I’m going to get in trouble for this one. I know it. And I’m OK with it. You don’t question someone like Francis Chan and not get some fallout from it.
Yesterday, I saw someone…everyone on facebook post a CNN article about Chan. In the article he explains why he quit his job as a seemingly “successful’ and famous pastor in California to move his family to Asia. This is not what I want to take issue with. But he made a statement in this article that bothered me as a pastor and as a believer.
Now, let me say that it is possible he was taken out of context. It was CNN, who is not known for being the height of integrity in reporting. But since there are a number of people who will be tweeting this quote and using it as their spiritual facebook status du jour, I think it is worth engaging.
The article says:
If we were to meet God in person, Chan said, “I think the first thing He would say is you don’t take me seriously. You have no idea how to fear me.”
Immediately, I recoiled when I heard this. And the more I’ve thought it over, the more wrong I think it is. In fact I would call it damaging.
Now, here is not what I am saying. I am not saying we should not be concerned about taking God seriously or that we should not fear God in a biblically appropriate way. What I am questioning is this – Do we really believe this is what he would and will first say to the redeemed? Will his first words be scolding ones?
Think about the implications of this. We, who have placed all our hope in the work of Jesus because we have not and indeed cannot fear God and take him as serious as we ought so that we will be loved by God, will not – according to Chan – hear words of loving acceptance but words detailing our faults in these areas. Our hope is not in Christ’s work on the cross but in our abilities to take him serious enough. And what is serious enough? Is perfection of seriousness what is desired so as to not hear these words.
The fact is we could substitute our lack of seriousness with any number of sins: lack of generosity, lack of chastity, lack of kindness, lack of love, lack of honesty, lack of parental love and care, etc. All of these are true of all of us everywhere. We could expect any of these evaluations because we are guilty of them all.
Now, I did start to think. And I thought, “Maybe we would not hear such condemning – though truthful – words when we enter heaven. But What about now? You know, now – while we are still dealing with sin and all the lack of seriousness with which we take God? Would God’s words for us be scolding words?
But then I thought some more. Does this mean that he stands over us scolding and condemning now? Would this mean we cannot with Paul tell other Christians, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”? Can we preach this to ourselves?
Can we be assured of his love at all times – even in the midst of our sins? Even in the midst of not taking him seriously? Even in the midst of not fearing him as we should? Even in the midst of all the sin that courses through us day after day? Or when we lay our head on our pillow at night is our only hope for this life and the next our ability to say, “I took God seriously today!”?
Or can we agree with Chan and say, “You are right. I have not taken God as serious as I ought. In fact, I am worse off than even I know. Thankfully, I cannot even see the depth of my sin. But also thankfully, I am not accepted by God based on my ability to be serious about him perfectly or at all. I accepted based on nothing I have done but by what God has done on my behalf. I am defined now by my trust in what Christ has done for me. Not by what I have or have not done.”
This is why it is called “good news.” And that is why the gospel is scandalous. The scandal is not that Christians don’t take God seriously. The scandal is that God loves us despite it, going so far as to die for those who do not take him seriously and loving them forevermore even though they still often show a lack of seriousness about him. That is the scandal.
Chan and I both have the same desire – that God be taken seriously. But I am convinced that the only way we take him seriously is by relentlessly laying before our people (and CNN reporters) the wonder of the cross and the grace we find there. For that is where we find our hope. Our hope is not in our seriousness or our fear of God. We will always fall short in that area. Actually, you know what the picture of seriousness is? It is childlike faith in the unthinkable gracious and merciful love of a Father who runs out to meet his child and showers him with acceptance. Not scolding but joyful, celebrating acceptance.
While I think I understand your point, I tend to agree with Chan, only I think he might not have expressed it strongly enough.Judgment day is the first day of our true eternity. And what will happen on that day? EVERY knee will bow before God. It is that day that we will see the full extent of the seriousness and holiness of God, and it will not be pretty. I believe that on that day I will be sorry for all I have done wrong and all I haven't done right, even though I am washed in the blood of Christ.I don't believe that God stands over us now and scolds and condemns, but I do believe he scolds. The Bible is full of scolding, both for the believer and the non-believer. And after the scolding, the fear, the sorrow, the embrace that God will give us because of His Son will be that much sweeter, won't it?
Just because it is the first word that doesn't imply either:> it is the most important word; or> it is the last word; or> it is the best representation of God's heart towards us.I think you may be coming to Chan's comment with the assumption that one or more of the above is true, but that need not be the case. I would argue that the LAST Word of God to sinners is the most important and best reflection of his heart (or better in Luther's terminology: reproof is God's 'alien' word and forgiveness his 'proper' word).You ask what God thinks ‘now’ and I would say that we stand both with a foot in the present evil age and the age to come and so he says BOTH his first and last word to us in the present. The fact he has reproof for us does not exclude the word of love at the same time.I would argue that reproof would be God's first word, but only SO THAT he can follow up with the words of forgiveness in the Gospel. Classic Lutheran law->Gospel dynamic I would argue.Two verses that I 'coincidentally' read today that came to mind were Gal 3:22 and Prov 3:12:"But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.""the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights."
PS I actually love your last three paragraphs. I think that as a motivation to good works fear of God's rebuke should not be what is driving us to Asia – it should be joy in acceptance. Chan could be stronger on that, although I think in Crazy Love (which I haven't finished) he is.PPS only been reading your blog for a short time. I'm enjoying its freshness.
Matt,I was thinking exactly the same thing when I read the CNN article. Guys like Chan/Washer/MacArthur all have this so "serious faith" which never really reveals the love of God. If we lack seriousness about God then that sin is covered by Christ's blood & righteousness. God loves His glory, and this glory is revealed in His loving us.
Did you really say that a serious faith does not reveal the love of God? Wow! Just wow.
Hey Matt,I just recently stumbled across your blog. I saw all the links to the CNN article too, and thought almost exactly the same thing as you. Well said.Merry Christmas!
LOVED this point of view. I agree with you.Jesus saw the prostitute and He first had compassion for her. I think His whole ministry was led by compassion first, and some scolding, too. I am 52. I have learned that the more I learn about the LOVE of Christ the more serious I become in my own adventure to pursue Him more with my heart. I don't think any theologian knows for sure what Jesus will do when we first see His face,but knowing me like only He does, He knows my heart. He knows Chan's heart. He knows Matt's heart. He knows. And that is sufficent for me. Wow is right,
excellent takes Matt, I think Chan really missed it there. I also enjoyed Practice Your Unrighteousness a ton. Good to run across your blog, used to read your updates on Facebook a bit. Keep your eyes on Jesus, I'm confident his are on you. Continued blessings the new year.