The good folks at Patheos asked me to review Francis Chan’s newest book, Multiply, co-authored with Mark Beuving. And I agreed.
Let me say a few words about Francis Chan to begin with . . . things I’ve never stated publicly, until now. Over the last five years, I’ve received a steady stream of emails about Francis Chan from readers. Here are a few examples:
I read your blog from yesterday . . . just curious. Would Francis Chan be one of those guys? I realize that you probably wouldn’t be able to tell me, but I’m curious about your thoughts on him since it seems like a lot of his views have shifted recently (and dramatically). I’m sure you’ve been an influence . . .
Frank, you and Francis Chan need to get together. He’s saying many of the same things you have been saying in your books. Does he know you?
Did you hear that Francis Chan stepped down from being a pastor? I’ve heard him speak a few times and it sounds like he’s been reading your work. I’d like to see you two do something together. Do you know each other?
Frank I just heard Francis Chan at a conference and it’s like he’s speaking straight from your books. Have you two met? If not you both need to get together.
I’ve lost count of the emails and Facebook messages I’ve received like the above, all humming the same tune. My answer has always been the same. Chan and I have the same publisher (David C. Cook). And I’d be happy to chat with him if he so desires. I’m very accessible.
Multiply is the first book by Francis Chan I’ve ever read. I’m aware of his other books, but I haven’t read them. Now before you tell me, “Frank, you gotta read xyz . . .!” let me ‘splain something to you, Lucy. Take a deep breath.
I receive hundreds of books each year from publishers and fellow authors. Seeing that I release one to two books a year myself, run a podcast and a daily blog, it’s difficult for me to find time to read books outside the Bible. Since I have to pick my battles with the clock, I have three criteria for reading a book:
- If the Lord clearly leads me to read a particular title.
- If I know the author personally.
- If I’m using it in my research.
If I don’t know the author personally or have never spoken to him or her, the chances of me reading their books are slim to none. (And slim often leaves town.) Keep in mind that virtually every book someone recommends to me are “must reads.” But I just can’t read them all.
If you’re interested in what kinds of books I deem to be seminal, check out my Best 100 Christian Books Ever Written List. There’s also a Kindle edition and a Theological/Commentary edition on that page as well.
The only other exception to the above (this is #4) is if Patheos asks me to review a book! Hence why I’m writing about Multiply today.
Multiply is a 336-page softcover that belongs in a long stream of discipleship books and manuals designed to give “catechumen instruction” for new converts. It provides a summary of what the Christian life is about and encourages readers to study their Bibles, attend church, follow Jesus’ commandments, and make disciples (hence the word multiply).
There’s also a companion video series that goes with the book. This makes Multiply a discipleship program of sorts.
When I was in college, I was part of many different parachurch organizations: Campus Crusade, InterVarsity, the Navigators, etc. Multiply is very similar to the various discipleship books and booklets that those organizations were using at the time to disciple new converts. Multiply is set up like a workbook. Short chapters followed by study questions. It’s written very well (so kudos to Francis, or Mark, or both). And like all of David C. Cook’s publications, the packaging is impressive.
The Alpha Course is a popular discipleship program that includes a workbook and a video series as well. To my mind, Multiply is the non-charismatic equivalent to Alpha. So if you’re looking for a basic introduction and overview of what it means to follow Jesus to a brand new convert using an evangelical framework and evangelical language, this is a good resource.
That said, I’d like to ask Francis Chan five questions about the book. So if you know Chan, feel free to encourage him to come on the bog and answer them. (By the way, I’ve had these same questions after reading other books on discipleship in recent years.)
- Most of the discipleship books and programs today fail to mention the essential ingredient of being a disciple according to both Jesus and Paul. That ingredient is – learning to live by the indwelling life of Christ. This is the central tenet of New Testament revelation, yet it’s grossly neglected today. What is the reason why this wasn’t discussed in your book?
- While there’s a lot of discussion on how to read the Bible, I didn’t see a presentation of God’s Eternal Purpose, which is the grand narrative of Scripture. It is also God’s ultimate intention in creation, redemption, and discipleship. While there were elements of it here and there, there was no discussion on what it exactly is and how all Scripture and authentic spiritual experience is tied together by it. Why was this left out?
- There’s a recent emphasis in Christian circles today about making disciples rapidly. We know from the book of Acts that the way that the apostles carried out Jesus’ word to make disciples was to plant ekklesias. (I’ve addressed this elsewhere.) Paul, who was the premier church planter, strove for quality rather than quantity (he planted about 14 ekklesias in his lifetime). How do you distinguish the emphasis to make disciples rapidly from the principles of network marketing in the business world?
- One thing I’ve observed is that many of the authors who are promoting “discipleship” today are unaware of the history of the Discipleship Movement in North America in the 1970s and the tremendous damage it caused. I believe that if we don’t learn the mistakes of the past, we will unwittingly repeat them. Given that you are now promoting the modern-day discipleship movement, what are you doing to safeguard God’s people from falling into the same errors of the former discipleship movement?
- The modern idea of discipleship is intensely individualistic. So I was glad that you and Mark talked briefly about community in the book. But talking about community is one thing. People recontextualize what they read into their own experience. In my on-the-ground experience over the last two decades, I’ve not seen discipleship be very effective unless believers were living in a close-knit, face-to-face community that is seeking the face of Jesus Christ regularly outside of scheduled corporate gatherings and which includes a regular gathering for every-member functioning under the direct headship of Christ. Every letter in the NT was written to such face-to-face communities. Those face-to-face communities were the native habitat in which spiritual growth and transformation took place. Many churches are nothing like what I’ve described here, despite the fact that they might use the rhetoric of “community.” So if we get the church wrong, we get discipleship wrong also. Do you think this is possible?
If anyone writes a discipleship book, program, or course that includes these 5 elements, please send me the book. I’ll read it even if I don’t know the author and Patheos never asks me to review it!
Also see A Follow Up to This Review
This post is part of the sponsored Patheos Book Club.