Overall, I am very blessed and thankful for Francis, his ministry, and his work. The Flannel people have created something quite beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, and the message, which is most important, is both verbal and visual, the interlocking partnership of word and image that few have captivated well in the Christian world. At times when watching this series, I even laughed out loud (muscle family with scrawny children, or Lord’s prayer in Chinese).
However, there were several elements that I would like to engage with: theologies that can be discussed or explained further perhaps with a different nuance, perspectives that are quite culturally imbued, and a few instances in which some data is simply wrong and misleading. My critique and evaluation here is offered in love and full respect to the production, and with all collegial and gracious hope to further the conversation with a fellow brother/teacher who is the same family (film #4, “fellowship”).
Chan describes the paradox between “fearing” God, and “not fearing him” as God’s children and bride. Beginning with the fear of God will lead us to the kind of life in which we are not afraid of anything else, because God is so fearful. He quotes Psalm 111:0, Isaiah 44:6, and Proverbs 19:23. Just for reference:
ראשית חכמה יראת יהוה שכל טוב לכל־עשיהם תהלתו עמדת לעד
The beginning of wisdom is the fear of YHWH, a good understanding to all who do/practice his praise stands forever.
יראת יהוה לחיים ושבע ילין בל־יפקד רע
The fear of YHWH is life and filled with rest without suffering harm.
Chan suggests that in the Bible, “fear” actually means to be “frightened,” or even “terrified.” He made claim that due to the church’s sensitivities to the world’s sentimentality, we have redefined this to simply mean “respect” or be in “awe.” Chan then suggests that this is not what is read in the Bible. When he reads it, they sure look to be terrified.
While I would concur with the vast majority of the thought and the content of the video, I would also suggest that the church has not simply bowed to the pressures of contemporary sentiment. The word for “fear” does also mean “respect” and “awe,” and may be coupled with the idea of “terrified,” all depending upon the context. Leviticus 19:30 and 26:2 both use the word “fear” to mean “reverence” in reference to the sanctuary of the LORD. Nehemiah 1:11 mentions a “fearing” of God’s name, which, in that context most reasonably reads “revere.” Psalm 67:7 seems to use that phrase in the same way.
Jesus says, “follow me.” Chan courageously states that millions of people call themselves followers, but their lives look nothing like Jesus, even though in their hearts they’re convinced they are followers. He gives a great illustration of “follow the leader” and of a parent telling their child “go clean your room.” — Hey dad, yeah, so we came back and parsed the phrase “go clean your room” in the original Greek, and here’s what we came up with. — Ha! Love it! Well done. Quoting Luke 6:46 and Matthew 7:21, Chan teaches that words without actions is never acceptable to Jesus. We must obey. Excellent, and I’m totally on board.
However, Chan answers the question, “Why should I follow Jesus?” by referencing Revelation and the wrath of the Lamb that is going to be poured out. Chan states that we must realize that Jesus teaches more on hell than he does on heaven. So he concludes by saying, I follow Jesus, in some sense because, “what other choice do I have?”
I rigorously contest the commonly held teaching that Jesus teaches more on hell than he does on heaven. Even a cursory scan of the Gospels yields otherwise. The word γεννα (gehenna) is used 11 times in the Gospels, and the word αδης (hades) is used 10 times. By comparison, the word ουρανος (heaven) appears 141 times in the Gospels as “heaven” (the word actually shows up 153 times; 7 times translated “air,” 3 times translated “sky,” 1 time “side,” and 1 time “other”, NRSV). In addition, the meanings of those words most likely are far different from our modern, post-Dante understandings of the concept of “hell.” To be fair, counting words is not evidence of the principle, but it is somewhat striking and illustrative of the point, and is on the same rationale terms as the reasoning that Jesus taught more on hell than heaven. In addition, I would argue that Jesus’ healing, miracles, parables, etc., are teaching on Heaven (e.g., Matthew 13).
I do concur greatly with Chan’s closing remarks on “saving” and “losing” your life (from Matthew 16 and other places), and that you follow Jesus because “this is the life that leads to a life beyond anything that we could have come up with on our own.”
Chan says that maybe the biggest concern is today’s lack of the Holy Spirit’s power. He depicts the story in Acts 2, and points out that people are drawn to this. He then inquires, “Is this the same Holy Spirit that is available to us today? Why is it so different? He once heard someone say that the church is neither “super” nor “natural.” Church has become predictable. Is this the way it is suppose to happen when the power comes? He shares an illustration of a guy who can bench press 1000 lbs. while his wife presses 400 lbs. Imagine that couple with scrawny kids, (quite a funny picture indeed). This is what the church is like today. The church is suppose to be supernatural. It was happening to them, and this is what God wants today. It wasn’t just for 2,000 years ago.
He interrogates, “Do you think it’s possible today? Do you think the same Holy Spirit today, wants to create the same kind of gathering as back then, creating a unity with this body of believers?” He implores us, “We’ve got to believe, live, and pray like we believe it. This is what we want, and what the world needs to see.”
Well done. I would always prefer to see the Acts 2 passage be taught in concordance with the Jewish festival of Shavuot (Pentecost), and paralleled with the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai in Exodus (notice the 3,000 dying there, and the 3,000 saved in Acts. There’s an intentional connection there). But this is a quibble, as the religious sentiments of what Chan is saying is fully compatible with that story and with the Christian tradition.
What I’ve always wondered, though, is how teachers can on the one had say things like “it was happening to them,” giving the impression that it was out of their control (which is in line with the sovereignty of God), and at the same time exhort us modern hearers to begin to act and behave in such a way as to make what happened “then” happen “now.” That is something I’m always perplexed about.
God does not want you to do this discipleship thing on your own. That’s why he created church. And “church” is not a building or an address, but rather, “the people.” Before God, we should have a true sharing, a fellowship. Acts 4:32, “the full number of those who believed were of one heart.” They shared everything and had a sense of mission together. That’s a lot different from a potluck. We’re now one. We’re family.
Chan tells a story about one person who expected the church to be as welcoming and “family” as his gang that he left. Are gangs a better picture of family than the church?
Unity is so strange in this world. I want people to share, forgive, and then people can see the attributes of Christ in our fellowship. His plan was fellowship, John 17. “Complete Unity.” Something about our unity that makes the message believable. We were not meant to be in isolation.
If you fear God, and have decided to follow Jesus with your life, have his spirit, then you’re my brother, you’re my sister. God sees us as family and he wants us to live this way.
I concur. Well done.
Okay, this is the most difficult installment for me. I’ll try to elucidate.
Chan references 1 Peter 2:2 to suggest that we should desire the Word of God like newborn babies crave milk. But that’s not really what the 1 Peter 2:2 passage says. It says to crave “spiritual milk,” which is the teachings, and yes the “word” that was passed down to them, the truth and teachings of the apostles and a reference to the writings, but that is quite distinct from “the Word of God” to mean “the Bible.” I’m not against craving the Bible. I just think this usage of 1 Peter 2:2 is either incomplete, or incorrect and needs better framing.
I am on board with Chan’s statement that the reason we are to crave this teaching is because we’re suppose to go teach others. And I’m on board with the idea that this is not just information, but a life well lived.
However, I’m not on board with the dichotomy between opinions and “the Word,” as it is impossible for Chan to say that without expressing his opinion. This is an epistemological and philosophical nuance, but one that I think is important. There is a subjectivity to all textual interaction, and the Bible is not exempt. I concur that we must continually check what people say with “the Book,” and we ought to value what the Bible actually says more than valuing someone’s mere opinion. We just cannot get away from the reality that opinions are what make the Scriptures what they are.
I’m also quite disappointed at Chan’s reference to the Galatians 1 passage where he says that Paul is saying that if anyone contradicts “the Word,” let him be accursed. He goes on to say that Paul says, I don’t care if an angel comes down and tells you something different “from what is written, this is the standard.” Now, it’s hard to know where to put in the quotation marks Chan’s sentence, (like John chapter 3 and elsewhere where red-letter Bibles will notate, “uh, we’re not quite sure where Jesus is talking and where he is not”). However, this is clearly not what Galatians 1 is saying. Because this is so blatant, I’ve included the full text.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! 10 Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ga 1:6–10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Now, I can kind of understand why Chan says what he says. The conflation of “gospel” and the “Word of God” (meaning the written Bible) may make sense in many circles. However, even in accordance with what Chan is teaching here, it is imperative to check what is actually written in contrast with one person’s teaching or opinion. Thus, I conclude, that Paul is not talking about the Bible, the “Word of God” or the “Scriptures. He is talking about the “gospel” which is for him, the good news of freedom in Christ in contrast and conflict with others who are perverting that freedom to those in a gentile world. Those “Judaizers” are suggesting that there are additional requirements, namely the Jewish law, that precede covenantal relationships. This is the “perversion” that Paul is speaking about.
Chan goes on to talk about finding someone with the gift of teaching, and follow them, but check their teachings and life with the Bible. This is a helpful clarifying statement that I think needs to be connected with the discussion of “opinion” above. In other words, it’s not about “no opinions,” but rather “checking opinions” with the Bible, which is always good practice. Perhaps that’s the fundamental sentiment of what Chan was trying to convey.
I completely agree with his statement that it’s not just about head knowledge. It is about a person’s life.
I was disturbed by the image of some clean cut, slick looking charlatan whose wares consisted mostly of alcohol and other nefarious looking bottles. I’m not on board with conflating that image with “false teachers.” Many “great teachers” drink alcohol, and there’s nothing biblically wrong with that.
Chan concludes by saying these writings are sacred, and that I can get on board with. Yes these writings are sacred, but it’s a small step to “bibliolatry” when we say “we center everything around God’s Words.” That’s kinda true, kinda not. Anyone who does a video, who voices an opinion, or who blogs, expressed the reality that we have multiple ideas and thoughts centered around the teachings, lessons, and truths that are found in the Bible. It may be a bit far to say “everything” is “centered” around the book.
Chan begins by saying that if you get a mission that is impossible, you devote yourself to prayer. However, we have to be careful how we approach God. Referencing Ecclesiastes 5 Chan exhorts us to come silently and carefully to God. He says that often times we’re not taught that God doesn’t always listen, because we ask with wrong motives (James 4). We ask and don’t receive because it is in accordance with our own passions.
Prayer to the early disciples was different. The Lord’s Prayer reads “our” father and forgive “us,” an emphasis on community. “Hallowed” means sacred, that it is an honor to even address God. Our bread is “daily,” provision. We are taught to pray, forgive us our debts as we forgive others, meaning in the same way that I’ve forgiven others. Chan confesses that he’s prayed that while being angry at other people, while being unforgiving. That’s scary. We should be warned about this. So often when we pray, it sounds like, “My kingdom come, my will be done.” When you pray in Jesus’s name you pray for the things he wanted; it’s about his mission. We must ask, am I concerned for the things of God? So often when we pray it’s about ourselves.
God actually wants to answer our prayers, when we pray the way he taught us. Prayer this way, is a way of life.
Well done. I can say “Amen” to this teaching.
Chan concludes the series on “communion” which is a bit of a focus on the breaking of bread together, and a summary of the last six videos. He begins by saying that anyone that has had any type of church experience and looks at their church experience, and then looks at the Bible and asks, “Why not today?” Chan says that God wants us to do this. It’s not difficult, and it’s something a lot of us hope for.
Regarding our practices, sometimes something is not always better than nothing. Referencing 1 Corinthians 11, we must not assume that just because we have bread and a cup that we’re practicing the true Lord’s supper. Communion was to share together, to devote together, and to remember together. Is it possible to go back to a simpler form of church and is there something within us that longs for that?
While this type of gathering is more basic, it’s scary, because you can no longer hide. This is about commitment, 24/7. This is about a lifetime of living like Jesus, fearing God, of fellowship, and gathering together to break bread. Do you want to stop attending church and be a part of the church that Jesus is building? The true church?
— VIA —
I’ll conclude by saying that I am thankful for this production, and am hopeful that this will make a tangible difference in the church world, in how we practice our faith. Like Vince Lombardi’s famous speech, “This is a football,” so Chan has provided us with a similar clarion call; “This is discipleship.”