The Irresistible Revolution (Forward)

September 5th, 2007

Shane Claiborne is a good example of the old adage, “Be careful what you pray for.” Evangelicals like to pray that Christian young people will learn to love Jesus and follow in his steps. Well, that’s exactly what this young Christian activist is talking about in his remarkable new book, The Irresistible Revolution. But the places that following Jesus has led Shane are not exactly the comfortable suburban environs that many evangelical Christians inhabit today. And his journey of discipleship has taken him away from the cultural habits that many middle-class believers have become conformed to. Worst of all, his notions of fidelity to the gospel seem to directly counter the political loyalties that many conservatives on the religious right have made into an almost doctrinal litmus test of faith.

For several years now, Shane has been experimenting with the gospel in the streets of Philadelphia and Calcutta, in the intensity of Christian community, and even in the war zones of Iraq. In this book, he takes us on pilgrimage with him — sharing his passions while admitting his uncertainties, critiquing his society and his church while admitting his own human frailties and contradictions, revealing his hopes for changing the world while embracing the “smallness” of the efforts and initiatives he holds most dear.

As you read, you will soon discover that Shane’s disaffection from America’s cultural and patriotic Christianity came not from going “secular” or “liberal” but by plunging deeper into what the earliest Christians called “the Way” — the way of Jesus, the way of the kingdom, and the way of the cross. He is the first to admit that what he and his spiritual cohorts are doing seems quite radical, even crazy, and maybe insane. But he also has come to question the sanity of the consumer culture, the distorted priorities of the global economy, and the methodology of the warfare state, while, at the same time, rediscovering the biblical reversal of our social logic —that the foolishness of God has always seemed a little nuts to the world. They call their little community in Philadelphia “the Simple Way” and believe experiments like theirs hold the key to the future.

I am finding the reading of this book a delight, as I also find the author. I must admit that the young Shane reminds me a little of a young radical Christian about three decades ago when we were founding Sojourners magazine and community. We were also young evan-gelicals who found that neither our churches nor our society were measuring up to the way of Jesus —not even close. Our battle then was against a private piety that limited religion to only personal matters, then compromised faith in a tragic capitulation to the economic, political, and military powers that be.

We desperately wanted to see our faith “go public” and offer a prophetic vision with the power to change both our personal lives and political directions. I remember writing the draft of a new and very hopeful manifesto back in 1973 called the “Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern,” which was signed by leaders from both an older and a younger generation of evangelicals and destined, we hoped, to really change things.

But then came the religious right with evangelical faith going public, but not in the ways we had hoped. Christian concerns were reduced to only a few “moral issues” (most having to do with sex and the dominance of Christian language in the public square), and pacts were soon made with the economic and political agenda of America’s far right. After thirty years, America became convinced that God was a Republican, and the enduring image of Christianity became the televangelist preacher.

But now all that is changing, and the landscape of religion, society, and politics in America is being transformed. As I crisscross the country, I can feel a new momentum and movement. Many who have felt left out of the “faith and politics” conversation have now begun to make their voice heard. The monologue of the religious right is finally over, and a fresh dialogue has begun; it’s a conversation about how to apply faith to social justice, and it is springing up across the land. A new convergence, across the theological spectrum, is coming together over issues like overcoming poverty, both in the forgotten places of our own country that Hurricane Katrina has revealed, and in the destitution and disease of the global economy that is awakening the world. Christians are naming the environment as “God’s creation” and insisting on its care. Church leaders and evangelical seminary professors are challenging the theology of war and the religion of empire now emanating from the highest places of political power.

But perhaps the greatest sign of hope is the emergence of a new generation of Christians eager and ready to take their faith into the world. The Christianity of private piety, affluent conformity, and only “God bless America” has compromised the witness of the church while putting a new generation of Christians to sleep. Defining faith by the things you won’t do or question does not create a compelling style of life. And a new generation of young people is hungry for an agenda worthy of its commitment, its energy, and its gifts.

Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution is the best waking up and catching on fire with the gospel again. You can feel the author’s fire throughout, and he claims that he is not alone. And I can testify that he is right—he is not alone. Shane is one of the best representatives of an emerging Christianity that could change the face of American religion and politics. The vision presented here can’t easily be put into categories of liberal and conservative, left and right, but rather has the capacity to challenge the categories themselves. I’ve met the author’s kindred spirits across the country and have worked with an extraordinary group of them at Sojourners and Call to Renewal. This book is a manifesto for a new generation of Christians who want to live their faith in this world, and not just the next. Read it and your hopes will rise. God is again doing something new.

—Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics, editor of Sojourners, and convener of Call to Renewal

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