Book Review: Forgotten God by Francis Chan

Title: Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit
Author: Francis Chan
Publisher: David Cook

Depending on who you talk to, the Holy Spirit is either overly discussed or utterly neglected. Francis Chan would be firmly in the latter group.

“[W]hat if you grew up on a desert island with nothing but the Bible to read? .  . . [Y]ou would be convinced that the Holy Spirit is as essential to a believer’s existence as air is to staying alive,” writes Chan (p. 16). And that’s why Chan wrote Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit—to help believers recapture the necessity of the Holy Spirit to the Christian life.

Running on Fumes

Chan feels that we have lost a robust understanding of the Holy Spirit. We have neglected Him. This neglect has caused us to look and act no differently than our surrounding culture. But this should not be. Chan writes,

If it’s true that the Spirit of God dwells in us and that our bodies are the Holy Spirit’s temple, then shouldn’t there be a huge difference between the person who has the Spirit of God living inside of him or her and the person who does not? (p. 32)

In this assessment, I think Chan is right on. If our lives do not have a marked difference in any way aside from what we do on Sunday morning, perhaps we have some bigger questions to ask ourselves, no? If we were dead but now live, there should be some kind of marked difference in how we live, what we think and how we speak… shouldn’t there?

Absolutely, there should. And it’s only possible by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. This is a truth that we dare not take for granted and I appreciate Chan highlighting it.

The Spirit’s Work

Chan does a solid job of reminding readers of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a Person, a “He,” not an “it.” He is God; eternal & holy; omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. He has emotions, a mind and a will. He prays for us. He teaches and reminds us of what we we need to know. He applies our salvation to our lives. Chan wants these truths to lead readers “to a deeper relationship with and a greater reverence for the Spirit—that good theology would lead you to right action, genuine love, and true worship” (p. 77).

Chan encourages readers to read John 14-16, to notice “how Christ desires that His disciples have peace and how He comforts His disciples with the truth that they are not left alone” (p. 110). He continues,

Part of His answer to how we are to have peace and be comforted is through the provision of the Holy Spirit, the other Counselor, who He promised would come once He left.

Having read these chapters, I notice that the peace that comes with the Holy Spirit is the fuller knowledge of what it means to be grafted into the vine (cf. John 15:1-11), and it’s the Spirit who does the grafting. The Spirit brings us peace and comfort by giving us the words to act as witnesses to the gospel, even as the Spirit Himself bears witness to Christ (cf. John 15:26-27). Truly, the Spirit’s role is to glorify Jesus and to guide us into truth:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)

A Life of Obedience

The heart of Chan’s message is that the Christian life is to be lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, in obedience to Christ, to the glory of the Father. We must not quench His work in our lives, caring more for comfort than for holiness. To walk by the spirit is to live a life that is counter cultural and often antithetical to the world in which we live.

But, it’s one thing to talk about what “walking by the Spirit” can be, and another to show it.

Where Chan best illustrates this is in the wonderful biographical sketches of men and women whose lives have been completely transformed as they’ve sought to obey the Spirit’s leading. These serve as testimonies to the truth that the Christian life is one that glorifies God in extraordinary ways.

A married couple in their 50s, Domingo & Irene, fostered thirty-two children and adopted sixteen. A teenage girl who works multiple jobs all summer to sponsor 14 children. Thomas Yun, who gave up a fortune in the restaurant business to work at a rescue mission because he believed that God was calling him to serve there.

These are the stories that move me and inspire me, probably more so than the rest of the book (no offense to the author).

The Primary Voice

What I find lacking is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Scripture. Chan writes that Spirit “teaches and reminds us of what we need to know and remember” (p. 74), but I think this needed to be more than a bullet point. God’s written Word is the primary means through which God speaks to His people—it is the Spirit who gives us the ability to understand them. It’s through the hearing of the Word that the Spirit’s primary active role takes place, bringing the spiritually dead to life, sealing them as God’s people and sanctifying them (cf. Eph 1:13), all serving to glorify Jesus.

If Scripture is the primary means by which God speaks, it should probably have a more prominent role in any discussion on the Spirit’s work. I would have really enjoyed seeing Chan address this a little more, in addition to focusing on the “private nudging” of the Spirit (which is where he spends the bulk of his time).

Is the Holy Spirit Forgotten?

In Forgotten God, Francis Chan reminds readers just how much we need the Holy Spirit. “There is no such thing as a real believer who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit, or a real church without the Spirit. It’s just not possible,” writes Chan. Without the Spirit’s active presence in our lives, we cannot live a life of obedience to Christ. The question for you is, is the Holy Spirit forgotten in your life?

Read the book. It’s challenging and there are likely parts you’ll disagree with, but it’s worth investigating.

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  • http://cleverphrasehere.blogspot.com Amber Van Schooneveld

    Good review! My small group is still reading it (one week at a time, so I’m on chapter 5). While I didn’t disagree with Chan on any theological points, I did find some things worrisome for a couple of reasons, probably based on my own experience with small group. We have been watching the videos that accompany the book and then discussing at small group. But in the videos (as is the case sometimes in the book), there isn’t a strong focus on a particular Scripture. This can then be dangerous while discussing in small group, as so many of us have such different experiences and backgrounds when it comes to the topic of the Holy Spirit. In my opinion, discussion on the Holy Spirit without a strong grounding in Scripture can lead to vague talk about “feelings” and “nudgings,” as if the Spirit is the Force of Star Wars. I just think it needs stronger direction for such a topic.

    Besides this, I think Chan makes several really big statements that he then doesn’t thoroughly back up or delve into with the attention that is necessary. For example, he asks people to really consider whether or not their view of the Holy Spirit is totally wrong and needs to be completely rethought. That’s a pretty big statement, which is fine and good. But then he doesn’t then do the work to really investigate how our views might be flawed and how we can refine them. Instead what we get is a relatively brief bulleted list of the attributes of the Holy Spirit we can know from Scripture. It seemed more appropriate for a 1 hour sermon at church, at which you briefly touch on a subject and get people hyped up about a topic, vs. an in-depth book which seriously asks you to rethink your views on a vital aspect or Person of our faith.

    • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron Armstrong

      I think that’s very fair assessment, Amber, and something I noticed as well. There were times that the book felt a little speculative, not necessarily wrong, but because it wasn’t anchored in a text, there wasn’t something necessarily to back it up.

      I think the “hyping up” issue you raise is an extremely important criticism; I wonder if that’s actually what he’s trying to do? Rather than presenting an exhaustive study, trying to “shock” people into action and reflection?

      It’s funny, this was probably the hardest book review I’ve ever had to write; I ended up spending somewhere north of six hours on it, just trying to figure out how best to articulate my impressions of the book–and I still things out.

      The one thing I was left wondering throughout the book was, is it not possible that an extraordinary life could look extra-ordinarily ordinary? Generally what I see in Scripture is a far greater concern for a life of holiness than I do for splashiness.

      Perhaps I’m reading too much into it though?

  • http://www.mom2six-treasures-blogspot.com Nancy Kourmoulis

    These lines replay in my mind as I read here today…

    “The one thing I was left wondering throughout the book was, is it not possible that an extraordinary life could look extra-ordinarily ordinary? Generally what I see in Scripture is a far greater concern for a life of holiness than I do for splashiness.”

    Living a life of holiness, daily walking in the fruit of the Spirit, on the job, raising children, in a marriage, wouldn’t these things make one extraordinary in the sense that it could only be done by the power of the Spirit. So the Spirit of God transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. Isn’t that what Jesus came to give us – transformed lives. (Thinking of Romans 12:1-2, 2 Cor. 5:17 in particular.)

    I found your review to be very accurate. I am in the midst of reading this book right now. While it reminds that the Holy Spirit is God, a person necessary for our spiritual health and vital to our spiritual life, it seems to have a lack. I could not put my finger on it until reading your review – the lack of Scripture. Possibly as was written here – his main idea was to spur those reading on to more in-depth study and seeking on their own. For it is only through our own seeking God can we be transformed anyway. Great thoughts here.

  • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron Armstrong

    Glad you found it helpful, Nancy. Thanks for your thoughts :)

  • http://www.davidccook.com Angela Ralston

    Hi, I’ve noticed that you’ve blogged about Forgotten God, by Francis Chan. As you may know, we have just released a Forgotten God DVD Study Resource. Because of your wonderful blog post about the book, I’d like to offer you a free copy of the DVD to review. Please email me your address, and I’d be happy to send it. Thanks!

    • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron Armstrong

      Thanks Angela! I’ve sent the address :)

  • http://www.joyinthejourneyhh.blogspot.com Heather

    And Aaron, hopefully you’ll review the DVDs after you view them . . .yes?

    • http://hardwords.wordpress.com Aaron Armstrong

      Absolutely. I will give them a fair and honest assessment.

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