Books, Brokenhearted Theology, Contemp Culture, MP520, Reading Reflections

Book Review #1 – The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne (Zondervan, 2006)

Author:  Shane Claiborne is one of the founders of “The Simple Way“, a monastic community in inner-city Philadelphia that attempts to take literally and seriously what Christ preached – a simple lifestyle focused on generosity, humility, joy, and justice.

Outline: Written as an autobiography/memoir, what The Irresistible Revolution lacks in organization is offset by the passionate and heartfelt yearnings Claiborne expresses.  In this book, Claiborne’s argues that the American church has lost the way of Christ and the early church, which looked more like a simple (yet radical) spiritual (and social) revolution than the consumerist marketing of today’s Western church.  For Claiborne, the Revolution started by Jesus looks to turn the world upside down using grassroots tactics of love, joy, and service, forsaking the pursuit of top-down power that has caused so much pain and suffering in the world. 

Although there are several reoccurring themes throughout the book, including discussions of war, justice, the Church, and Jesus, most of the chapters seem to come back to the underlying problem of the poverty that our culture faces, and the riches that Christ’s Revolution can offer to the world. 

Claiborne argues that the Christianity he grew up with – a white, upper middle class, consumerist and market driven religion – has missed the message of the Gospel.  Early in the story, he writes about going to spend nights sleeping on the streets where poverty is rampant.  There, Claiborne writes, “the Bible came to life for us” (84).  Without a heart for the poor and the destitute, Claiborne argues that you cannot truly understand the Revolution that Jesus came to start on Earth. 

Reactions: The Irresistible Revolution does not simply stop at the political and economical issue of poverty.  Instead, Claiborne seems to imply that there is a deeper poverty of spirit in America, and specifically the American church.  Life’s simple joys and pleasures have been lost in a culture of fast paced immoral business and political practices.  Whether on Wall Street, in the White House, or in the pulpits of American churches, Claiborne believes that we have sold our souls for fame, fortune, and earthly treasure.  This has resulted in the kind of poverty that no longer recognizes the humanity of the homeless on our streets or the innocent lives torn apart by war overseas.   

Claiborne does, however, offer hope – “an Irresistible Revolution” as modeled by Christ: living simply, sharing with others, realizing what it means to love your neighbor as yourself, and then experiencing the irresistible joy that follows from this way of life.  Rather than attempting to change the powers from the top, Claiborne reminds us that sometimes the greatest and most radical changes are affected from those who are often dismissed as voiceless.  “Everyone has a voice” (128)

Shane Claiborne writes with a contagious amount of passion.  I found myself smiling and laughing at the joy and beauty of his story.  I also found myself convicted of the poverty in my own life – the times when I caused harm instead of relief, found a reason to be angry instead joyful, and the selfish ambition that surrounds my life.  But the reader’s sense of conviction is not the intent of the book.  Instead, the book is extremely optimistic.  There is hope for American culture and American churches.  Despite the pervasion of poverty in our midst, Shane Claiborne writes and lives in this hope. 

This is the first in a series of book reviews for a class I, David Kludt, am taking (Transforming Contemporary Culture) at Fuller. 

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