The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne

For a committed, institutional Christian there is something deeply unnerving about Shane Claiborne’s ‘Irresistible Revolution’.  Not only does Claiborne offer a call to sever our attachment to the insularity of faith – and thereby radically reconfigures our conception of community – but it also seeks to destabilise the security of faith by opening up questions about our reading of the life of Jesus.

Community recurs throughout the book, though each representation is taken as one facet of the ‘The Simple Way’.  The Christian community is one that is situated among the poor in an effort to collapse the boundaries which divide God’s children.  Once these boundaries begin to collapse Claiborne envisions economic redistribution and interpersonal reconfiguration inexorably following.  In this view repentance becomes a process by which people can transcend(?) the divisions between people.  This transcendence is not necessarily metaphysical but interpersonal; it is the ability to see people and our surroundings in a (new) way which builds mutual trust and respect.

As I read the various accounts of collapsing these barriers I frequently considered the extent to which this change can be transient.  I wondered what happened to those groups of people who were involved in protecting the homeless or those who spent their summer in Calcutta with Mother Teresa.  Is it possible to consistently remove those barriers if you not are permanent among the poor?  I reflect upon Christian Missionaries who served in Africa and who have struggled to readjust to the wealth of the West upon the completion of their proselyting.  And yet, once they have adjusted they seem to forget the poverty and the suffering, and new concerns take over.  Although ‘Calcuttas can be found everywhere’ it must be increasing difficult to find them if we leave the situation of our first awakening.

What also struck me about this book was the evidence that there was some scholarship behind Claiborne’s position but that there was also a strong sense in which he had used this selectively.  The author(s) of John’s Gospel and also the epistles, for example, have a very different vision of community than the one Claiborne imagines.  For these early Christians, the practice of brotherly love and economic redistribution was directed only toward  those in the community.  This does not detract for Claiborne’s larger point except to say that it is probably not wise to present his vision of the Christian community as the original, or earliest, message of Christ’s life.  This type of apologetics will probably cause some to become distrustful of this hermeneutic.

The potential tragedy here is that the questions Claiborne raises concerning the import of Jesus’ ministry are provocative and worthy of consideration.  His theological position is not unique (cf. Dominic Crossan) and yet his attempt to fully live this model of Christian revolution is.  The attempt to actualise, and not just to reimagine, Christ’s revolutionary ministry needs to be considered in more depth especially because it is radically different from what many Christians currently believe and practice.  Such reconsideration will serve only to draw us further into contemplative discipleship.


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