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Can I Recommend Irresistible Revolution?

December 3rd, 2010

The book, Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne challenges nearly every aspect of American "churchianity."

The revolution Shane describes is nothing less than a call to follow Jesus literally in the way He lived and taught. Shane’s interpretation of what it means to be a Christian looks far different than we (normal folk) know it. He is one of the founders of The Simple Way community in Philadelphia. I may need to go visit this community someday. 

Shane is a young man, zealous, idealistic, and 100% activist. While reading his book, sometimes I wanted to yell "Amen" while other times I groaned as he took extreme positions for what I perceived to be shock value.

If you’re leaning toward a more literalistic view of following Jesus, reading this book will:

  1. Probably reinforce those tendencies and
  2. Probably challenge preconceptions you may not have yet struggled through

Irresistible Revolution has been on my shelf for a year; I’ve put off reading it that long. I thought Shane was on the weird side. After reading it, I’m glad I finally did, though my suspicions were confirmed… Turns out he’s a good egg though, I do like him! I’m sure Noah, Isaiah, and John the Baptist were all considered weird too.

His personal journey and questioning were what I found most interesting. Many times I thought, "Wow, I can’t believe someone else asked this question, or wrestled with that issue, or been annoyed by those attitudes." If I’d read it several years ago I wouldn’t have identified near as closely, so it’s good I waited.

Having said that, I do hesitate to recommend Irresistible Revolution as there are plenty of things I don’t agree with.

The most serious issue I had with this book was not even with what was written, but what was not written. There is barely any talk about our sinful state or our need for a Savior… this I found exceptionally sad. Shane never talks about his own neediness. I understand from personal experience it’s easy to fall prey getting carried away following Jesus to the exclusion of knowing Jesus.

Additionally, very little was written explaining how we’re to integrate this "radical" stuff into the local church and our normal, everyday lives with jobs (the point of this blog, by the way). All of us living homeless, mooching off others’ hospitality (or squatting in gutted buildings in downtown Philadelphia) is not a practical extrapolation for all Christendom to follow.

Over and over again Shane points out Jesus was a homeless man, implying we should be too. But Jesus only lived that way for a season of His life. We’re all called to die to ourselves (that’s clear) but we’re not all called to be homeless (that’s silly).

Pros

  • Shane stirs the pot, pointing out glaring inconsistencies in the American Church
  • He challenged my thinking on what it means to be a Follower of Jesus – Shane thinks far outside the box
  • It’s chock full of captivating stories, regardless if you agree with their point – Irresistible Revolution is perhaps worth reading for the anecdotes alone
  • The reader gets to live vicariously through Shane’s Christian journey, challenging everything mainstream
  • Meet up with diverse personas including Rich Mullins and Mother Teresa
  • Get carried along to such varied locales as the Deep South, volatile Iraq, and the Inner Cities of U.S. and India
  • Be entertained by Shane’s quick wit as he pokes fun at everything (including the sacred)
  • Jump into your imagination and dream big… ‘cus Shane dreams big!
  • Get hit between the eyes, there are loads of quotable gems
  • Plus, it’s an easy read

Cons

Before I get to the cons, let me say I love Shane’s zeal. Sure, I don’t agree with everything he says, but I have to hand it to the guy: he’s doing something, he’s thinking, he’s pushing the envelope. He’s an example of the attitude we should all have of seeking God with our whole hearts, minds, and souls: of moving beyond mediocrity. Shane is genuine and lives what he preaches.  Ok, now the cons…

  • Making disciples was never brought up that I remember. How could that get left from a book like this, a manifesto on how Christians ought to live? I understand love is the main thing, but love tells others the gospel: the truth regarding their spiritually sick condition and need for a doctor. I was disappointed by this omission.
  • Shane throws out the baby with the bathwater, in my opinion. Judgmental of American Christians to the point of scathing (at times)… He confuses "poverty" with spiritual.
  • I felt exegesis of Scripture was on the sloppy side. Of course we need to wrestle through the Bible and Jesus’ words for ourselves anyways, but I felt Shane, in the process of keeping the book readable, did so at the expense of not treating Scripture carefully.
  • Homelessness and poverty are Shane’s hot buttons. Important hot buttons sure, but God is into all people, not just subsets. I was frustrated that homeless people were made into saints.
  • Many of the ideas, particularly in the second half of the book, were "half-baked." I wish Shane would have split Irresistible Revolution into two or three shorter, more polished books. He had the beginnings of many good ideas and models, but most – in the second half particularly – were still in the formative stages. I know it’s easy to play arm-chair critic, but I do think he has good ideas and look forward to reading future books by him.
  • Occasionally Shane’s sarcasm borders irreverence
  • Shane is pacifist to a fault, be prepared. He blasts the war in Iraq, President Bush, et al. Nonetheless, he does make thought provoking points regarding war. No, I’m not a pacifist.
  • At times, the book sounded like a Liberal left-wing political playbook. I know God cares about things like the environment but it got frustrating as he kept throwing more and more issues into this one book.
  • It can be difficult splitting the true Christian element from the Hippy element. Not to be too harsh, but is God calling me to live out of my van down by the river, grow plants in broken out computer screens, all while wearing homemade clothing that looks pretty silly? Nothing wrong with all that, but it’s not Biblically prescriptive for sure. Neither is driving a diesel bus around that’s been converted to run on used veggie oil.
  • Some places it feels Shane is wading into waters over his head. I think it’s good advice to, "not knock down fences before we know why they were put up.” For instance, regarding Economics, Shane knocks down the fence of capitalism without – I felt – understanding why it was put up in the first place or providing a satisfactory replacement model.

Conclusion

All in all, a good read, challenging, witty, inspirational. His zeal is contagious. His stories are touching. Chew up the meat, spit out the bones.

The first half is better than the second.  Therefore, my answer to the question posed in the blog title (can I recommend this book?) is, “I recommend the first half.”

Seth Barnes put together a review that included a YouTube video of Shane (and a bunch of quotes from the book), check it out.

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