on April 1, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
Buy on Amazon
It is absolutely clear from Scripture that God passionately desires supernatural unity within His Church. Unity is what Jesus prays for, what He commands, and what He says will be our greatest witness to the world.
If unity is so important to the heart of God, why is the Church one of the most divided groups on earth?
In his newest book Until Unity, New York Times-bestselling author Francis Chan calls for believers and churches everywhere to align our hearts with God and start taking seriously His numerous commands to unify. While many believe doctrine is at the root of the problem, Francis argues that the real problem is the shallowness or non-existence of our love for each other—rooted in a shallowness in our understanding of the gospel. This is what desperately needs to change.
The reason that God gifts the Church with leaders is so they can equip God’s people in a way that leads to “unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13). We have done a poor job at this, but it can all change. Those who are believers will hear the call and be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). There will be opposition, but we cannot allow anything to discourage us from giving everything we have to the pursuit of a unified, restored Bride.
Unity is something that’s hard to come by in the church. And when you think of this lack of unity, you might immediately jump to differences related to how to do ministry amid the COVID-19 pandemic or political differences that have been around for decades but really became highlighted in the Trump era, but it’s really more than that. We are a church of thousands of denominations and, within those thousands of denominations, thousands of church splits. It can be disheartening. Francis Chan’s latest book, Until Unity is a passionate exhortation to restore our unity, to see loving other believers as an extension of loving Jesus, and to radically change the world as a result.
The first three chapters build up unity as a necessary and needed thing: it’s what God wants, it’s what the church wants, and it’s what the world needs. Chan is in full form as he exhorts readers to look back to the early church to look back to the beginning of creation to see how God created humans to be in unity—in community—with one another. He pulls together passages of Scripture from all angles to show how this unity is a hallmark of spiritual maturity. If we’re going to draw closer to God, we will also draw closer to the indwelt Spirit in other people.
The next four chapters give us the ingredients of building unity: repentance, maturity, love, and perseverance. In the chapter on repentance, Chan writes that, for himself, he had to repent of seeing others who believed differently than him as people whom he was not able to be united with. It’s only in later years that he’s come to have good friendships and relationships with those whose theological practices or beliefs are different than his. While this is a good anecdote, I wish Chan had really taken the time to build on this and discussed how unity works in this scenario. How do individuals who have sometimes substantially different beliefs and practices come together in unity? In particular, I think of the United Methodist Church and their upcoming split over affirming LGBT clergy. How can there be unity here when such an important part of the church life is deeply divided? Is there ever a point that we should break fellowship?
Chan himself unabashedly and unapologetically comes across as theologically conservative. He very strongly leads readers into a reflection of God as seen through the penal substitutionary theory of atonement. He writes that his organization is complementarian, not egalitarian, in their view on women in ministry. He speaks of hell, saying “Back in my day, pastor used to preach on Hell.” (Interesting note, Chan wrote a book called Erasing Hell with theologian Preston Sprinkle. Sprinkle has since recanted his view and believes in annihilationism.)
Will these statements engender unity or disunity with more liberal brothers and sisters in faith? When statements about women in ministry or same-sex marriage are inherently seen as issues that the church cannot unite over, how can we foster unity? How can there be unity if one side will not come to the table? Are there points in which there should be disunity in the church? Until Unity doesn’t address these difficult issues, preferring to speak mostly in the abstract, avoiding the most contentious theological, political, and sociological issues dividing the church today.
My critique, then, is of what isn’t there. By avoiding many of the big issues, Chan maintains unity (by not angering anyone) but neither does he address the gaping wound in Christendom. Francis points readers to a goal—groups of mature believers who show the world supernatural love for each other—but doesn’t navigate the complexities of getting there. And maybe that was purposeful. Maybe that’s for another book. Maybe that’s for a different type of speaker and writer.
Chan’s conclusion is that the church had to be more than just a one hour a week experience. Community and discipleship are not extras. They are essential to being the body of Christ. The deep love that comes with true community creates a bond that resists division. Allowing the Spirit to take precedence in our lives places us into the middle of a larger, more diverse, beautiful family of believers. We may not always agree, but our disagreements do not turn to disunity.
Until Unity is passionately written is a conversational tone. I could hear Francis’s voice in my head as I read the book. His genuineness cannot be understated and this book is obviously rooted in own deep pain and grief for the larger American church to find what he’s found in his house churches in Hong Kong. I loved it, but I also wanted something a bit deeper. Francis started the conversation. He begins the journey. There’s so much more to be done, and his voice and experience can help lead the church into it. I hope there’s more to come from him on this in the future.