Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jesus for President (Reviewed August 2008)

Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw (2008)[****1/2]. Shane Claiborne is part of a group of new evangelical Christians with whom I am quite taken and fascinated, even while I have some substantial theological differences with them. Although Shane and others such as Tony Compolo, Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis (of Sojourners) are sometimes viewed as the "Christian Left" in response to the "Christian Right," they do not actually come out of the liberal Christian tradition, and secular political labels don't really work for them. Theologically, they are much more literal and conservative than I am, but I admire the integrity with which they take Jesus seriously (as opposed to so many other Christians, myself included, who like to pick and choose). Shane is one of the founders of The Simple Way, an intentional Christian community in Kensington, a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Philadelphia where I have done a lot of work (and the setting of Steve Lopez's Third and Indiana). In Jesus for President, Claiborne argues that the church today "has fallen in love with the state and that this love affair is killing the church's imagination. ... Having power at its fingertips, the church often finds 'guiding the course of history' a more alluring goal than following the crucified Christ. Too often the patriotic values of pride and strength triumph over the spiritual virtues of humility, gentleness, and sacrificial love." Claiborne argues that Christians, like Jews, are meant to be a set-apart people, a peculiar people. We are meant to build God's kingdom rather than swearing allegiance to the kingdoms of the world; we are meant to embody Jesus's good news for the poor and oppressed, rather than letting Caesar colonize our imaginations. Claiborne marks the "Fall" of the church from Constantine's conversion in 312 CE, and things have just gotten worse since then. "Christianity is at its best when it is peculiar, marginalized, suffering, and it is at its worst when it is popular, credible, triumphal and powerful." This is a pretty scathing critique of most of the church today -- very much of the religious right, the tradition out of which Claiborne comes -- but us liberal Christians aren't exactly let off the hook. Shane is very much in the tradition of Dorothy Day, one of my heroes, except that he comes out of a Bible-Belt, fundamentalist tradition, rather than a Catholic one. His is a critique -- and a call to a different way of being Christian -- that I find extremely compelling in theory and extremely challenging in practice. I'm not sure that I agree with Shane that all Christians are meant to be so extremely and peculiarly set-apart -- but if we all were, it would sure be a far sight better than the hypocrisy, materialism and militarism so much of the church embodies today. Visually, this is a stunning book, full of illustrations, doodles, photos, hand-written comments and a bibliography that is merely a photograph of the spines of books. While I initially found the book attractive and intriguing, eventually the busy-ness was distracting, and I began longing for good old-fashioned black text on a white page.

No comments: