I am like a barista who cannot drink another latte. I feel like an author who cannot write because she no longer likes words. I feel like I am taking crazy pills. Why do I feel like this? Of what am I sick and tired? I cannot bear to endure the written words of another popular, well-to-do mega-church pastor. Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Joel Osteen, Greg Boyd, I do not care who it is. I never want to see it ever again. It is like listening to a biologist talk about how biology should not be taught in schools. It is like watching an actor say to a reporter that movies need to end. Moreover, they are some of the cleverest marketers to ever walk the face of the earth, and I can no longer stand to see them ply their trade throughout the land.
My furious anger against these crooks recently rekindled while browsing at one of my housemate’s books titled Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless G-d by Francis Chan. I saw this book hundreds of times on the shelves of SPU students. I never looked closely at it. It appeared to me as though it carried another heart-felt, Chicken soup style message with a strong cultural relevance just like Blue Like Jazz or Velvet Elvis. As it sat on my coffee table, I nonchalantly reached over and snagged it. On the cover is a hip design of a rudimentary up-arrow next to an asymmetrically drawn down-arrow. Only the book’s subtitle graces the cover, and it comes at the bottom right-hand corner right above the author’s (and co-author’s?) name. Chris Tomlin, the well-known worship artist, got a credit underneath the author(s) for writing the foreword. If you know me, you know that by the time I finished looking at the cover I was disgusted and annoyed. I decided to at least see what the book had to say; so I flipped it over and read the back cover. Its contents were less than surprising.
Right at the top, in big bold letters, the cover reads, “G-D IS LOVE. CRAZY, RELENTLESS, ALL-POWERFUL LOVE”. Ugh! I find it tragically obnoxious that someone finds it necessary to write this down in a book. The statement, “G-d is love” lies somewhere in a voluminous library of a book called the Bible (I doubt most people who read this book know where in the Bible). The truth of this statement resides in the call 1 John (that is the place where “G-d is love” is) makes of Christians which is loving community. This phrase, 1 John reassures us, means nothing outside community. Does community exist anywhere as important on the back cover? No, it does not, and I am a stickler for proper biblical interpretation. Strike two for this guy.
His sub-phrase kills me. “Crazy, relentless, all-powerful love” sounds psychopathic. I know it is supposed to convey some kind of amazing feeling of a loving G-d, but why? Why does he want to convey this message? I believe the answer to this is nothing less than self-righteous and pathetic.
The first line beneath the back-cover’s titles packs a punch, “Have you ever wondered if we’re missing it?” The picture of the author at the pulpit and the dialogical style of writing make one feel as though he is asking you personally. The large letters above implicate that his thesis involves convincing the readers that once they understand G-d’s psychopathic love then they will no longer be “missing” it. Of course, whatever this “it” is never receives mention. “It” could literally be anything. Another one line paragraph then enumerates what is going on with “it”. Apparently, “it” has gone wrong or at least “something” has.
These words were carefully chosen and cleverly designed. They paint a general picture of broad dissatisfaction and present an even vaguer answer to the problem. Any issue in one’s life can be cut and paste into the problem. “Yes, something is wrong. I feel like I have been missing it.” The back-cover proceeds to muse about finding a meaningful, authentic faith. This hope for an authentic faith directly contrasts with the implied inauthentic faith listed as going to church, singing songs, and trying not to cuss as the typical response to the “G-d of the universe—the Creator of nitrogen and pine needles, galaxies and E minor”. Clearly, this author believes church-going and worship services are completely useless. They do not foster relationship with G-d. True relationship with G-d comes from a “faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions”. The only way possible for something as monumental as a radical, grounded, transcendent faith is to fall madly in love with G-d. This will solve what is “wrong”. No longer will you miss “it”. Essentially, Chan promises an answer to every problem.
So, if you have been following me so far, here is the back-cover in a nutshell: G-d is love; something is wrong; church is not the answer; church is status quo faith; falling in love with G-d is the solution; and falling in love with G-d will change you into a person with radical, tangible ideas for solving the problems of the world.
Great! Sign me up! I’ll fall in love with G-d! Please, just tell me how…wait a second. I call bull shit. Fall madly in love with G-d? That sounds like what my Sunday School teachers told me. Create an authentic faith? I am sure I have heard that sermon before.
“I am sorry Francis, where did you say you work again?”
“Me? Oh, I didn’t. I work at a mega-church I planted in California. I also founded a Bible College, and I sit on the board of some organizations. I have a family, too.”
“Oh, that makes sense. I mean, what pastor doesn’t think church isn’t the answer to…wait, what?!”
At this moment, I grew sick to my stomach. I held some suspicions, and the “About the Author” confirmed them. Francis Chan is no radical. He merely represents another spoke in the wheel of the system that convinces people they are outside the system. In Naomi Klein’s No Logo, she discusses how our generation loves ironic marketing. Ironic marketing involves the product being sold portrayed in a negative light with some form of humor attached. Take for example the Old Spice commercials in which a man is seen showering. As the camera pulls back, he turns out to be a centaur (half person, half horse). A beautiful woman then comes to him and makes a funny comment. Now, no one is a centaur, and certainly, a woman would never be a centaur’s partner. The whole thought of the commercial is extremely creepy. Who would buy something that advertises itself via bestiality? Nevertheless, it is exactly the type of advertising that dominates today’s marketing campaigns, and Crazy Love uses the the same ploy.
Chan leads the reader on to believe that his solution is something other than going to church. On the contrary, he himself pastors a church. He sits on the board of directors of an urban church-planting organization, World Impact. His church alone has planted nine different churches in six different states. He derides people’s response to G-d as church-going, but he enables them at every turn. It is ironic advertising. It is akin to the new Microsoft cell phone commercials. These commercials chastise people who never stop using their smart phones. It posits at the commercial’s end that the new Microsoft phone will solve the problem. Chan’s advice does the same. He plays on a common frustration: church fulfills very little spiritual needs and does an extremely poor job of addressing critical issues occurring in the world. His solution claims the end of church, but it also demands going to church. Of course, falling in love with G-d only happens in the places where they are talking about G-d. Naturally, church is where one would go to did this falling in love.
More importantly, let us tease out the logic of his vocation and his book. First, it marks the general dissatisfaction of its readers. It then proposes a solution. This solution excludes the others who are a part of the problem: the churches who fail us. Francis Chan has your answers, and you can find them at: his church, in his book, through his sermons, or at one of his church plants. In the end, whether he intended it or not, his book is a shameless self-promotion. It grants him the answers, and the answer is just vague enough to get someone to want more.
On a broader basis, I cannot deal with this kind of ludicrous production. These pastors grow into small celebrities then publish some kind of book based on poor bible scholarship and brand marketing. The content of these books is relentless and redundant. They dislocate their readers (who are typically youth and young adults) by telling them they need to disengage from their communities, find some hip, up-and-coming church, and congratulate themselves on a job well done. Furthermore, they do not actually call into question a sick society. They propagate an ethnocentric ideology that locates the world’s problems as everywhere outside the confines of middle-class suburbia. Suburbia represents the ideal way of being, and the urban, the rural poor, and those living in Majority World countries (poor countries that make up a majority of the economic world) need to enter into the new earth that is little boxes on the hillside and massive quantities of Prozac. When a mega-church pastor calls for the dissolution of nation-states, the micro-organization of churches, the end of capitalism, and Jesus as a social and political revolutionary who stood up against an empire completely analogous to today’s United States, then I will pay a little attention. Until then, I am tired of these crooks and their books. I am sick and tired of listening to their sermons. And I only pray that I never become like one of them.