Pastor Tim Challies recently wrote a review of Francis Chan’s new book, Letters to the Church. In his review Challiesargues that Chan, a former Cornerstone megachurch leader, makes many strong points, many of which are too “hyperbolic” about the state of the American Church.
Challies, who is a Reformed theologian and the pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, called Chan’s book into question in a review that came out on Wednesday, noting that he is concerned about the message the book is spreading.
“I am concerned about how often he overstates his case. Chan consistently states the problem and his solution with far too much force and far too little nuance. His book is packed full of hyperbolic statements about the woes of the American Church and the superiority of house church[es]. Some of these are uncharitable while others tip into the absurd,” he writes.
Challies then lists several quotes from Chan’s book that he felt fit the uncharitable or absurd bill. One of the quotes reads, “Gangs have a much stronger sense of what it means to be a family than we do in the Church.”
Another quote calls for the renewal and replacement of all Christian leaders saying, “The Church is in dire need of a fresh wave of godly leadership. I pray all existing leaders would be renewed or replaced.”
These claims cause Challies to question Chan’s failure to mention God’s grace in the book. Challies wrote, “I am concerned by his failure to identify God’s grace. The majority of Chan’s critiques are not sniper shots directed at one specific model of church but buckshot meant to hit every American church.”
“It would be easy to read his book and conclude that house churches are the only faithful churches left, the only ones that are really honoring God. This is conveyed by a consistently negative tone,” he added.
Challies then goes on to speculate if Chan wrote the book too soon after leaving his California church.
The Christian Post reports that Chan left Cornerstone Community Church in California five years ago to devote himself to church planning. Challies pondered over the five years that have passed since Chan left pastoring the Cornerstone church behind saying, “Every husband who has been married for five years is convinced he can write a great book about marriage and every mother who has a 5-year-old child is convinced she can write a great book about parenting, but wisdom and maturity soon show five years is only the barest beginning.”
Challies added, “I am not the least bit opposed to house churches, but in my estimation, it is far too soon to laud and recommend a model that is only just beginning. It will take many more years to expose and correct its inevitable weaknesses.”
Challies’ review was not all negative, however, he also had a list of praises for the author. Challie wrote, “I love that Chan has broadened his perspective from only the church in America and that he is deliberately applying lessons learned from believers around the world. There is so much we can and should learn from believers in other lands who are ministering in different contexts and perhaps reading the same Bible through a different lens.”
He continued, “We need the humility to learn from all our brothers and sisters. It is arrogant to assume the Western world is only ever meant to be the teacher rather than also the student.”
Challies also applauded Chan for “aptly diagnos[ing] some genuine concerns with the American Church, and especially the megachurch model that he himself once adhered to.”
“I love that Chan is concerned not just for the church as an institution but for individual believers. It breaks his heart that ‘there are millions of men and women who have been taught that they can become Christians and it will cost them nothing. And they believe it!’ He wants to see every Christian faithfully discipled, displaying Christian maturity, sharing the gospel, and planting new churches. And rightly so,” he added.
Challies concluded that the book had many positive messages, but offers Chan advice saying, the book “lacks the nuance and balance that could have made it much better.”
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