Sometimes you just can’t avoid reading a book, whether you want to or not. For me, a book about the gospel mandate to reach the poor, The Irresistible Revolution, by Shane Claiborne, just can’t seem to stay out of conversations. I’m trying to figure out if I should read it.
My litmus test is taking the form of one simple question: What does Shane Claiborne want me to do? It’s a direct route to the heart of the matter, a pragmatic approach that helps me gauge what people think the work is saying, and sometimes that’s more important than the work itself.
My first answer came from one of my missionary friends whose modern take on monasticism led him to the House of Prayer in Kansas City. You could say he has a vision for serving the poor of the earth. I heard about Shane’s book from him first and asked him point blank, “What does Shane Claiborne want me to do.”
“Relocate to the abandoned places of empire and be salt and light there.” Do what? It turns out “abandoned places of empire” is a Shane-ism for “inner city.”
I next asked, “Shane Claiborne wants me and everybody to move to the inner city?” His answer: yes. He said in the first century nearly all Christians were urban Christians; the movement broke out in urban centers because that’s where everybody lived. He had a point.
A few days later, a 50-year-old pastor friend of mine flew in for a few days. He spent decades of service within a mainline denominational structure before he struck out to reach his community through a more organic approach to ministry and a more authentic approach to faith: he started a cell-church, the first of its kind in the college town where he ministers, and it gives him more impact with his laity and more time with his adopted daughters (the youngest of his five children). His ideologies are a far cry from the emerging movement, but he is an open thinker and longs for a manifestation of God. After I shared that I was reading a few, mostly conservative (and mostly dead) Catholic authors, we talked about the latest book that was “messing with his stuff”—you guessed it, Revolution by Claiborne—for the entire 45 minutes from the airport to my home. Near the end, I popped the question: What does Shane Claiborne want me to do?
He said, “Claiborne wants you to open your bible, read the words of Jesus and take them literally.” I did the math and understood that Claiborne was probably highlighting the “feed the poor” verses. My friend was really provoked by Claiborne’s emphasis on the way Christianity shifted the boundary lines of nationality. If I am a believer in Christ and an Iraqi is also a believer, then we are truly brothers and our allegiance to one another comes long before our allegiance to our respective countries.
Another friend of mine was coincidently reading Claiborne. He recently relocated his family do a different part of the country so that he could devote more time to them. He loves Jesus and is making enough money to comfortably support his family in a quaint town in middle-America. I drove out to his house in a new development, and we had coffee while we hashed out Claiborne’s ideas. Deep into the conversation I asked, to help us both clarify, “What does Shane Claiborne want me to do?”
He said, “I think Shane wants you to rub shoulders with the poor; because they’re everywhere.” He’s in the throes of considering how to make his life look less like the American Dream, and more like a witness of the Kingdom of God. To talk to him, he and his wife strive to pray together regularly and to serve everyone they come in contact with. He’s got a vision to see pastors in the area develop genuine unity like John 17 insists. But now, since reading Claiborne’s book, he’s wondering if that’s enough.
We talked way too long and stayed up way to late, and at the end agreed to read each other’s book recommendations. Driving home, I realized that the message the book was sending was consistent: take Jesus’ exhortation to minister to the poor seriously and as the central tenet of a Gospel Lifestyle. And what Bible-believing Christian couldn’t use to hear that once a month? However, authors, pastors and Christ-followers face the same challenge while attempting to rally the Church, which is to avoid the temptation to carry the revelation to its own logical end where it becomes merely their own interpretation, their own take on what Jesus is asking people to do. If it’s truly the Word of the Lord it will feel more like a piercing sword than a grinding axe. But I guess I’ll have to read to find out.