Book Review: Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution, Zondervan

October 2, 2006

Claiborne asserts that the mainline Church has become impotent and lethargic as it has strayed from early church faith practices and suggests that a return to creative engagement within the world that goes beyond the walls of our Christian subculture will bring about much needed transformation in the world and in the church. Specifically, he names the importance of active participation in organic communal life, relationship with and care for the poor, redistribution of wealth, and loving our enemies.

Claiborne tells of how he came to new conclusions about the holistic nature of church life when he and group of students from his college began to join in supporting a group of homeless people who were facing expulsion from a vacant cathedral in Philadelphia. He commented on the way in which the homeless families cared for one another, shared their possessions, and worshipped and broke bread together while welcoming him and his friends to join their fellowship. In this context, he found a life-giving experience of church that involved more than a two-hour weekly service. As he ate and slept at the cathedral with the homeless and read the New Testament with a fresh sense of its relevancy, vision for a new form of church life was inspired.  Claiborne states, “The church became something we are—an organism, not an organization” (p.62).

One of the most powerful themes in Claiborne’s writings is his insight into the way in which the church has related to the poor and his honest evaluation of how charity has served only to further the distance between the church and the poor.  Claiborne challenges the reader to not just treat the poor as a “missions project” and rather to work towards building friendships and to be known by each others as family members (p.128). He shares tale after tale of how the Simple Way community, that he helped to found in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Philadelphia, developed relationships with those in their community that were long-standing and mutually beneficial. Claiborne also critiques forms of charity that involve passing on money or contributions  without becoming aware personally of the reality and faces of the poor, thus allowing Christians to continue to mirror without hesitation the consumerism of our society (p.123). Claiborne relayed a number of creative measures to transform the impact of poverty as an insider amongst the poor from a grassroots level.  He specifically gives a good amount of attention to practicing the redistribution of wealth. He looks to the early church model in which the believers shared their possessions with one another as an outgrowth of their love for God and one another (p. 163). Claiborne calls the church to become a family that is not concerned merely for those with whom they have biological ties, but with others in order to “end the cycles of inequality, and to end creation’s groaning and the groaning of hungry bellies. (p.196).”

Another topic Claiborne touches on in his attempt to challenge Christians to expand their thinking beyond narrow definitions of God’s family comes up as he talks about Christians should relate to their enemies. He speaks about the importance of imaginative efforts that provide alternatives to war and violence (p.286).  

Without a doubt I found this book to be inspiring, refreshing and challenging. I find the call to relational development with others outside of our biological families to be a radical concept in the context of church life that so often revolves around nurturing the life of a nuclear family of biologically related individuals.  The idea of Christians knowing the poor as friends and family members who have equal welcome to their resources and holiday gatherings as those in their biological family is challenging and hopeful. I envision future ministry that would work at this.  Overall, I found the book bring a lot of practical thought to the idea of “transforming contemporary culture.”  


One Response to “Book Review: Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution, Zondervan”

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