Living as an Ordinary Radical: A Book Review

I recently read “The Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne. Wow.

Shane asks some big questions about life and brings into question the way that modern-day Christians live. It resonated with me in such a big way – I’ve always felt discomforted by the “health, wealth, and happiness” promises of modern Christianity when the Bible contradicts this kind of teaching. This book made me think long and hard about the way I live and whether or not I’m really following Jesus. And, sad as it is to say, if I’m truthful with myself, I do a pretty crappy job.

In this book, I was taken by the hand and led out of my comfort zone, joining Shane as he traveled across the world to find a real Christian. His search took him from the ghettos of Philadelphia to Calcutta with Mother Theresa, from Baghdad during the US bombings to multi-million dollar megachurches.

Shane plunges “deeper into what the earliest Christians called ‘The Way’ – the way of Jesus, the way of the kingdom [of God], 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.” — Jim Wallis, foreward

How do Shane and his friends live that seems so crazy? Reckless love. Reckless generosity. Shane and some friends have established ‘the simple way‘, an intentional community in the heart of Philadelphia’s poorest community in order to live out their beliefs. Shane is adamant that, if we are to truly reflect Jesus’ character we must (gasp!) live as He did. And, thankfully, Jesus’ life can be summed up in one word. Unfortunately, that one little word is the most difficult thing to consistently live: LOVE. And, in order to love, one must create relationships – which doesn’t seem too hard, unless you really think about it.

In our culture of individuality, true Christianity screams “community”. And in our world of individuality, community isn’t always the most welcome thing to scream. But we are called to live in community – especially with those who are poor and needy.

So what does this mean for me? It means maybe not moving to the nicest part of town to buy a house with a white picket fence and instead choosing to be “downwardly mobile”. Maybe it means volunteering downtown at a shelter or with underprivileged kids. And maybe, just maybe, it means getting together with some like-minded folk and creating our own intentional community where we can share resources and open our homes and lives to the people who need us so we can show them Jesus.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Living as an Ordinary Radical: A Book Review

  1. Fawndoe

    okay this is long so bear with me (and please don’t be offended, you know the scholar in me can’t pass up a debate like this 😉

    i read the .pdf chapter of his book & while his ideals are impressive, it makes me wonder why he thinks that his form of Christianity is the only “version” (in 2000 years) that promotes selflessness in the form of community oriented sharing?

    further his point about not agreeing that some people can’t speak for themselves made me feel like he doesn’t understand “status” outside of his community. for example, women in Muslim countries really don’t have a voice – or if they find the courage to use it they are often killed or tortured; just like victims of abuse in western society often find their voice silenced by bureaucracy, where the abusers have more rights than the victims do – this is where the strong HAVE to stand up for the weak and why is that so wrong? wasn’t Jesus the voice for millions of his followers, just like Moses before him?

    “Our way of life was typical in the days of the early Jesus movement.” because they had no other way of life! thats what gets me. does the pope live in a gold house? yes. is that right? no, i don’t think so. but it is what it is. evolution happened along with the birth of society but it doesn’t mean that caring (emotionally or financially) for yourself or those you love is wrong. whatever happened to hospitality of the heart?

    “Many of us who find ourselves
    living differently from the dominant culture end up needing to “despectacularize” things a little so that the simple way is made as accessible as possible to other
    ordinary radicals.”
    how can he not see that what he’s written about in this chapter, all over his website, through his online presence, is the very thing he’s speaking out against? he is “spectacularizing” a culture of “living downward” & probably making a tidy profit from it! by alienating himself from main stream society, by asking people to give up their possessions and follow his “new way” of living Christianity, he is doing the very thing he’s speaking out against. after all, Jesus didn’t ever ask for followers did he? they followed him because they loved him and wanted to be close to him, not because he asked them to “think outside the box”

    i think its sad that he truly believes all rich people hoard their stuff; that he thinks that being wealthy = being lonely. that he really believes wealthy countries have the most depression, suicide and loneliness; his conclusions are taken out of context. if he compared the “mass” of people he’d see that these numbers are higher in wealthy countries simply because we have more people. if you compare the depressed populace of Port Dover with the depressed populace of Toronto, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which city winds up on top – Toronto, because of its sheer volume! but that doesn’t give us any concrete conclusions & it certainly doesn’t give him the right to stereotype one sect of the population (much like he’s hoping no one will stereotype him)

    There are lots of things he says that i truly do believe? Example: “Why would I want a fancy car when I can ride a bike, or a TV when I can play outside with sidewalk
    chalk?” there really is “enough to go around” if we all gave some of what we had.

    don’t get me wrong, i’m all for grass roots movements, community oriented culture, freedom of expression, religion, life & love, but reading his writing was painful b/c, while it raises some excellent questions, i didn’t find it gave me usable answers. maybe thats why it got to me. i know he’s not here to provide answers, but if you’re not even going to try to make sense of what you’re trying to say, why bother saying it?

    i really don’t know whether i should be posting this. i hope you don’t get mad.

  2. Nicole D

    Kim – I want to thank you for this book posting. I am going to go pick it up. My dh and I have been hard about this position in the church for a long time too. Teaching of the tithe incorrectly, health, wealth, and prosperity sermons, etc.. it grieves me. I will have to pick this up and take a gander at it.

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