Francis Chan’s Program for “Multiply”-ing Conservative Evangelicals

Reading Francis Chan’s latest book Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples has helped me see how far away from the conservative evangelical theology of my youth I’ve truly gotten.

This book is promoted as a resource or tool for guided disciple-making, with chapters that are meant to be read together with someone you are actively discipling, along with video messages from Chan and co-author Mark Beuving to be watched and discussed together.

Like the pseudo-systematic theology Multiply sort of delivers, this is a system really designed by conservative evangelicals for making conservative evangelical followers of Jesus. Progressives, even progressive evangelicals like myself, will be bothered by a lot of things, including the male pronouns for God but more pointedly the motivation of fear that underlies just about every aspect of this discipleship program.

From the opening chapter to the last, there is this message that “you better be doing this or else.” For example, Chan takes Jesus’ hopeful and inspiring message from Matthew 4:17, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and turns it into this:

“If someone warned you to be prepared because a king and his army were coming, what would you do? You would make sure you were ready to face him. If you weren’t prepared to fight this king, then you would do whatever it took to make peace with him. … Every person reading this sentence has done things that are evil and offensive to this King. … Because of our sin, which is an offense to God, we should expect death.”

The greatest irony of Multiply is that, while it attempts to critique the Churchianity that most people practice, the very delivery system of this discipleship program fits neatly and perfectly into that same pre-programmed church structure.

Chan writes,

“We have subtly and tragically taken this costly command of Christ to go, baptize, and teach all nations and mutated it into a comfortable call for Christians to come, be baptized, and listen in one location. … Discipleship is all about living life together rather than just one structured meeting per week. However, it’s shocking how quickly time gets away from us, so it’s good to establish at least one regular meeting time each week. … At the core of the Multiply material are weekly sessions, which involve study guides and videos.”


I agree with Chan that discipleship happens best in the day-to-day, life-on-life experience, and that’s precisely why I’m deeply skeptical of any program like this that seeks to programmatize it all for us — especially one with this narrow of a theological agenda. Unless you’re really just committed to perpetuating that conservative evangelical theology, I would recommend steering clear of the Multiply program.

What do you think? Am I being too hard on Chan and Multiply?

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  • Travis Mamone

    He lost me with his misinterpretation of the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t mean “Get your act together or else.” If I’m not mistaken, what Jesus is really saying is, “Turn away from the ways of the world–the ways of violence, greed, apartheid, and domination–because there’s a new way of doing things–a way of peace, humility, sharing, and justice.”

    • Mike Stroud

      Sounds like to me all you people are just jumping on ole’ Francis in an extremely nit-picky fashion. If you’ve got a better way of making disciples, then go do it. It’s been my experience that critics just like to sit on the sideline and lob snide remarks at leaders. If you’re actually making disciples, then tell us how you’re doing it better. All I hear Chan saying is make disciples who will make more disciples. He’s taking Jesus command seriously and trying to do something about it. Nay sayers are a nickle a dozen. Do something or quit whinning.

  • Kullervo

    …are you really that unfamiliar with what Jesus said about discipleship?

    Luke 14
    25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,
    26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
    27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
    28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
    29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
    30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
    31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?
    32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.
    33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

    I’m not necessarily coming to the defense of Chan’s argument here, but let’s be clear, Chan didn’t turn Jesus’s “hopeful and inspiring message” into a warning about an approaching army. Jesus did.

    • Steve Knight

      Are you really going to use the King James version to make your point? ;-) Seriously, though, point taken, Kullervo. I’m pretty sure we could still debate the interpretation of what Jesus was saying there. I personally think Chan’s interpretation and application is off. And my criticism of the underlying fear message throughout the book still stands.

      • Kullervo

        Are you familiar with a translation that leaves Luke 14:31-33 out?

        • Stéphane Kapitaniuk

          Kullervo 1
          Knight 0

          You’re second comment made me laugh out loud Kullervo. Thanks for standing for truth. Luc 14.31-33 isn’t left out from my Bible either.

          • Steve Knight

            I had already conceded the point, but if you’re keeping score, I’m fine with that accounting. But please consider giving me a point for repeating again (for the third time now) that Chan’s use of fear as a motivator is highly questionable and I’d say (again) his interpretation and use of that particular passage is not the only one out there.

          • Kullervo

            Fine, then tell me what your interpretation is, because it sure doesn’t look to me like Chan is doing any kind of injustice to the text.

          • Kullervo

            Give us another one then please.

  • dan white jr

    This is what was so sad about the mass consumption of “Crazy Love”. It really wasn’t about love at all. It was zealousness driven by fear of an Almighty. Love was so distorted in that book. It was straight up fundementalism wrapped in cool packaging.

  • Bret Wells

    I think your critique of Chan is fair – I’ve had very similar reactions to his work. He has some great things to say, and some wonderful insights…unfortunately they’re packaged around several fairly awful assumptions about God.

    However, I might push back a little on the last critique. He’s right, life-on-life, daily walk is the best context for discipleship but without some regularly scheduled touch-points time slips away from us. It is good to have time set aside – scheduled and protected on the calendar – each week. The problem with the highly programatic church’s approach to this is a) the content of those scheduled times in very passive consumer-driven and b) the implicit message is that the scheduled time is fulfillment of your primary obligation.

    • Steve Knight

      I appreciate that pushback, Bret!

  • Arlene Rauen

    I am cautious of our current thinking on how to multiply healthy living for God for the sake of the World because it mostly deals with healthy/biblical thinking and most people have lived long enough to have alot of lies they and their families have believed…I now believe breathing a fresh air of how to do life has to include coming along side people in working thru the lies and speaking the truth(God’s word) into their life…Just my thoughts!!

  • Chris TerryNelson

    I was sucked into a similar program that utilizes “missional” language to talk about discipleship, but is steeped in conservative pentecostal theology that uses Acts as a triumphalistic model for kingdom work. Sure, we get out of programmed sunday-morning centered church life (the vehicles they use for small groups and leadership training and missional communities are helpful) but only so that we can get more serious about getting our friends to join a conservative evangelical group-think. They are interested in using the constructivist argument that “language creates culture” in order to create a very specific Christian culture. As i’ve seen it, it typically male-dominated in leadership, white, and equates success with numbers (multiplication).

    • dani

      Have you ever wondered whether their biblical application shapes their perceived “conservatism” rather than their conservatism shaping their Biblical application? What specifically do you find conservative about their “group-think”? (People reading and following he same Book generally will tend to think as a group!)

  • dani

    “progressive evangelicals like myself, will be bothered by a lot of things, including the male pronouns for God” …. it must be frustrating to be a “Progressive” Christian, because it isn’t Chan that is inserting these male pronouns, it is God HIMself. Bible reading must drive you nuts!
    I have found that Progressives also have trouble with worshiping the God of the Bible, because He is all about absolute Truth. Absolute Truth claims often offend those of Progressive persuasions, what are your feelings about absolute rights and wrongs, and Jesus’ stance on being the only name under heaven by which we can be saved (acts 4:12)? Do you accept God’s right to condemn and condone whichever behaviors He sees fit? (Of course He also forgives, and Loves, but also requires us to repent and turn from our sins, and humble ourselves to admit our sins are in fact sins that need forgiveness.)

  • Billy Tang

    I shied away from the book when I opened it and it was filled with lots of words. Made me wonder, ‘this looks like an instruction manual. I’ve already got some of those.’ I like Chan and how he simplifies things and challenges our core beliefs in a simple way but this book did not look simple or helpful to the model he proposes. I HAVE NOT read it so this was just an initial reaction.

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