“Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit”
Francis Chan has been a shadowy hero of mine ever since I read Crazy Love for a Bible study, using his short video introductions as a guide for our discussions. Last I heard, he’d given up the vast majority of his wealth, belongings, and royalties for the sake of foreign missions work. If this is true, then here is a man who has earned the respect of his readership, not because he sacrificed so much and gave his life to the Lord so fully (though those are super-admirable qualities), but because he—like the Apostle Paul—has practiced what he preached. He’s no arrogant scholar unwilling to get his tweed suit besmirched, but rather a sold-out man of God putting his money where his mouth is or, as pertains to this book, putting his family’s putty-like lives in the hands of the Master. This short review will consider: Chan’s purpose in writing Forgotten God, his targeted areas of failure in the modern Western Church, his hopes for the lessons contained in the book, one slight criticism of the subject matter, and finally one personal application I’ve made with the information that he delivers.
Forgotten God follows in the frank footsteps of Crazy Love, casting doubts upon the spiritual validity of today’s American church-goers, this time not because they’ve lost their First Love, but because they’ve all but ignored the Third Member of the Triune Godhead. Chan’s castigation of modern church culture seems less a joy to deliver than it is a necessity, and he states as much early on in the book: “The fact is, I don’t have the ‘right’ to write this book, but I believe it is a book that needs to be written, so I have written it, trusting that God will use it for His glory.” (p.11) In his “Afterword,” Chan seems to hint at another true motivation for writing Forgotten God: that so many of his friends had misinterpreted the Spirit’s leading in his life to give much his wealth to the Isaiah 58 charity group, insisting instead that he should save the money for something more important, like a 401k. He states:
- What I am saying, though, is that instead of thinking and telling people they are crazy when they feel like the Spirit is leading them into something that doesn’t necessarily make sense to us, we should join them in the discernment process. Instead of discouraging people, we should pray for more insight and boldness. Instead of deadening people to the Spirit’s leading with our words and our actions, we should celebrate and join the Spirit’s movement in and through them! (105)
Chan targets several key weak-points regarding the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in Western Christianity today, though I’d like to only note three. First, he attacks the disease of blind faith, where too many “believers” believe what they believe simply because their “beliefs” tell them to believe such things:
- Most of us assume that what we believe is right (of course we do—it is why we believe what we believe) but have never really studied for ourselves. We were simply told, “This is the way it is,” and didn’t question. The problem is much of what we believe is often based more on comfort or our culture’s tradition than on the Bible. (17)
Secondly, he goes after the concept of comfort, in that most believers in the West are too comfortable in life to ever need The Comforter:
- Why would we need to experience the Comforter if our lives are already comfortable? It is those who put their lives at risk and suffer for the gospel (Phil. 1:29) who will most often experience His being “with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20 NASB). Though this verse is true for all believers (of course God is always with us), if we are never alone or feeling like we need Him, how much do we care or need to know that God is with us? (67)
Finally, Chan targets the disease of self-righteousness in modern Christianity in the West:
- You don’t need the Holy Spirit if you are merely seeking to live a semi-moral life and attend church regularly. You can find people of all sorts in many religions doing that quite nicely without Him. You only need the Holy Spirit’s guidance and help if you truly want to follow the Way of Jesus Christ. You only need Him if you desire to ‘obey everything’ He commanded and to teach others to do the same (Matt. 28:18–20 NIV). (77)
Contrasting his antagonism towards the Western church’s apathy regarding the Holy Spirit of the Bible, Chan offers a number of hopes for how he and the church can reverse this terminal trend. For instance, he attacks the common Christian tactic of hanging on to the shreds of distant memories with the Spirit rather than mutually forging new monuments of His work in the here and now: “By keeping in step with the Spirit, we might regularly fellowship over what He’s doing rather than what He did months or years ago.” (p.12) Likewise, he himself commits to such a drastic change of mind by stating:
- I refuse to live the remainder of my life where I am right now, stagnating at this point. Don’t get me wrong: God has already done so much in my life, and I am grateful for it. I’m just convinced there’s more. There’s more of the Spirit and more of God than any of us is experiencing. I want to go there—not just intellectually, but in life, with everything that I am. (p.13)
While Chan’s purpose for writing is certainly to emphasize the purpose and work of the Holy Spirit, it does seem—for applicability’s purposes at least—to always fall back upon the “what about me?” To highlight just a few examples (while, admittedly, I completely ignore his chapter on “Theology of the Holy Spirit 101”), I submit the following statements which are ostensibly about the Holy Spirit Himself, yet ring so loudly about ME-ME-ME:
- When discussing the life and changes of a caterpillar: What happened to its dirty, plump little worm body? What does it think when it sees its tiny new body and gorgeous wings? As believers, we ought to experience this same kind of astonishment when the Holy Spirit enters our bodies. We should be stunned in disbelief over becoming a “new creation” with the Spirit living in us. (24)
- One of the greatest aspects of being in relationship with the Holy Spirit is the intimacy, security, and encouragement He brings us. It is then we can serve God as a beloved child rather than a stressed-out, guilt-ridden slave. A study through Galatians helped me discover and destroy the strongholds of earning and insecurity. And it was while preaching the book of Galatians that I learned to enjoy being “known” by God. (65)
- I don’t want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit. I want people to look at my life and know that I couldn’t be doing this by my own power. I want to live in such a way that I am desperate for Him to come through. That if He doesn’t come through, I am screwed. (I probably shouldn’t write that word here, but it’s how I truly feel about this.) (89)
Regarding this last comment, I must point out that I had just been discussing this same issue with my wife as I read this chapter from Chan: I am a pretty smart and talented guy. Give me an hour of research and I can pull off a pretty convincingly authoritative presentation on any subject, mixing my research with personal experience and basic knowledge I’ve earned over the years. Yet what good is my knowledge if it is based only upon the innate abilities and creativity God has given me (or, worse, my own efforts) and not based upon the work of the Holy Spirit in my life? It’s completely useless in the grand scheme of things! So while Chan’s arguments come from a “ME-ME-ME” orientation, I can’t argue with it, for after all it is “ME” who is reading the book, and it is “ME” who has to change.
I am happy to say that over the past few months, I have met several people who have “just known” me to be a believer after talking with me for a few minutes, people who had actually verbalized as much to me. This is comforting, because in each instance, I know that I’d not purposefully attempted to impress them with my Christianity—I had simply lived and spoken with a joy of the Lord coming naturally from within. Looking back, I know that this is the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, and I’m encouraged to know that such “fruit” (joy, peace, gentleness, goodness) is evident in my life simply because of Who lives inside me. This in no way says that I’m perfect, of course, and Chan’s book also worked to convict me in areas where I need the most work. For example, he writes: “As you look around at your brothers and sisters, do you think to yourself, ‘I love these people so much. I pray God empowers me in some way to encourage these people toward a deeper walk with Him’?” (p.53) I had to answer negatively to this query, because too often I find myself thinking about myself, and not nearly enough about those around me! To follow Jesus’ humble love (exemplified in John 13 as He washed His student’s nasty, sweaty feet), I ought to think far less about “ME” so that I’ve got the time and energy to even see (let alone care about) the needs of those I ought to be loving. Being in constant communion with the Holy Spirit as Chan teaches is the only way to ensure that I can live so selflessly on a regular basis. After reading Forgotten God, I know that such is now my prayer.