How Francis Chan Helped Me Become Catholic

Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love was basically a life-changing book for me. He challenged me in a powerful way to really live out the Christian life as though it is true (because we believe that it is, right?). Jesus really died for us, and this should be life-changing knowledge. If we are to truly follow Jesus, then eternity really matters more than enjoying this life. The all-powerful Creator loves us so much, and our love for Him and others should reflect this knowledge. But I read Crazy Love at a crazy time in my spiritual life, and as excited as I was to live the life that Francis described, he left me with more questions than answers. Eventually, further down the road, I found the answers in the Catholic Church.

Francis Chan motivated me in 3 overall ways that ultimately helped lead me to the Catholic Church (for which I am honestly grateful to him). I will briefly cover them in this post.

Christianity Takes Courage

“Jesus’s call to commitment is clear: He wants all or nothing. The thought of a person calling himself a ‘Christian’ without being a devoted follower of Christ is absurd.”-Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 85

Courage is an essential aspect of Christianity. Sacrificing, loving, and living with a reckless reliance upon God should be a normal aspect of life as a Christian. If you’re in your comfort zone, then you might not be on the right track. Obeying Christ in everything is not optional for Christians, even if it involves being poor so that others might have enough, or being ridiculed by people who don’t understand, or even giving your life for the faith.

Thanks in part to Francis Chan (and Dietrich Bonhoeffer), I really began to see how a true pursuit of the Christian life will naturally meet with opposition and hardship.

Jesus said,

“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” -Matthew 10:37-39

I wanted to take my motivation to live a real Christian life and use it to serve God with all my heart. But what would that look like? What sort of things should I be doing to live courageously for God every day? I had it in my mind that no cost was too great, but I wanted my service to be God’s will, and not just my own ideas… so I needed direction.

“Should you put your house on the market today and downsize? Maybe. Should you quit your job? Maybe. Or perhaps God wants you to work harder at your job and be His witness there. Does He want you to move to another city or another country? Maybe. Perhaps He wants you to stay put and open your eyes to the needs of your neighbors. Honestly, it’s hard enough for me to discern how to live my own life!” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 166

I began to get frustrated. How are Christians supposed to be living? Does anyone know?

“…I cannot say in this book, ‘Everyone is supposed to be a missionary’ or ‘You need to sell your car and start taking public transportation.’ What I can say is that you must learn to listen to and obey God, especially in a society where it’s easy and expected to do what is most comfortable.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 168

I must learn to listen to God …how? Partially thanks to this book, I began to ponder what this really means. It didn’t help when I stepped back and began to see that there are thousands of denominations of Protestant churches with different ideas of what God is saying to us. I believe I did indeed learn how to listen to God enough for him to guide me to the Catholic Church, where people are not figuring out from scratch what it means to live a Christian life.

Take the Bible Seriously

Francis Chan had a great way of explaining how real Christians must study the Scriptures in a direct and painfully honest way, not allowing our preferences to explain the meaning. This means not skimming over verses that we don’t understand or don’t like. Courage must be applied when reading the Bible. I began to realize, however, that direction can not only be obtained from reading the Bible, but must also be obtained for reading the Bible.

Understanding and obeying instructions from the Bible is essential, but for the Protestant, this is subject to personal interpretation. Chan’s conclusion seems to be that the more extreme you are in your interpretation, the more likely you are to be correct.

Reading the Bible honestly is not enough. You must have it explained (Acts 8:30-31), or you will end up extremely frustrated (if you’re honest). The question is: who do you trust to explain it, especially when there are thousands of differing opinions? If you’re going out onto the mission field, you need to have concrete answers to people’s theological questions, not just your opinions about what you think the Bible means. I don’t assume that Francis Chan’s book was intended for deep theological instruction, but it would be nice to know that someone has straight answers.

“Pray. Then read the Bible for yourself. Put this book down and pick up your Bible. My prayer for you is that you’ll understand the Scriptures not as I see them, but as God intends them. I do not want true believers to doubt their salvation as they read this book. In the midst of our failed attempts at loving Jesus, His grace covers us.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 87

How do we know we’re true believers? What does that mean?

One of Francis Chan’s motivating verses became the biggest example of my frustration:

“So then, none of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” –Luke 14:33 (NASB)

I have long believed that truth is not relative. I knew that it was up to me to discover what Jesus meant, and that I did not have the liberty to decide for myself what He meant. I wanted to be a real disciple even if everyone else was making excuses not to be, but what did Jesus mean when He said things like He did in that verse? How was I to understand it? Did anyone have definitive explanations?

I found that we don’t need a fresh look at the Bible. We need an infallible interpretation of the Bible. Otherwise we’re all walking around following our hearts like Disney princesses… or going crazy trying to find the actual truth and never being sure if we’ve found it.

I came to the conclusion at the end of it all that the only thing that really makes sense is if God placed something exactly like the Catholic Church on the earth to be the infallible interpreter of Scripture for the whole world. Otherwise it’s basically just relativism, and I didn’t want to live a life of courage and sacrifice for a Christianity of my own making. If God fits into a box of my assumptions and preferences, then chances are I’m not serving the real God.

“Not being able to understand God is frustrating, but it is ridiculous for us to think we have the right to limit God to something we are capable of comprehending.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 33

We Have Work to Do

We’re here to love God and love other people. This means serving God on His terms, not our own, and serving others even at the expense of our own preferences and prosperity.

“So we can follow our own course while still calling ourselves followers of Christ? So we can join the Marines, so to speak, without having to do all the work?” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 85

“Lukewarm people say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives. But only a part. They give Him a section of their time, their money, and their thoughts, but He isn’t allowed to control their lives.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg 72

I knew that I wanted to offer my God-given strengths and abilities as part of the Body of Christ, His Church. I wanted to do whatever I could to help. But I was running into a similar problem that Francis Chan did…

“But I think we all feel deeply, even if we haven’t voiced it, that the church in many ways is not doing well.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 22

“…I quickly found that the American church is a difficult place to fit in if you want to live out New Testament Christianity.” –Crazy Love, 2nd ed. pg. 68

Thanks in part to Francis Chan, I could see that an Americanized Christianity was not original or likely to be correct, and fitting in too much can be an indicator that I wasn’t living the faith authentically. Yet I wanted to be giving my all as part of the Church. This was a quandary. All of the acceptable Protestant options that I tried seemed so inadequate if I wanted to be part of a biblical culture and a more ancient mindset.

I knew from experience that being on fire to make the necessary changes to a flawed system does not turn out well. Ideally, it would be better to find the system that isn’t flawed. And I was even open to the possibility that what might appear as flaws to me might actually be my own flawed criteria. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church (Matt. 16:18), so I knew the Church still exists, but I also knew that it could not simply be a general unity of agreement between Christians about basic doctrines, because I could see so many disagreements even on fundamental issues. I also was not content to sit back and announce that my preferred interpretation of Scripture and Christian beliefs is right while everyone else’s is wrong, thereby insisting that my location is the location of the Church, like many people seem willing to do.

Biblically, Christians must be part of the Body of Christ, His Church. But what does His Church look like? Around the time I read this book, I had a couple of experiences where I could see plainly that the Evangelical Protestant concept of Church authority is hollow. Without universal authority in spiritual matters, how can you be the Church in possession of the Truth? The instruction we see in Matthew 18:17 to “…tell it to the Church…” seems to require a singular, authoritative Church, but where could this Church be found? Jesus prayed earnestly for His followers as recorded in John 17: 20-23: “…that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know…”

Francis Chan was onto something, but he was only scratching the surface of a much bigger picture. Christians must be part of a globally united Church that possesses the authority and unity of Truth. Then they can effectively reach the world with the message of God’s crazy love.

The Catholic (“universal”) Church has been there all this time (going on 2,000 years). Many of us have just preferred to ignore it so that we can do our own thing. But what if Christians really had courage and a commitment to truth like Francis Chan is encouraging us to have? Then it’s no longer about doing our own thing, is it?

-Ben 6/6/14

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