Saturday, January 06, 2007

Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution

Several blogs that I visit favorably mentioned Shane Claiborne’s book, The Irresistible Revolution. So I bought a copy and read it over the holidays. I guess the other blogsters enjoyed Claiborne’s enthusiasm, which is fair enough.

There is also a commitment to service – a commitment to obedience – that is refreshing as well. Particularly in Lutheran circles, Christ’s commands are often taken only to be “law” intended solely to make us feel guilty (so we can then repent and receive forgiveness) rather than as calls to action addressed to the new man that God’s forgiveness in Christ creates in us.

Claiborne also had an emphasis on what I’d call personalism (I don’t recall if Claiborne called it that). By which Claiborne means getting involved face to face in serving the people that Christ would have his church serve. I’m undoubtedly more sympathetic to check writing that Claiborne is, nonetheless, I agree that something important happens when we come face to face with those we serve in Christ. (I’m not entirely sure what that important thing is, but whatever it is, is transformative and radicalizing.)

So all this is just fine. What I didn’t find just fine, however, was that, as best I recall, there wasn’t one left-wing bromide that Claiborne didn’t hold as a requirement of the “Gospel.” Ignoring the issue that, for Lutherans, a “Gospel requirement” is something of an oxymoron, the book treats the positions he assumes as though they were obviously taught in the Scriptures. Whether pacifism (yes), capital punishment (no), market economics (no - even if capitalistic acts are between consenting adults!), etc., the book reads as a PC check list. If Claiborne struggled with what the Bible says about any of these issues, he doesn’t mention that struggle here in any great detail (and the book is something of an autobiography).

And then there’s the continual carping about making the Gospel relevant for today rather than just about heaven. I don’t know about Claiborne, but I don’t hear that many sermons about heaven in many churches today. For me, the Christian life makes sense only in light of eternity and the cross. I think the problem is that modern Christians don’t spend enough time “seeking the things above, where Christ is” (Col 3.1-2). I certainly grant that as we do so our lives in the here and the now will change dramatically. But that’s because of our heavenly orientation, not in spite of it.

So, ultimately, I’m unsure what prompts the enthusiasm for the book. It’s the quasi-autobiography of a 30-something, Sojourner-type Anabaptist. I can commend the enthusiasm, but heterodoxy is not a requirement for enthusiasm.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm noticing in some evangelical circles today, that "radical committment to Jesus" comes off sounding like "Ooo, look how I'm so not Republican."

I hadn't heard of this book, but I keep running into stuff like this.

January 06, 2007 2:12 PM  
Blogger CPA said...

You just don't get it, Jim. Your obviously not a radical Christian. You must be looking for something like an argument or an exegesis or something like that. How "modern", how linear!

Yes I'm joking. Like Wayne I haven't read the book but it sounds like boilerplate to me.

January 06, 2007 2:54 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


I don't follow it all that closely, but it does seem to me that much of the criticism is aesthethic -- look at how uncool those Republicans are.

Not that the GOP doesn't have enough problems of its own. While I don't rejoice at the Dems taking the Congress, I've never known a party that better deserved to lose Congress than the GOP of the last six years


Yeah, I just can't help being a slave to the text. I'm as linear as they come (with four right angles to boot).

January 07, 2007 1:43 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

His book challenges me to think about the issues, whether I come to the conclusions he does or not. His book challenges me to put a face on poverty and war and to remember the Sermon on the Mount that we often forget in our quest for the American Dream. His book reminded me that Jesus was a revolutionary not a suburban minister with a brick home, a minivan and a nice salary.

I think we all need to be challenged in that way sometimes.

January 31, 2007 2:24 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I praised Shane for what I though warranted praise, and criticized him when I thought he was wrong. It's easy to be provocative, it's less easy to be right.

And if it was only Shane's book that challenged you to put a face on poverty and war, then you should try reading the Bible and opening your eyes to the world around you. I guarantee it will shake you up far more than this book, or any other book.

And, yes, Jesus was a revolutionary, but not the type that Shane wants him to be. Shane again and again says that he wants to Gospel to be "relevant" to the here and the now. St. Paul says, "if we have hoped in Christ only in this world, we are of all men most to be pitied."

I stick with Paul, and the cross, even if that means I'm accused of selling "pie in the sky, bye and bye."

February 19, 2007 1:07 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

One more thing, Heather: What are you now doing as a result of being challenged by Shane's book? If all you've done is "think" about those issues, then I think even Shane would agree that he's failed.

February 19, 2007 1:11 PM  

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