Book Review: Letters to the Church

I can’t help but see our own lameness in failing to see the beauty in God’s design for the Church. Heavenly beings are shocked by God’s Church, while many on earth yawn. The early church didn’t need the energetic music, great videos, attractive leaders, or elaborate lighting to be excited about being a part of God’s body. The pure gospel was enough to put them in a place of awe.

Letters to the Church, pg 44

Over a decade ago, Francis Chan left the megachurch he had built to start a church that, he hoped and believed, would be more like what the Bible says church should be. Letters to the Church starts with his story and ends with what he’s doing now, but the seven chapters in between are unequivocal truth because they are straight from God’s Word. He walks through passage after passage in both the Old and New Testament reminding the reader what church is supposed to look like – not in style but in practice.

To be honest, I’m still processing this book. I finished it last week before I read Tolkien’s Ordinary Virtues but didn’t feel ready to write about it yet. Not sure if I’m ready right now, but I think writing about it will help.

The book itself is incredible. Francis Chan is an excellent writer. He is genuine, sometimes to the point of being blunt, but he never sounds accusatory or hateful. He points out what God says and how you should change without making you feel like a heel.

I appreciate that he shared his personal “how I got here from there” in the first chapter to set up the context of the book, but does not drag out what happened. He pulls from his personal experiences while pastoring a church of thousands, traveling in eastern Asia, and the past few years of settling into a new style of church. But more than his own thoughts and circumstances, Francis draws conclusions and applications from God’s Word.

Part of why this book is difficult to work through is because I have grown up in church my whole life, and I found that I did fall into some of the incorrect or irreverent views he mentions. Chapter two, “Sacred,” was especially convicting. The quote at the beginning of this post is from the end of that chapter. How often do I make church about me? How often have I lost the awe of what Christ has done – sacrificing His very life to bring us into fellowship and intimacy with God the Father? This life is not about me. The Church does not exist to make me feel good about myself.

Part of the reason we have created a culture of non-committal Christianity that avoids suffering is that we don’t treasure Him enough. We want Jesus, but there are limits to what we will sacrifice for Him. We want Him, but there are lots of things we want in life.

Letters to the Church, pg 140 (bold added for emphasis)

I definitely recommend this book. But be aware that it is eye-opening in many ways. Francis Chan did not write this book so you could go “marching into [your] pastors’ offices and confronting them with all of the shortcomings of their church” (pg 199-200). This book should be read with an open heart, open with humility and grace. The question should not be “How can I fix my church?” but “How does God want to change me?”

There is no perfect church (although I think mine is pretty great). But God wants His Church, His body, to be sanctified and serving. And I hope this book continues to affect me and shape me in that way.

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