Francis Chan, published by David C Cook 2018
The first thing to say about this book is that it has nothing to do with the letters to the churches in the Book of Revelation. If you have read any other Francis Chan books, you will be familiar with his style of writing that is deceptively simple and easy to read. Although there is clearly a depth and range of theological knowledge that undergirds the book, he avoids overly theological or academic language. Like all his books, it is aimed not merely at leaders and professionals, but at every church member. Whilst his writing style may be simple and easy to read, those who read it prayerfully will find themselves challenged, and perhaps with a new set of questions about their own relationship with God as well as the mission and structures of their churches.
Chan’s love of the Church and his pastoral concern for its well-being are evident throughout that book, so that even when he is being critical you always have the sense that this is a loving friend who truly wants to see your congregation flourish in building the kingdom of God. He is open about the mistakes that he has made in ministry and in fact the book opens with an explanation of why he left the mega church he had founded many years earlier. I suspect that this book expresses many of the questions and issues that led him to that decision to leave and begin again.
Each chapter focuses on a particular issue of contemporary church life that are foundational to what it means to be the Church, but that have become corrupted by things like the consumerist ethos of Western cultures and the idolatry of the self. In that regard Chan is echoing the critique of the Western Church that many theologians and missiologists have been making over the past 20 years, but he does so from a deep pastoral concern for the Church and from personal experience of leading a church.
One of the great strengths of the book is the way that Chan allows Scripture to speak throughout as, again and again, he directs his readers to reflect on what the Scriptures say. In doing so the reader is constantly confronted with the question “is this true of my life, my church?”
Church leaders and church members alike will find this a stimulating, encouraging and challenging read, but one that is always a call to action, Chan is clearly hoping that readers will seek God and respond to him in their local church context. With that in mind the final chapter may be the most important. Chan is acutely aware that church members may read this book and recognise their own church in his critique and angrily confront their church leadership demanding change. Although he advocates against that response he is realistic about human nature and so he closes his book really writing to leaders with advice on how to respond when that happens. For those wishing to explore the themes more deeply there is a small group study guide and accompanying video available.
Letters to the Church is an easy read, but it is also uncomfortable, unsettling and challenging and very worthwhile.