Questionable Beliefs and Practices
After realizing Shane Claiborne’s twisting and de-emphasis of Scripture, it is not hard to imagine why many of his practices do not line up with its teachings.
Rebelling Against The Institution of Government
As early as the second chapter Claiborne begins telling his self-aggrandizing stories about how good of a fighter he is for social justice. The problem is that while many of his stories show his heart for the poor, they also show his lack of respect for Scriptural commands. We should never do evil in oder to do good.
Beginning on page 53 Claiborne recalls a story in which a group of homeless people illegally set up residence in an old abandoned catholic church. In the story the owners of the church tell the homeless people they have to leave. This is where Shane and his college friends come in; instead of helping the homeless people get out and find them places to stay, they move into the church with the homeless and resist the authorities who are telling them to leave! Surely the church could have acted more Christlike in the circumstances, but that does not give Claiborne or the homeless the right to defy the law. The New Testament gives clear instruction to obey the government and to submit to it’s authority (Romans 13:1-7, I Timothy 2:13-17). According to Paul, those who “resist the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:2 ESV). Claiborne never interacts with these Scriptures, or attempts any biblical justification for his actions.
Though no person in his right mind—much less a Christian—likes the idea of war, pacifism is naïve and takes it a step too far. On many occasions Claiborne reveals his pacifistic ideals. Pure pacifism has no potential to mesh with the teachings of the Bible. If God is really against war in all circumstances, how can we understand the scores of times that God commands nations to go to war throughout the Bible? David said,
“Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle; he is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me” (Psa 144:1-2).
On the other hand I commend him for his willingness to put himself in harm’s way to protest the war in Iraq (though he never really gives any good reasons—besides the fact that he is against war!—why he is protesting it …and I personally think there are some). His views on war and peace seem to be overly simplistic and romantic.
Radical or Lazy?
Many call Claiborne a ‘radical.’ Though it may seem that going to jail for helping the poor, or holding pacifistic values is radical, I think it may also be classified as lazy. It may seem ludicrous to define these ‘radical’ actions as laziness, but when you get to the bottom of it, everything he praises himself for doing is really just a short-cut for something that could be done more legally, biblically, and effectively. Sure, squatting in an abandoned church with a group of homeless people seems ‘radical,’ but is really just a lazy way out of getting a job, or creating a fund to purchase a facility for them to stay in. Sure, being completely anti-war may seem hip and ‘radical,’ but is naïve and fails to recognize genuinely just reasons for war, such as the ones that God personally declared; to pronounce war as evil is to make God less moral than yourself! Sure, throwing hundreds of dollars worth of cash into the air in New York City (189) may seem ‘radical,’ but fails to comply with God’s commands to be good stewards. With a little bit more time and preparation, that money could have been used to feed and help the truly needy.
Inclusive Theology, and Gospel-decentralization
Probably, of Claiborne’s beliefs, the most frightening are his apparent universalism, and de-emphasis of the Gospel of Christ.
In a 2009 article on Esquire’s website Claiborne said this:
“In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, ‘I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.’ If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is” (Letter To Non-Believers).
Not only does this hint of universalism, but reveals many things about his focus. Once again, instead of using this ideal opportunity to present the Gospel, Claiborne spouts out a sentence witch not only unashamedly shows that God is not his treasure, but also makes eternity out to be a trivial thing to his non-christian friend.
Though the word “gospel” is used often in the book, little is said about the importance of the Gospel of salvation by faith alone. In fact, Claiborne is often given amazing chances to share the Gospel and simply passes them up! Besides the story in Esquire (above) we can recall his story about squatting in the abandoned church building. Instead of using this opportunity to preach the Gospel to his ‘captive audience’ Claiborne and his friends have communion with them! In Paul’s first letter the Corinthians he gives strict guidelines on how to partake in Communion:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (I Cor 11:27-32 ESV).
It is clear that Communion is a serious thing—not meant at all for unbelievers!—and to be taken very seriously by believers! What is Claiborne thinking? The New Testament contains very little outside these verses on how to partake in the Lord’s supper. It really doesn’t take a scholar to understand this simple passage. I may have gotten off-topic there, but my point is that the Gospel should always be “of first importance” as Paul says in I Cor 15:3. This is not apparent in his book.
Throughout all three of these posts I have tried to keep a spirit of humility, and not attack Shane Claiborne personally. Shane Claiborne’s passion and selflessness is commendable and exemplary. However, because of the reasons stated in these three parts I believe that his book falls short in many areas. As I said before, Claiborne’s lack of respect for God’s Word makes it hard to respect his book. If you have any comments or disagreements please comment!
Also: if you have any book recommendations for a biblical understanding of social issues please leave them in the comments! I have heard mixed reviews on Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love,” but can about guarantee that it would be better than “The Irresistible Revolution.”