Just before heading off to family camp, I finally finished Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw's Jesus for President.
If you spend any time searching internet discussion boards for opinions about this book, you'll realize it's struck a chord. People either love it, believing it's the answer to the malaise facing the 21st Century church, or they'll hate it, believing it twists and distorts scripture to promote a pacifist, communist, anti-american agenda. Like a Rorschach test, reactions to this book probably say as much about the reader as they do the content of the book itself.
I should begin by saying the book isn't saying anything all that original. In other words, Claiborne and Haw aren't promoting anything they've discovered for themselves. Instead, they have ingested the work of people like Wendell Berry, Gregory Boyd, John Howard Yoder, Marva Dawn, and Walter Wink, they have listened carefully to the anabaptist voice within Christianity, they have synthesized the work of those thinkers and writers and theologians and peacemakers, and they have published a manifesto to the 21st Century Church - a call to the church to return to its roots as an alternative community, a seperate, holy people, called apart from the kingdoms of earth to live as the Kingdom of God on earth.
Two quick strenghts of the book:
1) This is biblical theology as opposed to systematic theology. In other words, the book focuses on the broad sweep of Judeo-Christian history, beginning in the garden and carrying on through Abraham, Israel, Jesus, the Church, up to the images of victory in Revelation. They then take the large sweep of biblical history to paint the full picture of rebellion and redemption in which we find ourselves. Thus, rather than nit-picking what "this verse over here" means up against "that verse over there," they instead ask "what has been God's plan all along?" This, to me, is the healthiest way to let the Scriptures speak into our lives.
2) It's a beautiful book. Literally. Shane and Chris employed the work of artists to craft a book that is fascinating to look at. Every page is a painting, a photo, a stitch-work, a challenge, a delight. Thus, the book challenges not just the intellectual side, but the artistic side, as well. Sometimes the pictures, the questions, the images speak even louder than the text on the page. This is obviously a labor of love for the authors.
My take on the book: For the most part, I think Shane and Chris are dead-on. Their critique of the 21st-Century American Church nails us all. They rightfully see the ways in which The Church has sold out to a culture of shopping, a culture of idolatry, a culture of power-play, and how the church has abandoned the call to "take up our cross" and follow Christ. At the same time, they don't stop at critique. In fact, most of the book is given to suggestions on how to move forward, and examples of communities of faith who come close to reflecting Christ in their lives. So they challenge the Church, but they challenge the individual Christian as well. How, exactly, do we follow in the pattern of Christ who had no home when we spend massive amounts of money on plasma televisions and name-brand sneakers? How exactly do we claim to follow the Prince of Peace when we so enjoy violence, when we so quickly call for retribution upon our enemies? How do we show love to our brothers and sisters when we participate in an economy that is so unequitable? How do we worship both the Father of All Nations and at the same time worship the country in which we live?
To read this book is to read a call to live a different kind of life. It challenges, it exhorts, it pushes on some tight spots. But I think it's a necessary read by any who would claim Jesus as Lord. So go read it. Then let's talk some more.
So this is what came out of the Amazon box last week, and now is on top of my reading stack: