Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution: A Review

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne appealed to my longing for two things that I have missed in most of my church experiences: a deep sense of fellowship with other believers and a commitment to living out our faith in a way that matters, so that we may be truly by known by our love.

Claiborne addresses a lot of issues that have made me feel out of step with most American Christians: the emphasis on big congregations; the insistence that tithes go to the local church, even when churches spend more on buildings and internal ministries than they do on helping those in need; and the belief that offering fun activities (as opposed to genuine love) will bring more people into the church.

While The Irresistible Revolution offers an appealing alternative to a dying form of Christianity, Claiborne occasionally seems to forget the reason for reviving the faith. Though his social action is clearly motivated by his love for Jesus, the book’s middle chapters left me feeling that his ultimate goal was alleviation of suffering on earth, rather than spiritual transformation. Committed Christians will be motivated to alleviate others’ suffering, but this work should be a means to the end of bringing others to Christ, rather than an end in itself.

Claiborne also seems to believe we can create heaven on earth. He has witnessed many forms of oppression and has been jailed for opposing it, but certain sections of the book suggest that people mistreat others only because “they know not what they do.” (I can’t find the exact quote, but at one point he says something like, “We don’t mean to hurt each other.”) As he dreams utopian dreams, he seems to have forgotten original sin and Jesus’s statements that we will always have poverty (Matthew 26:11) and war (Matthew 24:6) on this side of heaven. Christians are called to stand against the evil of this world, but we will not overcome it until the next world comes.

The Irresistible Revolution encouraged me to think a little bit harder about how I can live out my faith more radically in a place where the needs are less obvious. (I haven’t yet figured out the solution.) I admire Claiborne’s lifestyle and the impact members of his community make on the world around them, but I don’t believe I am personally called to live in the “abandoned places of empire.” We need Christians to be salt and light in every neighborhood, including the suburbs (which Claiborne describes as spiritually dangerous places, and I agree) and upper-class communities (though I often wonder how we can best reach the wealthy without falling in love with wealth ourselves).

After reading this book, I’m not ready to join a new monastic community, but I am thankful for those who are called to that lifestyle. Together, we can be the church and bring light to the darkness of this world.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Nick of Time: A Book Review

Nick of Time by Tim Downs, a book I got free through Book Sneeze, is a light mystery focusing on Nick Polchak, a forensic entomologist who heads to Philadelphia to help a friend with a case, only to find evidence that his friend has been killed. He follows the case to the Poconos, leaving his fiancée in Virginia without word of his whereabouts less than a week before their wedding.

The mystery was entertaining enough to keep me reading, even though I figured out most of the solution before I got to the end. The characters had a little more personality than most who appear in Christian fiction, but I also wouldn’t have categorized this book as Christian fiction. The only thing “Christian” about it is the presence of a pastor as a secondary character the main characters respect. Not having read any of the previous books in the series, I have no idea whether Nick and his fiancée were presented as Christians, but if they were, there’s no evidence of it here. Their faith, if it exists, does not affect their words or actions at all.

If you’re looking for a book to read on the beach, Nick of Time may do the trick. But if you’re looking for a complicated mystery or a book to encourage you in your walk with Christ, try something else.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Mountains Bow Down: A Decent Mystery in the Christian Fiction Genre

One beef I have with Christian fiction is that it rarely offers good mystery novels, so when Book Sneeze offered free copies of The Mountains Bow Down by Sibella Giorello to bloggers, I ordered one. I was pleasantly surprised. As a mystery, it’s not bad: Raleigh Harmon, a geologist with the FBI, is on an Alaskan cruise when she is the first to recognize that the suicide of an on-board movie star’s wife is not actually suicide. The book took a bit too long to hook me, and a few plot details didn’t seem to fit quite right, but it was interesting enough to keep me reading and to add the previous novels in the series to my to-read list.

As far as its Christian label goes, I have mixed opinions. Not having read the previous books, I spent the first two-thirds of the story trying to guess which characters were Christians. None of them seemed to demonstrate their faith beyond general Bible knowledge that even an atheist might possess. When God is first mentioned somewhere around page 100, Raleigh is offering Him a halfhearted prayer for forgiveness for lying to her mother about her chosen career, but she doesn’t change her actions or tell the truth. On the other hand, when Raleigh’s thoughts about her faith in Christ finally do go farther in depth, Giorello handles the ideas well. She includes them naturally within the storyline and doesn’t tack on awkward sermonettes the way many Christian authors do. Still, I would have liked to have seen God making more of a difference in the characters’ lives throughout the book.

The Mountains Bow Down isn’t a great book, and Giorello isn’t likely to be mentioned with G.K. Chesterton and Dorothy Sayers on a list of great Christian mystery writers, but the novel was good for a few hours of entertainment, and I’m happy to have found a decent mystery in the Christian fiction genre.