Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne

The Irresistible Revolution
Title: The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
Author: Shane Claiborne
Publication Date: January 2006
Pages: 367
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've been aware of Claiborne's work since college, but never read any of it.
Date Completed: 8/9/16

Summary: Claiborne reflects on his life as an ordinary radical. He is pursue and proclaiming a lifestyle driven by the most basic messages of Christ. It is counter-cultural in extreme ways.

What I Thought: Back when I attended a conservative Christian college for my undergrad, Shane Claiborne was invited to speak in one of our chapel services. I'm not exactly sure what all went down, but my guess is the conservative board of trustees caught wind of his planned attendance and felt him too liberal to be speaking to students. Claiborne was dis-invited. A local church then invited him to speak there instead. Many students ended up going and hearing him speak. At the time, I had only a loose understanding of what was going on. I did not go hear him speak and I didn't think much about the whole thing.

Fast forward nearly a decade. Ugh. Am I that old? I'm finally picking up Claiborne's book and reading those messages that were deemed to controversial for my little baby student ears. I have a much different understand and perspective on the world these days. It makes me wish I had gone to hear him speak back when I had the opportunity. It makes me wonder if listening to him speak about living as an ordinary radical would have pushed some of my worldview growth along a little faster.

Ahem. Rather than spending a post pondering the maturation of my faith and worldview, let's actually talk about the book, shall we?
Ordinary radical seems a very apt self-description for Claiborne. He takes the messages of Christ literally and, in doing so, lives quite a counter-cultural life. He lives as part of a commune in Philadelphia with other believers; they live in a low income neighborhood and spend their days serving their neighbors, investing in the community, and doing all they can to spread the message and love of Christ. Sometimes this means tutoring students. Sometimes this means feeding the hungry. Sometimes this means protesting laws or corporations they deem unjust. Comfort and security are low on their list of priorities. It's easy to see why their choices are so disquieting to many Christians; they are living out the missives of Jesus in powerful ways, ways that most of us would have a hard time adjusting to.

Claiborne states the point of the book is "not to give you all of the answers but to stir up some of the questions." He does a good job of that. His goal is very clearly to get you thinking, not to present himself as the source of a solution to the world's problems. He fully recognize that Jesus has already filled that position. Instead, Claiborne is raising questions about what it means to live like Christ. A good Christian understands this unending struggle. For many of us, that cliché 90s phrase "What Would Jesus Do?" is still something we wrestle with on a daily basis, albeit, not in those words and in with much more gravitas than the bracelet ever brought to the conversation. 

Claiborne very obviously feels strongly about the choices he is making. There are absolutely moments in the book where I do feel he goes too far. Not too far in love or caring for others, but in his political or protest rhetoric. I understand his mindset 100% and I often agree with it; however, I didn't always agree with the route he took to protest or express his worldview to a corporation or person with a conflicting worldview. If I have any critique of the book, it would be this. Claiborne could do better extending love to the "most" among us just as he does to the "least." My guess is, 10 years on from writing this book, he's matured in that some. Mind you - not necessarily changed his stance, but matured in the way he argues it. 

A few things that stood out to me...

Claiborne talks abut how after 9/11, "the church community was lost, so the many hungry seekers found community in the civic religion of American patriotism." This made me wonder if we are witnessing the fallout of this unsustainable model now. The divisiveness is our country is so evident and prevalent. Has the pendulum of nationalistic unity swung fully to the other side? What does this mean for our country? How do we find a healthy balance in the middle ground?

In another chapter, he talks about how "many Christians seem to be hoping that the kingdom of God will come in triumphal greatness, expanding God's territory and taking over the world with glory and power." How familiar does this sound right now! This plays right into that idea of nationalism, doesn't it? We want God to make us great again. How familiar, too, must this have sounded to those waiting on the Messiah back in the time of Christ. We all try to align our nationalism with our spiritualism. The reality, is, though, that God loves beyond our man-made borders. Justifying our divisions with faith is a bad path to start down. It leads to things like the Crusades or the Inquisition. On this point, I am in total agreement with Claiborne. 

I'm glad I read the book. It's a good addition to the collection of faith-based books I am reading this year. Claiborne's radical approach holds so much value and was a good reminder to me to be placing my energy into this that matter eternally, just just temporally. Claiborne has a few more recent books that I think I'll read at some point as well. He adds a unique voice to this conversation and I think it's one worth hearing.

Quotes I Loved:
  • "Many of us find ourselves estranged from the narrow issues that define conservatives and from the shallow spirituality that marks liberals. We are thirsty for social justice and peace but have a hard time finding a faith community that is consistently pro-life or that recognizes that there are 'moral issues' other than homosexuality and abortion, moral issues like war and poverty."
  • "We have insulated ourselves from miracles. We no longer live with such reckless faith that we need them. There is rarely room for the transcendent in our lives."
  • "The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly."
  • "We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what He did. We can applaud what He preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore His cross without taking up ours."
  • "Today the church is tempted by the spectacular, to do big, miraculous things so people might believe, but Jesus has called us to littleness." This reminded me of Sarah Bessey.
  • "Grace is contagious, just like violence." 
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Maybe...maybe not
If You Liked This, Try: Out of Sorts / For the Love / Tiger Heart

A Reduced Review: As with any book of this type, I did not agree with everything Claiborne said, but his words and his life still challenged me to be more radical in my faith. 


  1. Hey...Finally a book I have read before you :)

    1. Haha. A rare feat. Congrats! Why didn't you recommend it to me sooner?