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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Book Review: Jesus for President


Jesus for President is Shane Claiborne's second book after The Irresistible Revolution. This first book has given Shane a fast track to prominence and he's found a considerable following here in the UK with his regular trips to Greenbelt amongst others. I think Brits like American Christians such as Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis that aren't republican moral majority types.

Anyway, Jesus for President is an attempt in this election year to flesh out what Shane and fellow author Chris, think the politics of Jesus might look like. It's an interesting read.

Firstly a comment about the design, this is an interesting book to just look at, with colour, different fonts and doodlings, pictures, ready highlighted or underlined bits, all of which keep you turning pages but also hints at the type of creativity that influences the authors. From a design point of view this book stands out.

However we must go for substance over style and this is a book of some substance. Here are the major influences of this book and if you don't like them you won't like this: John Howard Yoder, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Theresa, Jim Wallis, Gerhard Lohfink, Greg Boyd, Eberhard Arnold, Ched Myers, Desmond Tutu, NT Wright and add in a dose of Latin American liberation theologians and you're almost there.

The book is in four sections, first tracing the history of the people of God - basic premise is that it was better before there were kings. The second section looks at Jesus - the servant king and prince of peace.

*Slight Tangent* Mark Driscoll headline speaker at Newfrontiers, Leadership conference this summer is quoted in this book (although not in an approving way) - see p194. Here is Mark's quote

"Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up."
- Relevant magazine - Jan/Feb 2007

And the to illustrate their point underneath is written "I preach Christ crucified," - Paul.

So Jesus is presented as someone who was political but not perhaps a politics that would be shared by those interested in power or influence.

Thirdly, Christianity and Empire - summing up they see Constantine adopting Christianity as the religion of the Empire as a BAD THING.
Fourthly, Christians should live differently - care for the poor, not join in wars or armies, not be interested in power, care for the environment, be more generous.

There's lots here I agree with, a lot of the books in the bibliography are on my shelves - it's provoking and funny and it genuinely seeks to find a way to live authentically for Jesus today.
The context is they see lots of similarities between the USA and the Roman Empire and they see Christianity flourishing for the better when it leaved in disharmony before Constantine than in the compromise that followed afterwards. For Claiborne post-Constantine the church is more often than not compromised by its relationship with the state and the parallels are too obvious to miss - the church in the US is compromised by its close love for and association with the state.

The biggest theme throughout the book is Claiborne's advocacy of pacifism and peacemaking as the way of Christ and even advocating that Christians should leave the armed forces. It's a strong stand. It surprised me as I expected more to challenge materialism or individualism or corporation church or the environment but most of all it challenged the idea of redemptive violence and calls it a myth. For me their most interesting arguments came in the appendixes where they engage in the challenging texts and do so quite convincingly (see Yoder for the full treatment though).

And here's my biggest complaint - for too much of the time this book appeals to people who will already be in sympathy with them. It doesn't always adequately engage in the views of those who disagree, so I fear that this will lead to too much talking past each other and not enough engaging with each other. Of course I can't imagine too many republicans or conservatives picking this up in the first place, which is a shame because they should.

So to sum up, Jesus wouldn't be running for President and neither should Christians, our interest is in being kingdom people not power people. And if Jesus was running for President, then lots would change!! Health care, taxes, abolition of the military or at least the abandonment of nuclear weapons etc... But Christians should see themselves as living not the good life of the western or American dream but as Christians living in the shadow of an Empire, and should live and love as the early Christians lived and loved, often being willing to suffer for saying no to the Empire. Engaging with this book gives you a clear view of how the Christian left (although by saying left - I've missed the point - because Christians shouldn't be either left or right, but hopefully you know what I mean) think. Worth reading, whether you agree or not.

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