“If by evangelical we mean one who spreads the good news that there is another kingdom or superpower, an economy and a peace other than that of the nations, a savior other than Caesar, then yes, I am an evangelical." – Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution.
Having heard Shane Claiborne speak at The Justice Conference this year, and also not long ago at an event at Park Avenue Christian Church in Manhattan, I thought I should also read his well-known book, “The Irresistible Revolution.” It was a good book, and very much what I take to be his “style.” In this book he shares his experiences as an Christian activist, an “ordinary radical.” It’s story after story from his life, all driving at certain key points.
There is one issue I’d like to address up front. Shane seems to be making the case that Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler to sell all he had, give it to the poor and then become a disciple is a universal command, one that well-meaning Christians avoid by reasoning it away. That really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Although I get that he thinks this is somehow a universal command for all who would follow Jesus, Shane’s subsequent comments in the book that demonstrate respect and acceptance for Christians who do not sell all and embrace of life of poverty (or perhaps more aptly said, “sufficiency”). Further it seems to me abundantly clear that Jesus command to that man was truly personal, and not universal. Elsewhere in the New Testament we read about rich and poor Christians (and their divisions) in the church without specific criticism being given to the rich for not embracing poverty. If anything, they are chastised for not being humble and for not treating the poor with genuine respect and concern.
Beyond that, this was an encouraging and engaging book, one that gave me pause often with thought-provoking observations. The question after a book like this is whether those thoughts will turn into action.
It’s easy as well to see some of the major influences in Shane’s thinking through what he wrote. Aside from Gandhi and Mother Teresa (and, of course, Jesus!), I also saw clearly the marks of Walter Wink and Walter Brueggemann. The myth of redemptive violence is repeatedly called out in this book, and Shane calls for the church to engage in prophetic imagination.
There were many quotes I’d love to share here from The Irresistible Revolution, but space (and your attention span) will not permit. I’ll close here with one of my favorites, one I shared in a sermon a couple of weeks ago before I’d finished reading. I encourage you to pick up a copy of this title and give it a read.
"But I began to discover ‘the greater things.’ It was not just miracles. I started to see that the miracles were an expression not so much of Jesus’ mighty power as of his love. In fact, the power of miraculous spectacle was the temptation he faced in the desert—to turn stones to bread or to fling himself from the temple. But what had lasting significance were not the miracles themselves but Jesus’ love. Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, and a few years later, Lazarus died again. Jesus healed the sick, but they eventually caught some other disease. He fed the thousands, and the next day they were hungry again. But we remember his love. It wasn’t that Jesus healed a leper but that he touched a leper, because no one touched lepers. And the incredible thing about that love is that it now lives inside of us. In the verses just after the one about the greater things, Jesus assures us that the Spirit now lives in us. Jesus says that he is going to the Father but will also remain inside of us, and we in him. We are the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus to the world. Christ is living inside of you and me, walking the earth. We shall do even greater things because the love that lived in the radical Christ now lives within millions of ordinary radicals all over the planet.”
See also: Shane Claiborne At The Justice Conference 2013