Choosing small group curriculum is never easy, as many a discipleship or small groups pastor can tell you. There is a wealth of great material out there… and more than a few lemons. Having experienced both over the years we’ve led small groups, I was excited and a little nervous about Basic: Who is God? featuring Francis Chan.
Because people in our group are coming from a lot of different places (a couple are even coming out of a different Christian tradition altogether), it was really important to me that we address some of the essential truths of the faith, which the videos do exceptionally well, looking at the Trinity from the perspectives of our need to:
- Fear God;
- Follow Jesus; and
- Embrace the Holy Spirit
Each video is insightful, challenging, beautiful, and sometimes a bit odd. Chan speaks with great conviction about our need to fear God—that the Bible doesn’t describe a reserved reverence but a pants-wetting holy terror of the Lord. But the purpose is not to be afraid, but to realize that when we fear God, we’re free of every other fear. We don’t need to fear anyone or anything else. Equally challenging is his call to follow Jesus—don’t just study what He says, do it. Finally, he reminds participants of the power of the Church’s witness when we’ve embraced the Holy Spirit—radical love, radical generosity, radical fellowship. Many in our group (myself included) were left feeling convicted as we realized that there is a degree to which we’ve become complacent in our relationship with Christ. We don’t always ascribe the fear to God that is His due. We don’t always actively obey. We often resist the Holy Spirit’s leading.
The impression I got as we watched the films and worked our way through the discussion questions for each session (seven in total) was that we need to collectively and personally repent and turn away from a laxidasical attitude toward our relationship with Christ. Certainly this was my experience both as the facilitator and a participant. Working through our follower’s guides individually between meetings, I certainly found myself further challenged to not simply let this study be an intellectual exercise, but look for opportunities to live in light of the truths found within the study.
While my feeling toward this series is largely positive, viewers do need to be aware of an important truth when it comes to anything Francis Chan. Because Chan is arguably best known for an almost (to borrow Kevin DeYoung’s phrase) “Tasmanian Devil” Christianity—which has a healthy (over)dose of go-go-go, do-do-do—we can quickly feel beat up and burnt out if we’re not careful to prayerfully consider what we hear and discuss. Some of it won’t really apply to us and sometimes, because of his own background, Chan simply overstates his case. This is particularly evident when he gets into discussion about how we do church in North America. He’s right to be troubled by the complacency he sees in American evangelicalism, to be sure, but in trying to get back on track, Chan winds up going too far to the other side—everything needs to be more spontaneous, more unexpected—to the point that (at least in his presentation) he appears to ignore the fact that the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of order. Chaos is antithetical to Christian worship. So yes, we need to embrace the Spirit in our worship—our churches must follow the leading of the Spirit, must embrace the power of the Spirit in all we do—but we be careful to avoid jumping to conclusions that suggest that order and structure in our gatherings are a sign of quenching the Spirit.
A second point of concern is more of a practical one. There are a lot of questions in the discussion portion of each session. A lot. Leaders will need to carefully manage the time allotted for discussion if your group has members in a time-crunch (think babysitters or early starts at work). If you’re not careful, you’ll find your time for individual prayer and fellowship is eaten up!
I mentioned earlier that these videos, while beautiful, are also somewhat odd. This is due largely to the producers of the video, Flannel (creators of the Nooma series). The imagery is striking—Chan is dressed in a white t-shirt and light jeans while set against a black backdrop, the contrast of which is almost overpowering—but sometimes you don’t know what’s going on. It sometimes appears creative at the expense of communicating. Our group often had to stop and ask, “Okay, what’s the deal with the paper wall—and why are there giant white boxes in the desert?” The visuals are intriguing, to be sure, but I couldn’t quite figure out the point (particularly in the third film, which features the visuals I mentioned).
All that said, would I recommend a small group run through Basic: Who Is God? Despite a few reservations, absolutely. The films are thought-provoking (if weird), the discussion is challenging, and the content overall is God-glorifying. There’s not much more you could ask for. If you’re looking for a new small group resource, I hope you’ll check it out.
Title: Basic: Who Is God?
Author/Presenter: Francis Chan
Publisher: David C. Cook (2010)
Thanks to David C. Cook for providing a copy of this small group series for review purposes.