Review: Until Unity

Until UnityUntil Unity by Francis Chan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can see from other reviews that I’m definitely in a minority in not loving this book. I think highly of Chan. In addition, I do not doubt his genuineness whatsoever. I also do not doubt his premise – Christianity is divided and God hates division. He uses a lot of Scripture in this book, which I respect. He even says many strong things that are needful. So why do I not love this book (like everyone else)?

Chan leaves us holding the bag, in my opinion. Where do we go from here? I think he tries in the last chapter to sew it all up into something we can practically do, but in the end we are left with a feeling that there’s nothing we really can do about division except really love people (a great point!). That is, except people who continue to be divided – whom we should reject as not even Christian (really?). I did not get this point at all. Chan admits to divisive attitudes in the past (kudos for recognizing this in self, something we all need to do), but then basically says we have to reject people who are divisive as if they are not Christian at all. What I sense in this mixed message is that he is still struggling with unity/disunity and how to deal with it – but hasn’t arrived at some substantive approach yet.

Much of his urgency centers around an emphasis on hell, judgment, and fear of God (themes from an earlier book). And there’s plenty of angst around the people who aren’t viewing these with the emotion that he presents – why aren’t you feeling like I’m feeling about this? I do think that he paints with broad brushes and writes as if he alone understands what real unity is. I did not come away with a clear understanding of what he thinks unity is nor any process as to how to come together as believers. Maybe that’s not his purpose? I don’t know. Maybe he did, and I just missed it.

Another criticism is his insistence that the church was united for a thousand years but then suffered a big schism. As I read through the New Testament, I do not even think the first century church was immune to division, much less the first thousand years. He references the church councils and creeds as examples of how to come together, but many of those were called to excommunicate and power-grab. The creeds have value and teach us much about efforts to centralize the core of Christian belief, the church fathers do not really give us a case study for Christian unity, in my opinion.

I wanted to like this book because I like Chan. I am in favor of Christian unity. I do realize that there are many obstacles to overcome to grow toward greater unity. My own faith tribe’s heritage is a testimony to a unity effort that fell apart. So, there’s a lot to learn.

For this book, on the plus side, Chan has written some powerful statements and presented some excellent ideas. He rightly emphasizes that God desires unity. He is passionate about loving one another beyond our differences. He gives some good guidelines for individuals in how they regard other believers who may be quite different in living out their faith but who shouldn’t be rejected. I’m glad I read the book. I hope there’s a sequel.

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