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.
Some 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.