September 25, 2020

Review: The Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne

The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary RadicalUPDATE: At The Margins has a page of Irresistable Revolution links, and some of them have lots of quotes.

Trust me, folks, no one gave me this book, a check or a donut to write what I’m going to write in the next few paragraphs. I’m just very excited about this book.

Someone told me that Shane Claiborne had written a heck of a book, and I wanted to read something from the new Christian left, so I ordered a cheap used copy. I’ll tell you, without exaggeration, that I haven’t read anything as invigorating to my own faith journey and missional calling here at OBI in 15 years. I cannot think of a book that was more exciting, genuine, idealistic, persuasive and compelling than this odd little book by a young leftie Christian zealot from East Tennessee.

Claiborne is the typical youth group kid I worked with for 15 years. (He’s a just turned thirty-something who grew up in a UMC youth group in Eastern Tennessee.) He’s the popular, small town boy from the entertainment-oriented youth group. The problem is that he’s also smart, into Jesus and full of the Holy Spirit. Somewhere between that small town youth group (with it’s usual menu of activities seasoned with a “mission trip” here and there) and graduation from Eastern College in Philly, Claiborne became a bonafide dangerous fanatic. He got politicized, activiated, and most important, radically immersed in the reality of the Kingdom of God.

Claiborne became a Jesus follower with the daring to follow Jesus, do stuff Jesus would do, take risks, side with the poor, get public, give simple answers, turn down the usual evangelical pablum and avoid excuses. He stopped believing everything the evangelical media said. He started thinking for himself, scaring his family, going where he wasn’t really supposed to go and doing things that went well beyond that two week mission trip.

Yeah, he’s been arrested with activists for the homeless and protesters against the war, among other things. He’s been an intern at Willow Creek Church. He spent a year with Mother Theresa, caring for the dying. He helped throw $10,000 out on Wall Street in a “Jubilee” celebration. He’s been to Iraq to visit Christians, Muslims, soldiers and civilians. He speaks in churches and youth groups. He’s part of a Christian community in Philly that’s living out the economic implications of the Gospel in ways that challenge our suburban assumptions.

And yes, he’s pals with Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and other leftie evangelicals. (If that stops you from reading this, or causes you to hang up on a couple of chapters, too bad for you.) He quotes Manning and Mullins. He hangs with Catholics and has few good things to say about the “religious right” when it’s seeking political power. His chapter on economics is pretty bad. His assumptions about war are Anabaptist. If pacifiism bothers you, you’re in for trouble. If you need America First Christianity, you are going to get busted. If you believe the Kingdom is a Jesus centered-political movement, and not just a religious museum, you’re in for a treat.

Buy and read this book. In fact, my son is reading it, and it scares me to death, but I don’t care. There is so much of Jesus in Claiborne’s writing that I want my son to just be around it, to think about a life that’s different, radical and sacrificial. If he could see that in the evangelical-reformed-conservative side of the world that I live in, I’d show it to him. The reality is that it’s rare. He grew up in a Christian community and he knows much of what Claiborne is talking about by the values of OBI and our family’s decision to be here. But Claiborne puts out a compelling narrative that challenges evangelical young people to go another mile. Take a bigger risk. Examine everything you’ve been told, and see where it takes you.

I want you to read this book to simply feel the fresh wind of the Spirit blowing through the church. It’s so hopeful to think we might have thousands of idealistic young Christians like Shane waiting for the church to say, “Go! Do what we wouldn’t dare to do!” This isn’t a young man looking for a bigger Christian concert or a way to get prayer back into schools. Claiborne is living with the poor, not visiting them. He’s in Philly, in the hood, in a community, learning the terrain of ministry to America’s urban youth from street and living room level. He’s a tutor, a prophet, an organizer, a teacher, a foot washer, a fool for Christ and subverter of the status quo in the name of Jesus.

This really is good, high octane stuff. If you don’t believe there is anything of Jesus on the Christian left, you need to read this book, and you need to consider what the implications are for our own ministries. It’s an exciting ride, and you need to take it. It’s a first time book with some first time book flaws. Some chapters get a bit preachy, but Claiborne is anything but ponderous and finger-wagging. He’s a circus performer, an elvish, impish, provocateur in the Kingdom. Forgive him some faults, and get the point.

(My friend Matthew C, a fellow teacher at OBI and an east Tennessee Methodist kid like Shane, heard me plug the book, borrowed it, read it in a day, and is as sold as I am on it. This from a guy who is 100% John Macarthur, all the time. This really is an unusual book.)


  1. Thanks for the heads up on this book. I’ll pick it up. Would you compare this book to Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz”?

  2. Very little theology in here, but a lot of relating Christianity to activism. Shane has a sense of humor, but he’s more about getting his activism out there and persuading others to take the plunge. It’s not apologetics or devotional at all. But the two authors- Miller and Claiborne- are both Christians on the left.

  3. While I would describe myself as a conservative, I found Miller to be refreshing. Hoping for the same from Claiborne.

    Thanks for the insight!

  4. I am new to your site, though I have been reading Jesus Creed, which is how I first found out about your site. However, I never checked it out until my mom sent me a link. I am 29 years old and I spent a 10 years in youth ministry as a leader and I am currently a missionary. I am really enjoying what you share, and it is great to hear some similar ideas from some one a bit older (and wiser).
    Just wanted to thank you and encourage you to keep writing.

  5. ..So what you’re saying is…you liked the book? 😉

  6. Wow…

    Sometimes God does funny things to me. I discovered this book last week, thought “hmm…iMonk would have something to say about this…” and lo and behold, here it is! I don’t know what’s scarier: God moving me to read a book for the first time in awhile or the fact that I think of Michael when I consider Christian issues now!

  7. okay already! i’m ordering the book today! i’m going to read it, then LET my kids read it… we need voices from the margins, don’t we? thus spoke churchpundit!

  8. Hey Michael,
    I’ve been reading for a while now but this is the first time I’ve commented… I opened the site today and I had to catch my breath. I bought this book about 3 weeks ago and I would say it has changed my perspective- no, my life- as much as any book (besides Scripture) I have ever read. It is immensely challenging, especially for a 21 year old, Baptist-background student at Liberty University. This book raises questions that need to be talked about. Like you, I want to recommend it to everyone I know, but I am scared because the few people I have recommended it to have been changed as well. the book has caused me to go back to the Gospels and see what Jesus really said. Thanks for letting your audience know about this book. Keep up the good work!

  9. Jesus ruined my life! And that book helped, too!

    I read it outloud to my husband a few months ago. He was toasted, in the good sort of way. The footnotes are hilarious. Sometimes I cried, snotted, laughed out so loud to freak the cat, and nodded approvingly to spot-on commentary.

    A good follow-on for heavier theology and practical application would be Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald J. Snider.

    We’re even considering a community to join….

  10. There’s a group in Lexington called “Communality” and I believe some of their group participated in that sharing of money. They went with a group from Philly I think. I saw a video that they shot shortly before I graduated from seminary. Surely this dude was involved with them.

  11. Shane is involved in “The Simple Way” in Philly (the Christian community in which he takes part, and is also involved in “Another World Is Possible”…they have DVD’s, music, etc available.

    Check out their respective websites at and

  12. housechurchman says

    I’ve been reading this blog for a while, and thought it was time to comment. I read the book over a weekend right after it came out, so it has been a while.

    I agree with your assessment of Claiborne and his book. He had many good things to say about the Kingdom here on earth, and backed them up with actions. I felt it was a bit repetitive in the anecdotes. His views on war seem a bit truncated in respect to the whole of Scripture, but I do understand where he comes from.

    Overall a challenging and motivating book.

  13. doctrineofcyn says

    And yes, he’s pals with Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and other leftie evangelicals.

    How about Ron Sider? He’s at Eastern, too.

    (If that stops you from reading this, or causes you to hang up on a couple of chapters, too bad for you.)

    Replace “stops” with “compels” and repleace “hang up on” with “re-read and re-read”.

    Thanks for the rec. It sounds wonderful (and makes me glad my oldest is only 10, so he won’t scare me by reading the book).

  14. Michael,

    Thanks for this review. I have reserved this book at our localLibrary. Ohio has the best Library system……You can order books from any Library in the State. There are six copies of this book floating around.

    I hope the book will be everything you say it is.


  15. But what you didn’t mention about this book (and what is scary) is Clairborne’s continued bent on ignoring portions of the bible dealing with “doctrine”. Throughout the book he is skeptical of “Systematic” approaches to theology. He is against Christian scholarship (quotes Kierkegard that “Christian scholarship is what people invented to protect themselves against the real teachings of Jesus”) and embraces as rolemodels people who clearly did not believe in Jesus or the buzzword: justification by faith.
    I am not at all against “what” Clairborne is saying, but his reason for “why” is not at all compelling. This is the start of what happened in Europe 100 years ago, socialize the gospel and jettison doctrine and you lose the whole thing. You can’t accept Jesus’ actions without His teaching. Claiborne distinctly does this…

    You should warn people about this book at least, not just give them a blanket statement approval.

  16. OK. It’s not a book about doctrine. Now can I start posting comments on books that are all about doctrine….and that’s all? No active efforts to serve Christ. Just doctrine so we can all be assured we believe all the right things.

    This criticism sounds vaguely familiar. Where have I heard it before?

    The shoe might fit on the other foot.

  17. Michael I’m sorry to come off abrasively (which I’m guessing from your response I did, though I don’t get the shoe statement),

    Everything we do is from doctrine, whether incorrectly or correctly held from the Bible. When we divorce action from doctrine, historically we have about one generation until orthodoxy takes a huge slide for the worse. We seem to already be limping a bit and it might pay to be extra cautious with anymore truth we jettison since there’s not much left around. Clairborne does any excellent job with “what”, but his “how” is vague or misguided. His Christology is in flux (most emergent movements have this) and his view of salvation must follow the flux of his Christ. If Christ becomes too much a man, salvation becomes too much of our effort as we outwardly mimic the shoes off this “Jesus” but inwardly miss the mark. If Christ becomes too transcendent, it becomes a vague sense of “ughhhh….I’ll just say a prayer and hope it pans out”.

    True imitation comes from implantation of the Divine nature, and I don’t see much “regenerative” focus in Clairborne’s view. Though I believe he has experienced it, I don’t think he emphasizes it. (The Rich Mullins story at Wheaton shows this). This and much more is my beef with this book, obviously I liked it if I prodded this obsessively through it, yet I doubt I could recommend it to a single person because of the frustration it brought me. And no it was not frustration with the implications of how we should live, I agree with it very much. I was frustrated because he usually ejected the why a few pages before.

  18. Ed burns says

    What does OBI stand for?

    Anyway , I haven’t read the book yet , just ordered it. I saw an interview on the local PBS station WHYY(philly). The message I get is , get out and live in the community, do what you can to help poorer people , preach by example , go against the grain of secular and religious-right social work , and try to literally follow the teaching of Jesus both his words and actions.
    The interview moved me to tears. I think Mr Claiborne is very courageous and I am going to investigate what is going on down there in the philly “bad lands”.

    Thanks for the review.

  19. Our whole youth group has been going TIR by Claiborne for the past five-six weeks, and I’ve never seen high school students so impassioned and want to reach outside of themselves or their own kind. And I’ve been a part of youth ministries for 10 years.

    You know when you come back from a mission trip, and you’re all jazzed up to be sacrificial and share of your excess, and have materialism and consumerism in perspective? Well, these kids are feeling like this months BEFORE going on a mission trip.

    Claiborne is just telling us what Jesus already did — we just tend to skip over those portions of Scripture and do the easy stuff.

    Cause when has giving away the stuff we hoard been easy? When has loving strangers—the dirty ones, the penniless ones, the unlovables—ever been comfortable?

    My wife and I have really been challenged ourselves and are questioning EVERYTHING about the way we live our lives — how we live, what level of excess or what quality of life we DESERVE, how we can benefit others, even the brands we sponsor.

    Read it, people. I pray that it renews your mind so you might break out of the patterns you might be living in.

  20. This book is by far the best book that I have ever read, excluding the bible.

  21. and I’ve had many of my friends read the book. The copy that I read has been read probably by about 20 people.

  22. It took me three months to read this book (usually kill off tomes like this in a day or so). I kept going back and rereading the parts that aggravated me and found MY ideals not so ideal. Redemption is a powerful thing. Especially when you discover yourself in need of it instead of preaching it.

  23. Patty Ayers says

    I read this book about a year ago. When I finished reading it, I literally turned back to the first page and read it again.

    And I’ve just finished reading his recent book, “Jesus for President”, and it’s just as mind-blowing.

    I totally agree with the author of this post; Claiborne has a message which is desperately needed by the Church.

    I wish everybody would read them, everybody!