is usually used in describing other types of lifestyles, but the truth is (and since we are chasing truth in this blog post) that Christians now fall under that same category of being “outed” as if there is something wrong with being a conservative Christian nowadays in America. Within the general mix of our population, conservative Christians (when outside of their Christian circles and communities) are often viewed as being on the same playing field as houseplants, and everybody has an “Uncle Bob” type in their family tree (e.g., one who is forever poking fun at “those Christians” and other assorted folks they don’t like in whatever specific category they like to attack).
It’s true that I am a conservative Christian, so I guess I have been “outed.” It’s not like I’m trying to hide it but I also don’t talk about it much (except, of course, on my blog) as I’ve never been one to tell anyone how they should live their lives (after all, this is America where “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is available to all without assorted mocking and condescending attitudes coming from those who disagree). It’s a conundrum, really. All those folks who talk about being so “tolerant” but who aren’t very tolerant of others at all who disagree with them. However, I don’t want to get diverted from the topic at hand–which is chasing truth.
To a postmodern (which is how many of us think and live today) truth is relative. Actually, it’s anything we want it to be based on our feelings or emotions at any given moment–not based on facts, but on feelings. However, if one is an airplane pilot and operating a plane by his or her “feelings” instead of the instrument panel in front of them, s/he could very well crash the plane. And who wants a surgeon operating on them using his or her feelings instead of skill? Yet, too often we run our lives on our emotions without considering the actual facts involved in any situation. And running on feelings can get one killed (road rage and riots immediately come to mind). And just turn on TV and watch any sitcom or movie and notice just how much feelings and emotions rule and dictate the outcome.
However, back to the story of “Chasing Francis.” The main character, Pastor Chase Falson, “has lost his faith in God, the Bible, evangelical Christianity, and his super-sized megachurch. When he falls apart, the church elders tell him to go away: as far away as possible.” Falson’s journey takes him “to Italy where, with a curious group of Franciscan friars, he struggles to resolve his crisis of faith by retracing the footsteps of Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), a saint whose simple way of loving Jesus [and others] changed the history of the world” back in the thirteenth century (Quote source: back cover).
Volumes have been written on Francis of Assisi, but perhaps a brief description of Francis found on ChristianityToday.com gives those of us unfamiliar with Francis a little taste of who he was:
It is difficult to think clearly about Francis of Assisi. The first thing that comes to mind is the gentle saint who preached to birds, tamed wolves, and padded about in flower-filled fields basking in the love of God. But it’s also difficult to imagine how such a benign figure could turn thirteenth-century Europe upside down.
In fact, Francis was a complex figure, a man who contemporaries claimed lived out the Sermon on the Mount better than anyone else, except of course, the man who first preached it. If that’s even close to the truth, it’s a bit easier to see why he left such an impression on his age and every age since. (Quote source here.)
That brief description is a bit too brief to do justice to the man named Francis found in “Chasing Francis,” in which the experiences of Chase Falson during his time in Italy chasing Francis really must be read to be appreciated. The book is quite moving and the author has a delightful sense of humor that shows up throughout the book. On the inside front cover of the book is the following statement:
When his elders tell him to take some time away from his church, broken pastor Chase Falson crosses the Atlantic to Italy to visit his uncle, a Franciscan priest. There he is introduced to the revolutionary teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and find an old, but new way of following Jesus that heals and transpires.
Chase Falson’s spiritual discontent mirrors the feelings of a growing number of Christians who walk out of church asking, “Is this all there is?” They are weary of celebrity pastors, empty calorie teaching, and worship services where the emphasis is more on “Lights, Camera, Action” then on “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” while the deepest questions of life remain unaddressed in a meaningful way.
Bestselling author Ian Morgan Cron masterfully weaves lessons from the life of Saint Francis into the story of Chase Falson to explore the life of a saint who 800 years ago breathes new life into disillusioned Christians and a Church on the brink of collapse.
“Chasing Francis” is a hopeful and moving story with profound implications for those who yearn for a more vital relationship with God and the world. (Quote source: inside front cover.)
Increasingly, people are becoming disenchanted with the church at large (regardless of denomination or affiliation). In the book, “The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated” (2014) by James Emery White, founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; president of Serious Times, a ministry that explores the intersection of faith and culture and hosts this website, ChurchAndCulture.org which features his messages and blogs; ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president; and author of twenty books; Dr. White makes the following statement on pp. 172-173:
I know many, if not most, Christians have become disillusioned with the church. As Katie Galli [note: see her 2008 article titled, “Dear Disillusioned Generation,” in Christianity Today] once noted about her fellow twentysomethings, “We’re disillusioned about almost everything–government, war, the economy. . . . We’re especially disillusioned with the church. Somewhere between the Crusades, the Inquisition, and fundamentalists bombing abortion clinics, we lost our appetite for institutionalized Christianity.” I understand.
But it is an institution, and needs to be. And while “the church can indeed be bureaucratic, inefficient, and, at times, hopelessly outdated,” Galli wisely adds, “it has also given us a 2000-year legacy of saints and social reformers, and a rich liturgy and theology–the very gift twentysomethings need to grow into the full stature of Christ. But this is far from a generational challenge. Baby boomer Philip Yancey writes of his estrangement from the church, noting how the hypocrisy of the members and the cultural irrelevance of its experience kept him away for years. Why did he return? Christianity is not a purely intellectual, internal faith. It can only be lived in community.
Ironically, the real dilemma facing the church is not the church itself but the staggering power of the biblical vision for the church. Christ’s dream for the church is so strong, so compelling, so vibrant that the pale manifestations on the corner of Elm and Vine can breed disdain. As Sarah Cunningham writes, “I have been and continue to be frustrated when Christian religious systems seem to fall short of the community God intended his followers to experience. However, my belief in the ideal of the church–in God’s design for those who align themselves with him–is uncompromised.” But the telling statement comes later when she owns the rampant idealism that pervades her generation’s approach to life: “It’s no surprise, then, that twentysomethings tend to apply these same idealistic ideas to a search for the perfect church. When we don’t find perfection, we can start to get a bit antsy.
Any ideal can act in one of two ways: (1) it can drive you toward its fulfillment, or (2) it can drive you away from its pursuit entirely in disappointment. Sadly, many are choosing to leave the vision in disappointment. They remain loyal to the idea of church but not its practice, citing the chasm between the vision and the reality as their rationale. But this is precisely what must not happen. (Quote source: “The Rise of the Nones,” pp. 172-173).
The tendency to hide behind “idealism” isn’t just a twentysomething phenomenon. It’s easily used by any generation as a cop-out and an excuse to live life on one’s own terms. The Church that Jesus Christ built (as imperfect as it is as we are all human) will always be around no matter how we rationalize our dissatisfaction with it. When we reduce Jesus Christ to an institution and not a Person who’s very Spirit has been promised to us who are his followers (see John 14:23-27) to guide and direct us and his Church, we have missed the point of what the Church is supposed to be all about–loving God and loving others.
In John 14:6 Jesus stated, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father [God] except through me.” And John 3:16-18 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
And that’s truth . . .
And it requires faith . . .
To believe . . . .
YouTube Video: “Made to Love” by TobyMac: