For The Someday Book

Book Review: The Irresistible Revolution

Posted on: March 15, 2011

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, by Shane Claiborne, Zondervan, 2006, 367 pp.

I need to read books like this on a regular basis, even though they trouble me. I actually finished reading this book over a week ago, but I have had trouble writing about it, because it challenges me to wrestle with serious life questions. This post is less a review of the book, and more an account of my personal journey with the book.

Shane Claiborne is noted as one of the leaders of the “new monasticism,” Christ-followers who take seriously Jesus’ call to sell all you have and give it to the poor. He is one of the founders of The Simple Way, a community in Philadelphia that lives among the poor and works to practice love and hope in the way of Jesus.

Claiborne shares his spiritual journey from mega-church evangelicalism into The Simple Way. He is radicalized by the love and example of Jesus–especially the story of the rich young ruler, which serves as a guiding light throughout his journey. He camps out with homeless people in Philadelphia, journeys to work with Mother Teresa, and returns to find a way to “do small things with great love.” His indictments of Christianity are powerful and convicting, as he critiques Christianity as entertainment and support for the (particularly economic) status quo.

I agree with Claiborne about the radical nature of Jesus’ call, about the demand that the church be a way to redistribute wealth from rich to poor, about the way that a relationship with Jesus should impact the daily living of our lives in ways large and small, about the way following Jesus should set us apart in a dramatic way from the predominant culture of empire and accumulation, about living in relationship with our neighbors. And yet, I do not live up to those beliefs on a daily basis. I need to read these kinds of books on a regular basis to challenge and convict me again with the radical love and radical demands of Jesus. Reading Claiborne’s story reminded me of all the ways in which my own practice of faith has grown lazy and indulgent, and challenges me to get back on course again.

For my whole life, I have felt the pull of a monastic or missionary life, which Claiborne and his community combine in The Simple Way. In college and after, I seriously considered limiting my possessions to a few suitcases and traveling around the world in service. Instead, I moved back home to be near my family as my grandparents were aging, thinking that I would take up a missionary life after I had helped them. God had other plans.  I met my husband and we got married. J does not share my missionary zeal (or even my Christian faith), so our life together took a different shape. Four years ago, we had a child, forever ending my plans to become like Mother Teresa.

Having prayed deeply over both of those decisions (and in consideration of that monastic pull both times), I know that God is in them. J and B are the best things that have ever happened to me. My love for my husband and child far exceed any love I have ever known or experienced. I would sacrifice anything for my child. That fierce love I feel has taught me so much about the fierceness and sacrifice of God’s love for us, a depth I doubt I would have known if my life had taken a different path. However, I still feel the pull sometimes for that other way, especially when I read books like this one. Is my lifestyle (home ownership, car payment, eating out at restaurants) really what Jesus wants, or am I fooling myself? Am I doing enough to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?

I look over the Gospels for help, and remember that not everyone was called to be a disciple who drops everything, carries nothing but the clothes on your back and follows Jesus. Some are called to provide shelter and food for those disciples. Elders are left behind by Paul to guide the newly-forming churches. Wealth (not that we are wealthy by American standards, but by Jesus standards we are) can be used for the building up of Christ’s way. Yet the story of the rich young ruler, which pervades Claiborne’s book, haunts over me–“sell all that you have and give it to the poor.”

I live with that tension all the time. And I should. We all should. Especially we who call ourselves Christians yet live in the privileged American way. We should all, always be examining our lives, our choices, our habits, our budgets to determine if they are following the way of Jesus. Claiborne’s book and his example puts that tension right before us, and demands we make an account of our lives before God.

Thankfully, there is grace. The spirit that pervades Claiborne’s book is one of love–experiencing God as lover, falling in love with God, pursuing the love of our neighbors. I concluded the book not simply convicted, guilty and wrought with sin, but confident of God’s grace and abounding love, and ready to try again to follow more faithfully. The title is “The Irresistible Revolution,” because it is God’s love that draws us in, a love that will not let us go.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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