Book Review: Jesus for President (Part 2)
How do we live as the people of God in the American Empire?

A few months ago, while visiting a church out of state, I had a moment of crisis. Just before the sermon, the pastor stood to give the announcements. After wrapping up, he invited a young man in military uniform to stand. The young officer had grown up in this church and had just returned from his first tour in Iraq. The pastor thanked the congregation for their prayers for the soldier and his family. The congregation responded with enthusiastic applause. So far so good.

But then the pastor reminded the church of the dangerous and noble work America's soldiers were doing in Iraq. He said they were protecting our American freedoms and that we should be grateful for their sacrifice. The congregation stood to their feet and began clapping?and clapping?and clapping. I have never experienced a more enthusiastic and prolonged standing ovation on a Sunday morning in my life.

What would you have done? I sat.

After the service I admitted to my wife that I was uncertain what the right response was in that situation. The tenor of the pastor's remarks and the zeal of the congregation's response did not seem to reflect Christ's call to love our enemies. I wondered how a brother or sister in the Iraqi church, which has come under increasing persecution, would have felt about this Sunday morning display of patriotism. At the same time, I felt like a total jerk for sitting while the rest of the congregation demonstrated their gratitude to the military. This experience and the questions it raised came to mind several times while I read Jesus for President.

In chapters one and two, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw summarize the Biblical narrative. (I covered their perspective in my first post.) In chapter three they begin exploring the implications of this narrative for those of us living in the world's most powerful country. They describe America as an empire parallel to the Roman context the first Christians endured. They also believe Constantinianism was generally bad for the church, and that the book of Revelation is less about eschatology than living faithfully within a diabolical empire. Whether or not you agree with these assumptions, Claiborne and Haw make a compelling case that the church in America has become much to cozy with the state - a point that my Sunday morning experience seems to validate.

According to the authors, the great challenge facing the American church today is how to live faithfully as the distinct people of God within an empire that will preserve its interests at any cost. To press this point they quote often from the early Church Fathers who existed within the Roman Empire.

April 02, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 31 comments

The Yak

November 06, 2008  3:25pm

"What you'll find is a man crucified by the Empire for protesting its greed, injustice, partnerships with corrupt religious leaders, preemptive wars, and unfair tax policies." From my humble viewpoint, and simply study of the gospels, I never got the picture that Jesus' protest and revolution was with the Roman Empire. It was the Jews, God's chosen people, the religious sadducees and pharisees who were totally indignant and ticked off at Jesus. In part, because he modeled and initiated a new way of living out God's commands. Which he taught about... "you have heard it said, but now I say to you." Also, in part because he "broke" certain laws and customs of the religious that were wrongly concocted from reading the law for years on end. But, mostly because he claimed to be God, and to have power to forgive sins! This enraged the religious, not the Romans, they could care less! It was the religious Jews and leaders who turned him over to Roman law with the half-baked lies that he threatening the Emperor calling himself King. There did not want to accept God's new paradigm of grace and sacrifice to deal with sin, the ultimate wall between us and God. Pilot, who represented leadership of Rome, did not think he was guilty of anything, but caved in because he was empire ruled. Jesus' life, actions, message, and death were more about showing us how to live in relationship with God first, then others. And his death was not about any sort of political statement to Rome, it was about making a means for the new way he modeled.

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Dennis Mullen

June 12, 2008  9:31am

I love Shane's work and this book is an eye-opener, but his words on hell (p. 291) are incredibly incomplete and misleading. He says that "Jesus didn't spend much time on hell" and that there are "only a couple of times when he spoke of weeping and gnashing of teeth, of hell and God's judgment, and both had to do with the walls we create between ourselves and our suffering neighbors." But do a word search of the Gospels on hell, fire, or gnashing and you'll see a very different picture. I like the fact that this book brings out some misplaced aspects of Jesus, but let's not lose the other things he said.

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Philip Woodward

April 04, 2008  10:52pm

PF, Maybe we're in agreement more than I at first thought. But I'm not quite sure yet. I wrote, "Jesus was a political radical, for sure: but not qua *political.*" And you responded, "How can you say that calling for a change in authority is not political?" You're absolutely right–that's why I said "Jesus was a political radical." You missed that statement of mine, I guess. But understand, I was responding to your initial statement: "What you'll find is a man crucified by the Empire for protesting its greed, injustice, partnerships with corrupt religious leaders, preemptive wars, and unfair tax policies." What you're implying here is that Jesus' beef with the Roman Empire was the *particulars of its policies*–as if, if the Empire were to behave itself, Jesus would have responded, "Okay; my job here is done." That's why I say that Jesus wasn't a political radical *qua* political radical. His vision and message was eschatological. You can't announce that Yahweh is King without irking whoever currently calls himself king. But Jesus' eschatological vision is of a whole *different order of reality* from Caesar's. That's why I say that calling Jesus a political radical is misleading–it makes him out to be so much LESS of a radical than he is. Anybody can protest an Empire's policies. God's Anointed gets to do a whole lot more than that. Think about it: Ralph Nader is called a political radical. Someone who claims to speak and act for God is called a nutcase. Lewis was right: Jesus won't let himself be tamed like that.

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Drew Bekius

April 04, 2008  11:18am

There seems, in my mind, to be a clear distinction between supporting and holding up in prayer those who are serving in the military (which I would do for any in difficult and trying times) and preaching or sound-biting a particular political agenda. We desperatly need the former, but it must be divorced from the later. There is a balance here, and those who haven't found it must.

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Bryce Wilson

April 04, 2008  11:07am

Shane addresses the Romans 13 passage in Jesus For President, putting it in the context of the rest of the letter. Looking at Paul's own life as an example of what he believed, we see Paul arrested and beaten by the governement on numerous occasions for his ministry, just as we see Paul die a martyr under the state. So Paul both opposed and subordinated the Roman empire while he never violently protested it's rule. When Paul wrote Romans 13, he wrote to tell Christians not to overthrow the government, not to revolt. That passage is surrounded by passages which suggest anti-imperialist Christian ideas- enemy-love being one.

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April 04, 2008  10:44am

What I'm pointing out is that we, us humans, deal on a level of existence that is, in our own opinion, pretty gritty, dirty, and over-all not nice we tend to worry less about the abstract and more about the immediate. Thus, our own viewpoint, myopically put, is narrowly focused on what we can currently see, feel, smell, and our understanding of our enviroment, the world around us stems from that. Explaining heavenly ideas to us is much like explaining the color red to a blind man born as such. There's only so many adjectives one can employ till one is finally, and completely frustrated with the attempt. Hence, the old testament in toto. Consider the OT G-d's attempt to explain the color red to a blind's not that we don't understand G-d's words, it's the overall concept we're having a difficult time grasping. So, enter New Testament, whamm'o, G-d says, "fine, how bout I give a first person demonstration!" So, whats the most common miracle that, Y'shua is performing? "The blind can see!" See what? G-d's explanation of the color red. So in away, I think we agree, we're just having a communication issue of the limitations of the internet.

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mike rucker

April 04, 2008  9:14am

sheerahkahn wrote, The politics angle... it seems... hmmm, so miniscule to G-d's plan. perhaps, but i'd argue that the heaven/hell, i-once-was-lost-but-now-i'm-found focus has overly narrowed everything G-d wants to say to us. depending on your theology, you may believe that J-sus is going to reign on earth for 1000 years in a kingdom of His own. if so, to deny that He started revealing how things were going to be run when the new Sheriff is in town means you must ignore a lot of what He did, or at best try to put a single spin on it. it's why Romans is such a thorn in my side: Pa-l never speaks of hell, but he does speak of justification. and yet he goes on to speak of many other dimensions of what salvation is and what J-sus apparently accomplished. we all find it easier to stake out one facet of the diamond and say it alone is the one we must look at. but the brilliant colors are everywhere, and we are the ones who miss out on the rest of the beauty when we keep our gaze in only one place. man, that was poetic... my meds must be kicking in... m-ke r-ck-r fairburn, georgia, usa

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Progressive Faith

April 03, 2008  7:20pm

Phillip, you said: "Jesus was calling for a fundamental shift of authority–onto *himself.* " I can't imagine a more political statement than that! How can you say that calling for a change in authority is not political? I think too many people mistake politics with running for office. That didn't exist in 1st century Jewish culture. Only in a modern democracy would you do that. People forget that Jesus was political in the only way a 1st century Jewish peasant could have political. He was a prophet. He was God's representative to the authorities on behalf of the powerless. He spoke truth to power in a simlar way as the great prophets before him. He quoted them frequently. Finally, he was messiah. To call Jesus the messiah was to give him the highest political office in Jewish culture. You tell me. What office or title is higher, more important or more public than messiah?

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April 03, 2008  6:09pm

Uh...hmmm, I'm rather bothered by this Jesus as Political Action fact it makes me itch...and I'm not on board with this thinking that Jesus's actions in the temple were to approach this in a cogent fashion...huh...hmmm Let's think... If G-d has a plan in place for the redemption of mankind, and this plan is not just a political plan, but an all-phase plan that will change the very nature of mankind from it's fallen state to a state of holiness, what we'll call a state of grace. Elevated above where he originally started from, not by his own doing, but because G-d has ordained as so...wouldn't you think that any element of that plan bastardized by mankind for his own advantage is going to set any and every aspect of the deity off on a rant? would seem to me, at the very least, that instead of viewing Y'shua's actions in the temple as a calculated protest...that it really was what it was portrayed as...a very irritated aspect of the G-dhead going off on a rant at the sight of part of his plan being misused? The politic's seems...hmmm, so miniscule to G-d's plan.

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Philip Woodward

April 03, 2008  5:01pm

The problem with calling Jesus a political or social radical is that saying so monumentally *understates* the degree to which he was a radical. PF, you're exactly right about Jesus' protests. But they weren't *political* or *social* protests. They weren't about Roman policy, or something like that. Actually, it might be better to call them a coup-de-taut, rather than protests. Jesus was calling for a fundamental shift of authority–onto *himself.* His radicalism doesn't consist in his social or moral agenda, which wasn't all that radical. (Pharisees and zealots alike were on board with there.) His radicalism consisted in declaring himself simultaneously (a) The King of the Jews and (b) Yahweh's Anointed. (Which of course amount to the same thing in the Jewish mind, but are very different in the Roman mind.) Jesus wasn't a martyr for some social reform. (Maybe that's not what's being argued here, and I apologize if I'm misreading PF or anyone else.) And I don't mean this as a theological point, which it could be: I mean it as textual/historical point.

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