Ian Morgan Cron,
Chasing Francis
(Nav Press, 2007)

After 13 years of serving as pastor to one of the richest Evangelical megachurches in America, Ian Morgan Cron grew dissatisfied, feeling that somewhere along the line, he'd left God behind. The Evangelical movement and his own church, he felt, had drifted too deeply into conservative politics, was refusing to engage in dialogue with people of other faiths and had moved too far away from its tradition of spiritual practice and worship.

Evangelicals, he believed, had developed a series of facile and easy answers to tough, complex questions. The movement no longer served him.

To learn that the organization you have devoted your adult life to serving no longer suffices is no small thing, and Cron went into a full-fledged crisis of faith. At the peak of his crisis, he retreated to a friend's home in Bermuda, where he immersed himself in the life and works of St. Francis of Assisi, a theologian he had previously ignored because the saint was, of course, Catholic. Francis turned his head around.

Upon returning from his retreat spiritually energized, Cron formed a new church built on Franciscan principles and wrote Chasing Francis, a novel about an Evangelical minister who suffers from a crisis in faith and goes on a retreat where he immerses himself in the life and works of St. Francis of Assisi.

The novel, obviously, has its roots in autobiography, but the details differ. Instead of Bermuda, the central character, Chase Falson, goes to Italy to visit his cousin, a Franciscan monk, who opens up Francis and his theology for him. Falson visits the scenes of Francis's work and, overcoming his initial Evangelical fear of Catholicism, learns that in the mysticism of Francis lies the future of religion.

Armed with new faith and a vision for the future, Falson returns home to make his vision a reality.

It has to be said up front that whatever his gifts as a pastor, Cron is not much of a novelist. He has not learned to build and sustain tension or to use a smooth blend of scene and summary. His dialogue is stiff and much of the action of the novel consists of people making long speeches to each other, so that the characters do not so much make discoveries as they have things discovered for them and explained to them. He also has long chunks of journal entries that substitute for dramatic development.

Having said that, I must also say I do not believe his drawbacks as a novelist are going to bother either Cron or most of his readers very much. His real purpose is to introduce the mysticism of St. Francis to a modern audience in a painless and enjoyable way and to show what Francis has to offer to the post-modern church and post-modern believers. And in that he does a good job.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

29 December 2007

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