I read very few fiction books. But when I go on vacation, I tend to take at least one with me to stretch my thinking. The book I chose to take this year was Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. I wanted to read this book for two reasons. First, I really enjoy the writing style of Cron (THIS is another book I enjoyed). Second, the topic is intriguing to me.
Chasing Francis is a fictional tale about a pastor of a mega church in the New England area who lost his faith. He just couldn't believe that God would do some of the things He did. "Doing Church" became so commercialized that he felt there was no longer any relationship with God. In response, he was asked to leave by the leaders of his church and went on a pilgrimage to find himself and found God through the life of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy.
[Let me make one thing clear. This topic intrigues me not because I am about to lose my faith. But it interests me because I have had many conversations with pastors in the past and present who are struggling with their relationship with God. Pastoral ministry is such a dangerous profession.]
I was interested in this book . . . until I was a few chapters into the book. I understood the premise, that this pastor was going to interact with some of the teachings of Francis of Assisi, but what I didn't realize was that his life would end up becoming a weird combination of the emergent church meets Roman Catholicism. Truth was stripped of any meaning. This pastor could no longer be certain of what the Bible really means. Truth cannot be fully understood or known. I believe this book will do more harm for the cause of Christ than good. Even in making that statement, I assume Cron might put me on the same journey as this pastor, before meeting Francis.
And why does this pastor need to meet Francis in order to understand God? I get that God has given teachers to the church to help us understand truth. I certainly do not want to discount how those in church history have helped us on our path. There are many who certainly have helped me. But we do not need another mediator, we have Jesus.
The one thing I knew about St. Francis of Assisi going into this book was that he is often credited with the statement, "Preach the gospel and if necessary use words." He may or may not have said it, but after reading this book, it certainly sounds like something he would have said. In one of the many teaching moments of this book, Cron describes Francis in these terms:
"Francis was more than an entertaining street preacher. He didn't want to win people to faith through theological arguments or by reasoning with them. His way of evangelizing people was through the example of his own life. That's what gave his simple words so much gravity and impact. His life was his theology. He once said, 'It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.' He taught the friars that preach the good news was useless unless they were the good news. 'Preach as you go!' was one of his favorite sayings" (150).
I was greatly disappointed that the gospel message was not found in this book. This pastor found Jesus in the experience of Catholicism. Towards the end of his journey in Italy, he was deeply impacted as he took the Eucharist for the first time. I can just imagine what Martin Luther would be thinking if he were to read this book. He would probably be nailing a few more thesis to Cron's door.
While I still enjoy the writing style of Cron, this book just doesn't do it for me. It diminishes the fact that we can know for certain whether we are saved or not (1 John 5:13). And it blurs the lines between justification by faith or works. I just cannot get behind it at all.
I received a copy of Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron by Zondervan Publishers for review.