Thinking Out Loud

May 6, 2013

Chasing Francis: 2013 Meets the 13th Century

I don’t want to toss out cheap superlatives like, ‘Best book I ever read,’ but 24 hours after finishing Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron, I definitely feel that this is one of best written books I’ve ever read. With equal parts contemporary ecclesiology, church history, and Italy travelog, You can practically taste the Italian food. Chasing Francis is an excellent work of fiction that’s more about facts than fiction.

Chasing FrancisSome explanation is necessary.  For me, this book fits in with the type of fiction that I’ve been attracted to over the past few years; what I call Socratic dialog. Think Paul Young in The Shack and Crossroads, Andy Andrews in The Noticer and other titles, David Gregory in the Perfect Stranger trilogy; books that use story as a motif for teaching.

But the publisher, Zondervan, didn’t see it that way, identifying the advance copy I received in the Christian Living category and avoiding the category thing entirely on their website.  Here’s their synopsis:

Pastor Chase Falson has lost his faith in God, the Bible, evangelical Christianity, and his super-sized megachurch. When he falls apart, the church elders tell him to go away: as far away as possible…

Falson crosses the Atlantic to Italy to visit his uncle, a Franciscan priest. There he is introduced to the revolutionary teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and finds an old, but new way of following Jesus that heals and inspires.

Chase Falson’s spiritual discontent mirrors the feelings of a growing number of Christians who walk out of church asking, Is this all there is? They are weary of celebrity pastors, empty calorie teaching, and worship services where the emphasis is more on Lights, Camera, Action than on Father, Son, and Holy Spirit while the deepest questions of life remain unaddressed in a meaningful way.

Bestselling author Ian Morgan Cron masterfully weaves lessons from the life of Saint Francis into the story of Chase Falson to explore the life of a saint who 800 years ago breathed new life into disillusioned Christians and a Church on the brink of collapse.

Well that’s about right, though the weight of the book rests more in its thoroughly researched study of Assisi’s Francis than today’s Chase, but without ignoring the connection to the modern church in North America.

In an afterword, Cron says he struggled with committing his picture of the classic saint to something in the modern fiction genre. His struggle does not evidence itself. There are characters here to identify with and, unlike the way you might think Socratic dialog works, a surprising number of plot turns. (For the record, Cron prefers the term wisdom literature.)

Who should read Chasing Francis? Anyone who wants more meat in their Christian fiction. Pastors and church leaders for whom it should be required reading. Local church adherents and members concerned with the direction of the contemporary Church and/or evangelism.  People with a passion for social justice who would benefit from a refresher course on St. Francis’ approach to poverty and injustice.

I mentioned The Shack earlier. While this book doesn’t have the same general market crossover potential, I believe that in the right hands it does have the potential to make a major impact on the capital C Church; but first both brick and mortar bookstore and online vendors need to settle whether it goes in the church history section or church growth section or the fiction section. Books that land between categories often languish in either or fall between the cracks altogether.

So I’ve got a section for Chasing Francis: Recommended Reading.

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6 Comments »

  1. Thanks for the recommendation, Paul. And thanks for making it a strong recommendation – such a recommendation coming from a thoughtful, well-read person like yourself definitely motivates me to read the book.

    Dan Scott, senior pastor of Christ Church in Nashville (yes, that Christ Church – the one with the outstanding choir), read Chasing Francis and did a blog series about it (the first entry in the series can be read here: http://www.christchurchnashville.org/2012/06/15/why-should-i-chase-francis-chasing-francis-series ).

    On the matter of using ‘story’ to teach, there are two more books your readers should be aware of. First, there is Ben Witherington III’s book, A Week in the Life of Corinth (InterVarsity Press, 2012). Witherington, an outstanding New Testament scholar, weaves so much about first-century life into his short novel that readers will feel as though they have just taken a semester-long course, but delivered delightfully – and without the dreaded exam ;-) Readers will not be able to give Witherington’s novel-writing ability the same high praise you give to Cron’s, but being schooled in first-century life in such a manner is a nice change of pace from dreary entries in textbooks, Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias.

    Tim Woodroof renders the same type of service in his book, A Distant Presence: The Story Behind Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (NavPress, Narrative Commentary Series, 2002). Woodruff makes Paul and the Philippians very real and vividly reminds us that Paul’s theology was worked out in the experiences of his own life and the lives of his churches.

    Comment by Jon Rising — May 6, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

    • Thanks for the recommendations. You also clarified why one online seller lists this as a ‘repackaged’ edition, and why the audio version of the book sports a different cover. A simple look at the copyright page would have revealed both the 2006 and 2013 dating, but I can hardly expect the publisher to trumpet that, “Oh yes, and by the way, this title is actually seven years old.” To this reader, the expression of the issues raised is done in such a way that this could have been yesterday.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 6, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

    • After checking it out, I discovered the NavPress edition published in 2006.

      I had never seen that edition before today. In my retail capacity and in my position as a blogger, I have never been given one single book to review from NavPress. Not one. I’m pretty sure they publish The Message Bible, but otherwise, they don’t exist in my world.

      On the other hand, Zondervan will do well with this. Good thing the author held on to his copyright.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 6, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

    • Wow…three book recommendations in one day…all of them sound great! Thanks Paul and “Jon Rising”

      Comment by Cynthia — May 6, 2013 @ 10:22 pm

  2. Sounds like a good book to take on our upcoming vacation! Thanks, Paul.

    Comment by dianelindstrom — May 7, 2013 @ 9:54 am


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