Written in the style of wisdom literature with a “delicate balance of fiction and nonfiction,” Chasing Francis takes the reader on a journey with Chase Falson as he embarks on a pilgrimage to St. Francis’ hometown of Assisi, Italy, in search of a deeper, more robust faith. The story begins with Falson, an American evangelical megachurch pastor, having a crisis of faith after years of having an “unshakable confidence in [the] conservative evangelical theology” he learned in seminary. Despite his attempts to prop himself up through visits with a psychiatrist, Falson falls apart on stage during a Sunday morning sermon a few days after burring a nine-year old children who died in a freak accident. During this sermon he finally admits to himself and the congregation that his “faith is gone” and he no longer has all the answers for everything in life.
The days after this breakdown Falson, who has been asked by the church elders to take some time off, decides to visit Assisi, Italy, on the advice of his uncle who is a Franciscan priest. Once in Italy, his uncle introduces him to St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226 C.E.) and the radical nature of his faith in Jesus. Falson initially tries to deflect his uncle’s comments about St. Francis because of his suspicious of Roman Catholic theology. However he soon embraces the pilgrimage as he realizes that he really wants to find “a new way of following Jesus.”
Using the pilgrimage of Chase Falson as a guide, Ian Cron masterfully guides the reader through a deconstruction of a faith of certainty as commonly held by the American evangelical subculture before reconstructing that faith around “serving Jesus completely and unreservedly” as modeled by St. Francis. Topics addressed within the book include the nature and role of the Bible in our faith, the role of arts in the church and the world, the need to stand with the less fortunate members of our society, the connection between humanity and the rest of nature, and a critique of the rampant materialism that holds sway in a large part of the church.
Though some may see this book as controversial, if not outright dangerous, I found it refreshing and delightful. Like Falson, I got “fed up with the baggage that frequently goes along with the Christian subculture” and sought refuge among the writings of those who traveled the road of Jesus-centric mysticism before me. And while I might have used different words then Falson did in his final talk to his church, the concepts of transcendence, community, beauty, dignity, and meaning are ones that I have wholeheartedly embraced.
The writings and mission of St. Francis of Assisi, however, remained largely unknown to me before this book. After reading Ian Cron’s depiction of St. Francis, I am intrigued by the saint and his message to radically follow Jesus. St. Francis does seem, as Cron put it, to be a “wonderful integration of all the theological streams we have today.” Perhaps in addition to helping repair the Christendom of his time, St. Francis will help us straight the bend heart and mindset of our churches today as we join him in chasing Jesus.