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217 of 245 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Where is the gospel?, 23 Feb. 2008
This review is from: The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (Paperback)
I should say at the outset, I think I'm out on a limb here. Everyone else seems to raving about this book. But I'm not so sure.

First, the good stuff. I think Shane Claiborne (SC) writes boldly and strikingly about various topics. Much of the book is a wake-up call for those who have got used to dull, timid, worldly, 'big', Christianity. He is immensely quotable: "Most of the time when I see Christian superstars like Jerry Falwell or Al Sharpton, I feel I'm watching professional wrestling. There's a lot of shouting and sweating, but the people seem too superhuman, and I'm not convinced all the moves are real." (p27)
He has some excellent material on the value of singleness. (p109-111) That's humbled me, and reminded me that I need to try to promote that in a Biblical way. Then there's some good stuff about the worthlessness of "cool": "...we must be either hot or cold, because if we are lukewarm (an old-school way of saying "cool"), we will be spit out of God's mouth"! (p230) There are lots of other helpful areas too, mostly only a few pages at a time.
He has lots of great stories, many of which would be excellent sermon-illustration material!

Now the bad stuff:
1) It's *very* Ameri-centric. Big chunks of the book are spent critiquing the Christian Right. Most of that didn't resonate with my experience of the Church in the UK. We don't do flags on the platform, singing anthems, rallying our troups into war or party politics. All that felt a bit meaningless to me as a Brit - who am I to criticise Christians living in another country and culture?

2) Because it's the experiences of a single guy, living in community, doing some wild and crazy things, I just don't see how much of what he says relates to me. I mean, I have a wife and 3 kids. I can't exactly move to Iraq for a while, or open up my house as a homeless shelter (not that I think there's nearly so much need here anyway - see point 1!). What he has effectively done is to abandon his entire culture. Now that's great for him, because he was in a position to do it. But the huge, vast, majority simply aren't. I'm not prepared to because I don't see that there's anything inherently wrong with having a house, or a car, or a job, or food. Parts of our culture are good (schools, hospitals, homes). If you want to live outside popular culture, fine. But I'd rather live out the Christ-life within it. Which is equally as difficult, and arguably more so. He's advocating a form of monastic asceticism that I'm not convinced is Biblical.

3) He redefines well-established theological terms. What he means by words like "evangelical", "conversion" and "gospel" are simply not the same as orthodox, Biblical, Christianity. For example: "Conversion is not an event but a process, a process of slowly tearing ourselves away from the clutches of the culture." No it isn't. Conversion has nothing to do with releasing oneself from the bonds of culture. It's the act of repentance and faith, when we repond to the gospel. Forgive me if I can't see the link between historic conversion and SC's. I suppose "sanctification" would be a more correct word for what he's talking about.

4) He caricatures the church.
"...if someone had a heart-attack on Sunday morning, the paramedics would have to take the pulse of half the congregation before they would find the dead person" (p43) OK, very funny. But certainly not my experience of good, Biblical, modern church. He gives the impression that churches are all navel-gazing, introverted, holy huddles with no interest or ability to communicate with the outside world. Well, again, there are loads of churches that care for the poor, the lonely, the disposessed. In Ipswich, UK, we have "Street Pastors" who are out in the clubs and pubs at the weekend, looking after the drunks and the dropouts; there is a pregnancy crisis centre, a drug rehab centre is soon to open. There's work amongst prostitutes and the homeless. We do care. Perhaps not enough, perhaps we could do with being better resourced. But we *are* trying to live out a life of faith in our culture, and it hurts a bit to be told we aren't.

5) He minimises the importance of theology:
"I learnt more about God from the tears of homeless mothers than a systematic theology ever taught me" (p51) Now, I know the guy is a firm post-modern and that post-moderns like stories more than facts etc etc. But, that kind of statement calls into question the whole value of theology. What did the tears of homeless mothers *actually* teach him? That sharing is good? That we should care for each other? Great - but not much about God. What can those things *possibly* teach us about God? We are made in his likeness, not he in ours. We don't learn about God by looking at fallen sinners (no matter how vulnerable or holy); we learn about God from the Word. SC has it the wrong way around.
Again, "When people ask me if I am Protestant or Catholic, I just answer 'yes.'. And when people ask me if we are evangelicals, I...say, 'Absolutely, we want to spread the kingdom of God like crazy.'" Well, I'm sorry, but the differences between Protestant and Catholic theology *are* important. They espouse completely different ideas about how to relate to God, the authority of the Bible, the meaning of salvation etc etc. They're not just minor tertiary issues, they affect the central tennets of the faith. Theology matters!

6) I'm not sure what his "gospel" is. Throughout the whole book, I could find barely a mention of sin, salvation, or the cross. What there was a lot of is loving our neighbours. Which of course, is good. But surely it's not the whole picture? He seems to see Jesus as an inspirational figure, who showed us how to live and love well. But that's not the gospel of Paul, or of evangelicalism. One story will serve to illustrate the point: It was the time when a bunch of his friends slept on Wall Street, New York, as an act of solidarity with the poor. (p118-119) Then at a certain time, they unfurled banners which read, "Stop terrorism", "Share", "Love", and a quote from Ghandi about greed. They drew pictures on the pavements and blew bubbles, and hugged and laughed. And SC describes it as "bringing God and Mammon together". Forgive me, but, if you look carefully, where is God in that? Where is the Biblical gospel in there? Sure, it's a worthwhile enterprise to stand in solidarity with the poor, and to stand up against corporate greed. But don't make out that this was some sort of outreach with the gospel.

If the church adopted SC's ideas, then we would probably be more happy, more loving, more radical, and probably bigger. We would be nicer people. But would those things lead to more being saved from an eternity without God? I somehow doubt it. What we really need is to be motivated by the truth of the Jesus-filled, Biblical gospel, and to reach out to people with the saving message of the cross.
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Showing 1-10 of 27 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Mar 2008 23:51:39 GMT
Re 5)
There are many catholics and protestants who are pleasing God and going to meet him someday, but there are many catholics and protestants whom God doesn't know. I don't think God is that interested in the label.

The heart matters! That's why the tears of a homeless mum can have a deeper impact than a theology course. I can study maths for hours and hours but that doesn't make me love the subject!

I don't think SC is saying that theology doesn't matter, but is sharing his own experiences and there worth to him.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Apr 2008 11:46:40 BDT
Jon Mason says:
I agree that I'm sure God isn't in the least bit interested in the label. I'm sure there won't be denominations in heaven. However, the point I was trying to make was that the protestant and catholic view of salvation is vastly different. And I chose those two to name because they crop up a lot in his book. But there are lots of other examples too.
SC seems to not be at all interested in what you believe, so long as you try your best and stick up for those less fortunate than yourself. Well I'm sorry, but that's a pretty feeble basis for someone who is lauded by many evangelicals as a worthy church leader.
The heart does matter, but the heart is informed by the mind. "Be transformed through the renewing of your mind" says Paul. In the end it comes down to a question of how we can know God. Is it through the stories of other fallible, fallen, messed-up humans; or through what God himself has revealed about himself in his word? I know where I place my trust, along with historic evangelicalism. I'm pretty sure I also know where SC places his...

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Apr 2008 15:01:10 BDT
June says:
Thanks Jon....A great critique of the book and now I will order it. What I love about the approach to living a Christ like life is that, even though you say you are married with kids and not about to give up all for a more radical lifestyle, that doesn't mean you are not Christ like...being a loving dad and supporting your family puts you in the position whereby you are another sort of 'community'. As a result, you are modelling for your kids a way of life that I hope will inspire them..who knows..they may be 'radical' later in their lives. What would you feel about that?

Radical is not the only way to live of course. I live in the Middle East.....teach English at a Muslim university....and far from being able to be 'out there' and radical, I have to be very subtle...but my students know that there is something indefinable (to them)....about me. They study English literature and the moral code expressed by our writers, which is as close as they'll get in my care to understanding the basis of decent human behaviour! They get it...and if they think about it privately, who knows what seeds of understanding the Message have been sown? If you read Donald Miller also, you get the American perspective again of living a life rooming with mates and writing his radical thoughts poverty I expect. His experiences in no way mirror my life, where I live, the people I interact with daily, or even how I would necessarily do stuff..but he is a wonderful inspiring writer, who has opened my mind to ways of looking at stuff and remembering that of course who cares about community is all but underground and we meet in the weirdest ways and celebrate how we can given the restrictions here.... we don't have labels but we call ourselves Christians..I believe we are. The bottom line is Love...isn't it? Sticking up for the less fortunate is all about love...yes? If everything he does, says and writes is underpinned by that then he's ok isn't he? Or have I missed the point? Thanks June

Posted on 23 May 2008 01:43:39 BDT
Bex J says:
Hmm I can understand where your coming from, but i think SC is being nothing but scriptual, when Jesus talks about the greatest commands he says:

Matt 22:36"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[b] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'

...and thats how I see SC's life as being. Jesus surrounded himself with the broken and the hurting, and he hated injustice (which i think which was the point of the sleeping in the park). This is only my opinion but i think this book screams of the gospel. It is not meant to bring condemnation, rather it points to something thats so much bigger than himself, and i mean no disrespect when i say if you cant see the gospel in that book, then i think you have missed the point.

Posted on 13 Jun 2008 17:13:54 BDT
Last edited by the author on 13 Jun 2008 17:18:44 BDT
I was so disappointed with your review of the book. It has touched such a chord in my life and confirmed so many things i belive that the lord was already growing in me. That asside i belive you have underestimate SC as a thinker and theologian. And although he is not a strick systematician his theology is, as one of my lectures refered to Paul (who was also not a systematic theologian) highly fertile, good for growing other thoughts and ideas in. Or, as a friend refered to john sott, an organic theologian, one who is not trainned in the academic institution but engages neither the less in engagded thought. For example SC comment on systematic theology and the 'tears of the homeless'. It seems to me that SC is penning, although lightly a new form of knowledge, or epistimology, for knowing God (as you correctly point out). You juxtapose this 'form of knowing' (or epistimology) with your own more 'evangelical' form of knowledge, and specifically your knowledge of biblical 'facts'. However reading Walter Moberly, one of the leading orthodox biblical theologians in our country, and N T Wright, recent works on the authorative nature of scripture, they both stress that knowledge has its ethical dimensions. i.e. that we do not know in abstraction. It is instead through lives of service, worship, sacrifce and pray that we come to know God more fully. please do read 'how is scripture authoritive' by Wright or Prophercy and discernment by Moberly.
There is one other issus which i feel i must comment on. You note the necessity (possibly the suppremacy) of testifying to God within the culture or system in which we find ourselves. (let us call it for the purpose of this excersie capatalist consumerism) my issue with your comment is the value judgement that underlies your premise. you comment is undergirded by the premise that nothing is innately wrong with the system that you live in. which has provided your car, tv, food etc. I belive that SC is calling into question, as is his right to do, that very judgement call that you have made. And i'm sorry but i believe he is right to question the system in which we live. where the rich continue to get richer and the poor get poorer, where 30,00 die of curable causes a day, i to, with Shane, lament the apathy of the western church. As he says 'i give a loaf of bread to the poor and they call me a saint, i ask why they have no bread and they call me a communist'. For a society, like a person, can not serve both God and mammon. The best book i have read on this recently, which if you seriously care about these issues i would so strongly advise you to read is 'Violence' by Slazov Zizek.
Thankyou for reading my reply

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Jun 2008 17:05:12 BDT
Melissa G says:

I can see the heart and good motives behind both these opinions of the book - you're right Jon that he doesn't talk much specifically about the cross and salvation per se, but I don't think that's really the point of his book - that's probably not the bit of Christianity that we most need to be challenged on, and many many other books have been written about theology. The reason this book stands out is that it talks about vital things that so much of the church seems to have forgotten, rather than just saying the same old things again. So it might be just that he didn't put some things in because that wasn't what the book was about!

I mainly wanted to make the point that there is a huge difference between knowing about God (theology) and knowing God (which, in my experience, does indeed grow not primarily by studying theology but in all the difficulties and strifes of life and the love and grief you see reflected, as in a glass darkly, in human lives).

Jon, I'm really glad that the church in Ipswich is doing its stuff :o)

Peace. Mel

Posted on 27 Jun 2008 15:47:01 BDT
Logan10 says:

I really struggled with your review because all your arguments defended the western, capitalist, exploit-the-weak lifestyle we're all living, this "eat well, spend lots, go stand on the street corner with Bibles and tell em all they're going to hell" view. You mentioned all the things Ipswich were doing but you never said once you were involved in them, and to imply that the UK doesn't have as many poor people as the US is outrageous.

Your whole destruction of the book centres around the concept that the book is a theological treatise, which SC never claims it to be. It's a book of his life and stories. He never claims that theology is worthless, and as far as I'm aware is still a part of a seminary in some way or other, but is rather claiming that studying alone every night is pretty selfish and ignores the pain of the world, something that God calls us to minister to and hence leads to his "tears of a homeless mum" comment. And if those tears caused him to care for people, to devote his life to a monastic community that helps homeless kids do their homework and funds them for college, how can you say that he's withdrawn from his culture? If anything he's living more "in it" than anyone with a job and kids can. And I know it's hard to know what to do cos I'm in the same boat - wife, house, etc. Does that mean I ignore the book? No. He's just trying to inspire people that there's more to Christianity than sermons. Which is good, cos I'd be bored by now if that's what Christianity is because I've heard every single one since the day I was born. That's me, and not him, so you can hold it against me all you want, but Jesus met the physical needs - ie feeding of 5000, wedding at Cana, Zaccheus (you may frown at that one, but that guy only got saved cos Jesus gave him the time and respect that no one else would), any healing he did - as well as the spiritual, and quite often it was because he met the physical that the spiritual was also met. In the intro SC mentions that they slept in a park to empathise with those in Afghanistan, and a local vendor who heard about it was moved to tears. Are you telling me that guy will not be more open to the gospel as a result? Or should we throw holy hand grenades at them until they're beaten into submission? That's not really Christ-like mate. He shouted at the hypocrites, not the unsaved. He didn't say, "You're hungry? Unlucky. But it's worse that you're going to hell." No: he fed and clothed them and loved them. Then he criticised the Pharisees for living it up, thinking they were great, and stealing from the poor.

As for the American thing, of course it's not going to be as easy for you to understand if it's written by an American living in America and trying to deal with their culture, but it doesn't mean you can't interpret it. What about our liberal, ineffective, divided Church of England? Does that not need to be helped? And yes, he doesn't give us answers to that, but he helps people see that they can think about it. You love theology and thinking about God? Think about how we can do about our Church in this country, because it's not hard to see that it's lost the plot.

Which moves me quite nicely onto the Catholic and Protestant thing. I am a Christian, ie a follower of Christ. Yes, Catholics believe some stuff that I don't agree with, but then again so do Protestants, so is it really any different? So they pray to Mary. So what? Will God send them to hell for that? Who am I to judge? But I don't think so, otherwise the whole of Christianity from about the 7th C to the 16th is gonna burn. Protestants disagree over whether the Holy Spirit still works today - does He perform miracles or does He not? To me that is just as big an issue, but I won't distance myself from Protestants who disagree with my view because then there's no unity. So if I don't distance myself from Protestants I disagree with, why distance myself from Catholics who agree with some things they don't? After all, none of us have been branded heretics by the church, and we believe the most important things, namely Jesus is Son of God etc. I think SC thinks the same, not, as you claim, that you can believe anything and it's ok with God as long as we're helping the poor. I think he's saying that people spend most of their time arguing, like we are now, instead of getting on with doing what Jesus did. Did you know that "Catholic" stands for "universal"? Not very universal, then, if we can't get on.

Here's another reason why I struggle with the idea that the "gospel" needs to be put at the centre: when I was at uni I hated the CU because they spent more of their time debating theology with each other, arguing with non-Christians about God, and generally keeping to themselves and each other that they never got to know any of their non-Christian peers. They used to run lunches to lure non-Christians into them before trapping them and giving them a talk. One of my non-Christian friends at the time always got angry at their bigoted views and perspectives and used to ruin these times by totally destroying them because he was better at arguing than them. After all, we're all living in a post-modern age and there's not much chance of convincing a guy there's only one God if doesn't believe there's only one truth at all, just lots of people trying to live their lives as well as they can. You know what I used to do? I used to laugh at their feeble attempts to convince him. He never got saved in a church or CU building. He got saved in our kitchen at 2am after spending hours just chatting about God and thinking about Him, a process that my friendship had started with him because I didn't judge him or criticise his lifestyle. I just accepted him, and as a result he grew to respect the way I lived. Over time we talked more and more about God until he couldn't ignore it. But it wasn't because I thrust the gospel down his throat. The gospel is a lifestyle; if you reduce it to words then it is worthless. And yes, there are times when words are necessary, but if they're not given in love then no one will listen. One of the most Godly men I know now was saved at uni because his Christian friend picked his drunken, vomiting body out of the gutter every night and carried him home. That's the love SC's talking about, not just hippies in squares with placards. That was one story and yet you've used it to back up a whole paragraph. As James says in his second chapter, "Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." Note: not by what he *says* but by what he *does*. Read the whole of his second chapter. I'd be interested to know your thoughts.

As for "conversion", think about the meaning of the word separate from the Christian meaning and you might better understand his definition. His whole reason for redefining the words was so that we understood where they came from, ie the truly subversive nature of the word "gospel" in relation to the Caesars. Why is it bad to understand what Jesus truly meant when he said the word "gospel"? Besides, what is the gospel? Truly? Does it start with Jesus or at the creation of the world? Is it just that Jesus saved us or is it that He empowered us with His Holy Spirit to change our world, to rescue the weak, to heal the sick, to open the eyes of the blind, and to release the oppressed?

As for the caricature of the church, even though I am arguing his side I feel like I am more of a navel-gazer than a rescuer of traffiked women and children, a politician fighting for justice and truth in our country, a worker amongst the homeless or disadvantaged children. I have a comfortable life and spend most of my time amongst Christians and in Christian meetings, and I hate it. I'm fighting to get out because it's not healthy. What is healthy is a community - the Body - that supports one another as it fights the injustice in our world, thereby showing God's love for a broken, lost, confused world. They do that by befriending their lonely, depressed, work colleagues who lack self esteem, I agree, but if everyone's reaching their colleagues who's reaching the hungry? What about Somalia, where their once fertile soil is turning to sand? They won't be producing crops from that soon.

I think you've taken this book as an attack on your life, which is not what SC intended. Your comment that "it hurts" to be told you're not living out your faith in your culture is ridiculous. If you are living it, you'd be agreeing with the book, ignoring his challenge cos you know you're already living it; if you're not, it's obviously hit a nerve. I'm not accusing you of either. It's just odd that you're so offended by it. This book is his journey, his revolution, and it should be read more like an autobiography than a theological treatise. He's not accusing anyone else. He knows people are living it, but he also knows most people prefer to hang out with their church friends cos they're sanctified, polite, helpful, not foul-mouthed, not heavy drinkers or smokers etc etc.

Forgive me for my lack of grace, but I struggle with Christians who don't get that we have life so easy - and we abuse it and defend ourselves - when people in our own country as well as abroad die every day from neglect, hunger, and abuse. Non-Christians can say what they want, but Christians who have been "converted" should know better. To say that showing people who've never had love acceptance wouldn't show them the Father heart of God - like the Samaritan woman who was accepted by Jesus despite her many husbands and her rejection by her neighbours, hence shy she was collecting water in the blistering midday sun - is absurd. The gospel and good deeds cannot be separated because they reveal God. For theological and Biblical support for my argument outside of Jesus, take James 1:27: "Religion that God our Father accepts as faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." According to that, and according to your comments about his caring for people and his ascetic monasticism, SC is living religion in its true form.

If you have anything further to say, please do not hesitate to criticise, disagree with, or abuse me. I realise my comments could be contrued as a personal attack, although they are not intended to be. I just wanted to defend SC a bit as well as try to challenge your arguments.

Posted on 21 Jul 2008 22:05:03 BDT
AlanP says:
Thank you for such a comprehensive and honest review

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Aug 2008 21:17:15 BDT
Last edited by the author on 15 Aug 2008 21:17:49 BDT
Jon Mason says:
To DJ Hagon, and all the others who have commented on my review:
I have to say that I'm surprised and, I suppose, quite flattered that you're all engaging so deeply with my initial review, especially DJ Hagon and Mr Pemberton. I'm sorry that I don't have the time to answer all the points you raise, but let me make one or two further general points.

I know the book was never meant to be a theological treatise, a point that SC makes himself. To be honest, I really don't care whether it was intended or not; the fact is that he makes a number of disturbingly huge theological errors. And then builds his lifestyle and mission around them.

But for me, the key question that arises in my mind is this: What is SC's gospel? From all the examples in his book, it is this: "Go and love your neighbour". Perhaps after all the hurting people have been softened up, he confronts them with sin, and their rebellion against God, and how Jesus died on the cross to save them, and how they need to repent and believe on Jesus for salvation. Perhaps he does get to that. But there's NO indication of it in his book. And therefore I think I am within my rights to question whether it is actually part of his gospel at all. If they're not, then this is not the gospel I know, and not the gospel of the Bible.

I'm sorry if you don't like that gospel, or don't think it should be "at the centre". But that is the Biblical pattern. Read Acts. What did the apostles do to grow the church? How did they reach out to their "hurting world"? Was it like SC, in acts of kindness? Or was it through preaching the gospel as outlined above? Acts 2:14-41; 3:11-26; 4:8-12; 7:2-53 etc etc. Acts of kindness as a form of evangelism are conspicuously absent from the whole of Acts. OK, so the *believers* shared everything in Acts 4, but even that is not obviously prescriptive, only descriptive. Do you think there weren't any disadvantaged people around in Peter's day that he could have shown solidarity with? Or any poor people he could have shared his lunch with? The Apostles' evangelism strategy seems to be 'Preach the gospel and make sure your lifestyle backs up your words'.

Now I'm not saying that loving our neighbours isn't important; of course it is. I'm just saying that it's not enough. I agree that the church should do more for the outside world. But not at the expense of preaching the gospel. Because that's not what the Apostles did.

And for the record, I have no desire to defend the "western, capitalist, exploit-the-weak lifestyle we're all living". Indeed, I actively promote fair-trade, ethical banking, local sourcing, and environmental sustainability. I live in a relatively poor area and grew up in an inner city (13th worst primary school in the country according to OFFSTED!), so I know a little about poverty. I also know that the UK has a very comprehensive benefits and welfare system and the difference between rich and poor in this country is much smaller than in America. Sorry if that "outrages" you but it's true.

On a positive note, why don't you have a read of "Total Church" by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis? That is all about living out a radical Christ-community lifestyle that I'm sure SC would like. It's a British book, which helps apply it to our context. And it's Biblical-gospel focussed, which is, in the end, the only way that society will be changed long term.

Thanks for reading,


In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2008 13:20:07 BDT
Jon, well done on a thorough review and in answering the issues raised so well. I think SC and others such as Donald Miller are part of a new push in the States for Christians to be more radical (partly a -possibly correct- reaction against the Christian Right)- but as you say, the theology does matter or all we get is excellent 'good works'! Much of what SC says (and Miller too) is good and thought provoking. But dangerous if you take the premise too far and don't have sufficient Biblical foundations.

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