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.