“Forgotten God” by Francis Chan (Book Review)

Francis Chan is a bit of an enigma.

He has garnered great “success” by all cultural Christian accounts by becoming a popular conference speaker, best-selling author, and planting and pastoring a thriving and growing church body. Yet last year he abruptly left it all to spend time chasing down the specific call of God on his life by prayer, fasting and traveling the world abroad. Most in Christianity have praised him for this, some of have been perturbed by this. Chan has most recently been drawn to San Francisco, though he’s being intentionally careful about any public ministry implications in the future.

Chan’s sophomore release to “Crazy Love” is “Forgotten God: Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.” The book reflects its author. It’s enigmatic. Warm. Winsome. Generous. Thoughtful. But in the end, enigmatic.

If you are expecting a thorough doctoral treatise on pneumatology, this shain’t it, and Chan admits as much (p. 18). If you want to know what end of the spectrum Chan falls in the Cessationist vs. Charismatic age old debate, again, he remains enigmatic. He does give some gentle rebukes to both extremes, and he keeps a pastoral humble attitude throughout when addressing issues in the modern movements (p. 53). According to Chan, he was “saved in Baptist Church, attended a charismatic bible study, went to a conservative seminary while working at seeker-sensitive churches, partnered with Pentecostal movements, and have spoken at wide variety of denominational conferences.” (p. 57)

More than anything this work is a practical guide to discovering the basic attributes of the person of the Holy Spirit and what massive lifestyle implications He brings to a person’s world. “The reality is that the early church knew less about the Holy Spirit than most of us in the church today, at least in the intellectual sense. But they came to know the Spirit intimately and powerfully as He worked in and through their lives.” (p. 36)

The most helpful and endearing portions of the book are the soul probing and provocative questions Fran challenges the reader with:

On the Holy Spirit’s unction:”If everyone gave and served and prayed exactly like you, would the church be healthy and empowered?” (p. 91)

The Spirit’s guidance to sacrifice:”Why would we need to experience the Comforter if our lives are already comfortable?” (p. 107)

The Intimacy with the Spirit:”Do you listen to the Holy Spirit as you stand in line at the Post Office?” (p.131)

The fruits of the Spirit:”Do you exhibit more kindness than the Mormons you know? Do you have more self-control than your Muslim friends?” (p. 146)

Consistently, throughout the work Chan encourages the reader to literally “put the book down” and pray, search the Scriptures and listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying personally right now (p. 110). Chan knows the limits of his own wisdom and ingenuity, and without the reader seeking a personal experience with the Holy Spirit his book will be another worthless clanging noise in the strange symphony of cultural Christian voices. I applaud him for that.

Though Chan briefly explores the theology (Ch. 3) and intimacy (Ch. 5) of the Holy Spirit, the central thrust of the book is this: the Holy Spirit has enabled us to live supernatural uncomfortable self sacrificial lives of love to others. As a result much of the book is not a revelation of the person of the Spirit Himself, but rather the sure affect the Spirit will have on the believer’s life. “The Spirit will lead you the way of the cross, as He led Jesus to the cross, and that is definitely not a safe or comfortable or pretty place to be.” (p. 50)

At the end of most of the chapters there are some anecdotal stories of saints who were gripped by the Holy Spirit and yielded to His call in sometimes ordinary, sometimes spectacular ways. The subjects range greatly from the common folk Chan admires in his own church, to the notable Christian philosopher, Francis Schaeffer. These concrete illustrations give living examples to the reader of what it means to live a surrendered Spirit filled life. It may be adopting needy children, being content with a physical malady, enduring severe persecution, or just opening your home to others.

Francis Chan has a readable writing style that is accessible for all walks of Christian life. You will be challenged, but not berated by his encouraging analysis of the church’s tragic “neglect.” Though I made it a weekly study for a group of guys, the book could be easily ingested by a weekend warrior. I recommend it.

Bryan Daniels

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A heart rending blog series about how a father grapples with his young son’s tragic death.

Psalm 115:3

Ten years ago tomorrow, Jonathan Matthew Peterson-Tajak died.  He was born July 24, 1982 in Petoskey, Michigan.  Over the next few days, I will be posting memories of what occurred on that day and days to follow, some immediately following, some quite a time after.

It is not easy writing these posts, but at the same time there is something, in some way, that is cathartic in doing so.  I am not writing to elicit sympathy.  I am writing about real events that happen in a real, fallen world that have real effects on real people and that also have theological and doctrinal implications.

Much of what I will write will be old news to those who have heard me speak in the prisons.  Over the last 10 years, literally hundreds of prisoners have heard parts of what will be forthcoming.  To those to whom this is an exercise…

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Why I Can’t Just Say, “To Hell!” With Hell (Even If I Wanted To)

Hell is the new Nintendo.

At least it is amongst blogging Christendom as of late. Nothing can quite get public dialogue heated (?!) quicker than some good ole’ fire and brimstone-esque debate. In this day many, even those who claim Christianity, want to say, “To hell with hell!”…at least as the Bible plainly teaches it.

Hell is an immensely important doctrinal matter, because if eternal destinies of individuals are at stake then what we believe about hell cannot be taken too seriously or studied too carefully.

I bet John the Revelator believed in a literal hell…

It is no matter whether it offends our modern sensibilities and we feel the notion of a literal place called “hell” is arcane and puritanical. What we “feel” about it has no bearing on the issue. The most pressing concern at hand is this: Is it biblical to posit hell as a place of constant actual torment and eternal spiritual separation from God? Or is hell just self wrought consequences of bad choices which we reap only in the here and now?

Let’s begin the discourse in Revelation 20:10. Admittedly, one can’t deny the heavily symbolic nature of Revelation and the difficulties that flow out of such language, but all symbols symbolize something. Symbols are used to illustrate a greater truth that can’t be wrapped in literal language, not a lesser truth. While symbolic descriptions of hell sound bad enough, we can be assured the reality is even worse than can be imagined (thankfully this works on the flip side with heaven too!). 

The fundamental nature of hell is spiritual separation from God, but this view does not account for all the particulars of hell. Revelation 20:10 verse to help illustrate this point: “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet also were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” There are several key inferences to make here: the lake of fire consumes the person, just as waters consume any person thrown into a physical lake; it is a place from which they cannot escape; the imagery of fire and sulphur is intended to show extreme pain and suffering that extends to all the senses. Furthermore, the punishment is obviously eternal, continual, total and conscious (“tormented day and night for ever and ever”) and human beings will be there, for the beast and the false prophet are humans.

It’s clear: “Anyone whose name is not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:10)

Let’s Not Be Hypocritical About Eternity

Many proponents of a non literal temporal hell claim if we had a more thorough understanding of Jewish historical context we could not hold to the traditional view of hell. This is not corroborated by careful study though. The ancient Jewish belief of humanity includes an immortality of the human soul and human body, which is in direct contrast to the gentile view of a separated body and soul. Daniel 12:1-2 is a confirmation: “ . . but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” If we hold tightly to the view of heaven as conscious eternal bliss, how can we not hold to the view of hell as conscious and eternal torment? Jesus confirms this when he says the unrighteous “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” The biblical text is plain and does not change the grammatical meaning of “eternity” when referencing heaven or hell.

I find it hypocritical (and an indictment on human nature) that no one is propagating a “temporal” heaven with the same logic they claim a “temporal” hell. Could it be because we are making our interpretations of Scripture based on our subjective inclinations (eisegesis) and not the objective ordinary meaning of the text (exegesis)?

What can we make of Jesus’ NT exhortation to “Fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28)? Hell is the place the body and soul will be eternally destroyed by a Holy loving God. Hell is not just the suicidal and self-inflicted internal propensities of misguided men (though it is that in part), Hell is the external judgment of God being poured out on sinful men (Romans 1:18-21).

Why else would we be charged to “Fear Him”? If all religions end up in the same relativistic celestial melting pot whom is there to fear?

The most heart wrenching display of the nature of hell is Christ’s separation from His Father on the cross. In this tangible portrayal of hell we do see physical suffering, which is only a minute part of this hell, but we see even greater the spiritual suffering of the Son who cried, “Why have you forsaken Me?” In hell, all the goodness and grace of the Father is suspended from the person and they are completely isolated from anything of redeeming value. Self is the wretched cruel king in hell. This Spiritual suffering is the most severe aspect of hell, but this in no way denies the physical suffering of the individual.

Hell has an immensely devastating affect on the whole person. Hell happens to you and in you for eternity.

Hell Is Giving One What They Really Want

When we reject the hell Christ took on the cross for us, we are accepting the hell we deserve for an eternity. God gives us what we truly desire. As CS Lewis once said, “Either people will say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ or God will say to them, ‘Thy will be done.'” The self willed, self absorbed and God-hating soul will continue in that trajectory into eternity. They wouldn’t want it any other way.

Remember who we are rebelling against when we sin. This is no mere Joe Blow off the street, it is the High King and perfect Son we are scorning. This is a high crime with high consequences. When blaspheming the infinitely worthy ONE there are necessarily infinitely dire implications. The punishment (eternal hell) fits the crime (eternal treason).

This is why the love of God and the wrath of God are inextricably linked. “This is love not that we have loved God but that He has loved us and given His Son as a propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10) In an ironic display of gospel ignorance many who claim “Love Wins” apart from God’s wrath, are actually nullifying the love of God. God loves sinners because He poured out His just displeasure on His perfect Son who died as our substitute. Clearly, a denial of God’s wrath is a denial of Christ’s propitiation (wrath bearing sacrifice) which in turn is an outright denial of God’s love.

Universalism, in the end, destroys the very thing it is attempting to uphold.

There is no biblical reason to uphold purgatory or annihilationism as a more sensitive route to hell. Christ was the most loving and sensitive man who ever walked the earth yet He talked more about hell than all other biblical writers combined. It was probably because He was more qualified to speak of such a horrible reality considering He was the creator of it, just as all things were created through Him (Colossians 1:15-17). The domesticated demure Jesus we have constructed in our minds actually declares in the “Rich man and Lazarus” parable that hell is place of personal consciousness, eternal torment, and no second chances (Luke 16:19-31).

Even if we reject the hellfire and brimstone hyper fundamentalist preaching of the traditionalist past, we would do well to give an ear to what Jesus has to say.

If there were no hell then Jesus is a liar.

Our distaste for hell will not make it go away. In reality, that nasty taste is designed by God so that we may shun hell and desire the heavenly kingdom He purchased for us with His own Son’s life. We may very well wish the notion of hell would just go to hell. But we would be consigning the love of God, the blood of Jesus, and all the goodness on heaven and earth to the same slippery fate.

Bryan Daniels

The Sound of A Hero Dying (Memorial Day poem)

[I wrote this after my Papa died seven years ago. It’s about his last few days on earth. He was a World War II veteran marine who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima]

Calloused hands that loved little dogs

and showed little boys how to hook a worm

Tremble now, involuntarily and soft

Armchair politician with a dagger wit

and humor more arid than the August Mojave

Forgets now, wets his own bed

Broad hard marine with a bulldog tattoo

and played keyboard for the church of st. waltz

Withered now, Hospice choir sings

First the grandson became nephew

the nephew a Japanese conspirator

The sponge was a razor

the nurse a war criminal

Escaped his cell block while sleeping

He always preferred the back door

No national day of mourning

No brash parade in his name

Just my hold it together sobs

The only sound left of another hero dying

Bryan Daniels

Dragons Are Real, Parents Are Stupid

Some adults just don’t get it.

I remember a recent movie excursion with my wife, where we viewed the adapted CS Lewis novel “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” in 3D. There was a certain prude in attendance with his wife and two very young children; he must have gotten time off from his busy schedule of joy-killing to stoop to his kid’s level to watch this movie.

After a satisfactory viewing experience, my wife and I headed to the restroom facilities to unload about eight gallons of the carbonated syrup we accumulated in the past two hours. As I was waiting outside the bathrooms for my wife to finish (a common universal posture for any man with any wife) I overheard the JK (joy-killer) speaking with a fellow adult he happened to know within earshot of his children. The convo went like this:

“How was the Narnia movie?” fellow adult

With a snarky tone, “It was a bit farfetched,” said JK. “Extreme.”

My mouth dropped wide open. The only response my bewildered mind could conjure up was, “Really? Ya think?”

It is a movie based on a fantasy children’s book for mother Mary’s sake! I thought boys who turn into dragons, sword dueling mice and a talking lion were all based on living historical characters. But seriously, why don’t you just go ahead rip the imagination and innocence right out of your children’s little formative souls? While you’re at it tell them Santa is just your drunk great-uncle and all dogs go to hell.

It brings to mind one of my favorite GK Chesterton quotes:

“Fairy tales do not tell children dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children dragons can be killed.”

I feel a bit sympathetic for the JK, because some parental injustice must have been done to him in his early childhood, and as a result his ability to process allegory and wonder has been greatly diminished. In this rationalistic materialistic indoctrination maybe he missed the forest for the trees, and the redemption themes behind nearly every movie are (possibly) lost on him. The adult qualities of dignity and pretension has made JK a dull boy.

Metaphor, allegory, and the like, reveal deeper realer truths. If the stirring apocalyptic visions of apostle John’s crystal sea and blazing throned Majestic One are wonderful, the reality is much more so.

No wonder the lion of Judah, Jesus, told adults, “Unless you are converted and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

Hopefully, this childlike wonder will give us a fresh unction to see and worship Christ more, even in 3D movie events. And possibly then a mole cricket or blade of grass may bring us to our knees in curious delight.

I guess the moral of this story is: Don’t be a joy-killer; God loves to challenge the comfortable traditions and long-held presuppositions of our hardened humanity. Don’t scoff too hard at a fanciful land of mermaids and giant sea snakes, the truth just maybe more far-fetched and stranger than such “fiction.”

Bryan Daniels

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan (71) – You Got To Serve Somebody

Happy birthday to one of the pioneers of bare bones singer-song writing folk music that was supplemented only by no frills acoustic guitar. Ever since high school I’ve appreciated Dylan’s brutally honest,  sometimes enigmatic, always timeless voice.

Much of his music has strong spiritual overtones. Some may say overtly “Gospel.” Maybe none are so strong and anthemic as “You Got To Serve Somebody”:

In his early musical years Dylan moved from an infatuation with the Little Richard type Rock and Roll towards the mellower Woody Guthrie-esque folk music of old. His explanation:

The thing about rock’n’roll is that for me anyway it wasn’t enough … There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms … but the songs weren’t serious or didn’t reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings.

I feel ya Bob. Happy Birthday.

Bryan Daniels

Chief of the least

It must be hard to be a Christian rapper. I would submit it’s even harder than being a white rapper…or a black hockey player…or an Asian basketball player.

It’s even a bit difficult to admit that I am a closet Christian rap fan, as I am still discovering and weighing the implications of coming out and what it will mean to my family. Of course I don’t claim all Christian rap as thoughtful and creative, just as most alternative rock fans don’t claim Creed as legends of the trade.

But after reading Tim Challies recent blog about “The Strange Phenomenon of White Middle Aged Pastors Who Listen to Rap Music,” some accolades are due from me. Though I was a middle class white guy in high school with no street cred or entourage, Christian rap was a surprising beacon of light for me in those formative spiritual years. With contemporary rap groveling and bowing to a fallen…

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