catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 13 :: 2008.06.27 — 2008.07.11


An ordinary radical

When Shane Claiborne prays “Thy kingdom come,” he prays for social upheaval of the most profound kind. But rather than being fueled by government policies or the fervor of angry activists, this upheaval will happen at the dinner table and the park down the street, invigorated at the grassroots level by Christian love and relationship.

Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution compellingly and insistently sets forth a new vision for people of faith, largely by telling the story of the author’s own conversion to the status of “ordinary radical.” Growing up in the Bible Belt of eastern Tennessee, Claiborne was an enthusiastic evangelist of  white, middle-class stripes, handing out tracts at the local mall and rocking out to contemporary Christian music—until a friend at college invited him to hang out with the homeless in downtown Philadelphia, introducing him to a world in which he realized the compassion and suffering of Christ like never before.  As Claiborne tells it, this experience marked the beginning of his transition from prom king to dreadlocked disciple of a Jesus whom many believers no longer recognize. His stories gently skewer suburban American Christianity for its complacency and its acquiescence to the individualistic, consumer-driven ideologies of contemporary culture.

After their college days, Claiborne and some close friends started The Simple Way, an intentional Christian community in a Philadelphia neighborhood. The rest of the book sets forth the vision that Claiborne and his community have for a new (though ancient) way of being the church.  “The great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor,” he writes. Aggressive nonviolence, intentionality and small acts of great love are the ingredients of this revolution.  The model is derived from the practices of the early church of Acts and embraces countercultural principles like a common financial purse.  Whether they are juggling fire torches to distract attention from neighborhood fights or raining thousands of dollars’ worth of coins onto Wall Street in a makeshift “Year of Jubilee,” Claiborne and his cohorts seek to proclaim a gospel of love and liberation to the rich and poor alike in one American city. The Irresistible Revolution convincingly invites Christians everywhere to do the same where they live.

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