Friday, April 18, 2008

Shane Claiborne: Intro to Irresistible Revolution

In his introduction to Irresistible Revolution, Claiborne lays out a familiar dualism or stereotype: on the one hand the Christian who focuses on the afterlife with little interest in addressing the suffering of this world, and, on the other hand, the social activist who is only interested in changing the material world, with little concern for the life of the spirit.

Claiborne identifies himself with what we might call the third or emerging church way: as a deeply faith-filled Christian whose faith motivates him to help build the Kingdom of God in this world.

“Many of us are refusing to allow distorted images of our faith to define us,” he writes. That's a terrific line, I think.

He says he doesn’t fit into old liberal/conservative boxes. He doesn’t like labels. He does, however, identify himself with postmoderns, who are interested in religious experiences and stories, rather than religious doctrine or political ideology.

“The time has come ... for a new kind of Christianity, a new kind of revolution,” he says.

What this might look like gets spelled out in the rest of the book.

An aside: In his author’s note he writes that his goal is to speak truth in love. He teases us with his struggle over whether to write this book and why he chose Zondervan as his publisher, but never explains this.

Claiborne understands that he is speaking to an audience for whom the word “Christian” may be tainted. He wants to wrest back the term from the zealots, the rule makers, the heaven-only-after-death crowd.

This interests me. I’ve certainly known people who see how some (not all) Christians behave (narrow-minded, judgmental, and hypocritical) and thus recoil from calling themselves Christians because they don’t want to be identified with that group. Others, like Claiborne, assert: I’m a Christian and I’m not like that. I’m a different kind of Christian, and people like me are out there and growing in numbers.

The question: Should we move away from calling ourselves Christians because over time different groups have hijacked the term and abused it or should we claim the term (and the rich tradition of good behind it that includes Francis of Assisi, John Woolman and other selfless followers of Christ) and try to rightly represent it to the world? Would Claiborne resonate with you more if he didn’t identify himself, boldly, as a Christian? Is he OK because he calls himself not only a Christian but a radical? Would he lose credibility if he tried to deny his Christian heritage?

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