Shane Claiborne wrote The Irresistible Revolution to convey what it means for Christian believers to become Jesus in the flesh now in America. I say “in America” because that is Claiborne’s context and his audience is the American church. He is American, born, raised and educated, and he resides and works in a community called The Simple Way in Philadelphia. He has experience in the America context through both urban community and the mega-church environment (Willow Creek in Chicago). He also adds experience and understanding to the topic through his travels and work in India and Iraq. Claiborne tells his and other people’s stories to express the ways in which the American church is and is not making a difference in society and culture today. He wants to awaken Christian believers to think outside tradition and to look outside church walls to see what needs surround them in their communities. He writes in a manner that does not condemn the Church entirely for its past and current track record but he does not leave much wiggle room for Christian believers to finish his book and not change the direction or focus of their faith in action. Claiborne celebrates “the least of these” through his stories while petitioning the Church to be the Church and to do something, whatever possible, to help the needy, the forgotten and the misunderstood.
Several friends recommended this book to me when it first came out but I never got around to reading it. What a perfect opportunity to read it now – as a required reading for class. I had a few misgivings as I started the book because so many people I know had read it, enjoyed it, praised it but never changed their patterns of living. I was wary about jumping on any bandwagon (for me, I think of Blue Like Jazz, Velvet Elvis, same deal there). As I read the book though, Claiborne’s story resounded with me more than I expected – perhaps because, since being at Fuller and at my new church in Simi Valley, my perspectives on the American church and the job of Christian believers has been enlightened and expanded. If I picked up The Irresistible Revolution back when friends first recommended it, it might not have meant what it does today. I have a greater appreciation and understanding and desire to apply what Claiborne talks about in the book now than I would have had in the past. The book gives me examples of how Christian believers are applying the Jesus’ words to their context and environment. My future ministry might not match what Claiborne & Company do in Philly, nor might I find myself participating in sit-ins and protests, but based on the “model” of Jesus shown, I can find ways to apply the same Jesus principles to my context of America in Tennessee. Halfway through the book, I remember thinking, “Will he condemn the entire history or the work of every American church? Will this turn out to be one of those negative books?” Right after thinking that, Claiborne said something like, “I’m not saying every church is wrong or that no one is doing this.” That made me happy.
The application for missions in The Irresistible Revolution places the burden or weight on the American church (though “burden” and “weight” are strong words). Claiborne offers these stories as a challenge and encouragement to the American church to begin thinking beyond programs and buildings to reach souls, and to begin thinking about seeking out and providing practical life needs within local communities. I think this can extend to global missions, too, where churches can become involved in what Christian believers (indigenous and expatriate missionaries) are doing around the world.