Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals

by Shane Claiborne (Auteur)

Other, 2008





Jesus for President is a radical manifesto to awaken the Christian political imagination, reminding us that our ultimate hope lies not in partisan political options but in Jesus and the incarnation of the peculiar politic of the church as a people "set apart" from this world. In what can be termed lyrical theology, Jesus for President poetically weaves together words and images to sing (rather than dictate) its message. It is a collaboration of Shane Claiborne's writing and stories, Chris Haw's reflections and research, and Chico Fajardo-Heflin's art and design. Drawing upon the work of biblical theologians, the lessons of church history, and the examples of modern-day saints and ordinary radicals, Jesus for President stirs the imagination of what the Church could look like if it placed its faith in Jesus instead of Caesar. A fresh look at Christianity and empire, Jesus for President transcends questions of "Should I vote or not?" and "Which candidate?" by thinking creatively about the fundamental issues of faith and allegiance. It's written for those who seek to follow Jesus, rediscover the spirit of the early church, and incarnate the kingdom of God.… (more)


Zondervan (2008), 368 pages

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(96 ratings; 4.1)

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LibraryThing member kolburt
A friend of mine recently pointed out the importance of discernment when choosing what books to read. Most of us will not complete more than a dozen or so books in a year, and with all the fantastic books out there, we need to be careful not to waste our time on dribble. Unfortunately, Jesus for
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President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, is not a fantastic book. It is a stunning example of what happens when Christians allow our political ideology and biases to affect how we approach the Bible. Billed as a “book to provoke the Christian political imagination,” the reader is left with more provocation than actual thought. Showing no understanding of the differing roles of the Church and the state, the authors conflate the two in a misguided attempt to shape Christians approach to politics. The end result is a work that only the most radical of the Christian left will find intriguing, while the rest of us are left wondering if it is Jesus they are following or the god of Liberalism. The book is replete with error, all of which fit into one or more of four different categories.

1. Bad Hermeneutics (Biblical Interpretation)
The most egregious and prevalent of all their errors, the authors blatantly rape Scripture in order to bend it to their ideology. For example, even though 1 Chronicles makes it quite clear that David was not to build the Temple because he had shed much blood, Claiborne and Haw argue that God didn’t want a temple because He likes sleeping in tents with poor people (pg. 35). Of course this doesn’t explain why God seems to have been pleased to dwell in the temple Solomon built. In another instance the authors state that the Israelites had laws for dealing with illegal immigrants (pg. 58). By choosing the phrase “illegal immigrants,” instead of what the text actually says “aliens,” the authors are trying to make a passage that has little relevance to our current immigration debate fit their own ideological purpose. At one point Claiborne and Haw state that Jesus was from a family of “peasants” (pg. 116), when we now know that the fact that he was a carpenter most likely put him in what we would know as the middle-class. In another instance, the authors say that the people were hungry for revolution, and thus chose for Barrabas to be freed instead of Jesus (pg. 76), when the Gospel account makes it clear that it was the prompting of the Pharisees that led to this decision. Finally, they state that the book of Revelation was written in code so the empire wouldn’t know what John was really saying (pg. 148), when it is commonly recognized that the genre of Revelation is apocalyptic and is thus written in such a mysterious manner.

2. Bad Theology
Despite the fact that Chris Haw is said to be working on a graduate degree in theology, the authors make some incredibly basic errors in theological understanding. In many cases they footnote their arguments by thanking some scholar for giving them “new eyes to see” on a particular issue, but due to the obscure nature of their argument, we are left feeling that they simply choose which eyes they like best. In one disturbing instance, they state that violence kills the image of God within a person (pg. 205). The doctrine of Imago Dei is one of the most foundational beliefs for Christian thinking, and no where does the Bible indicate that a person can have more or less of the image of God within them. The image of God is what gives each person their value, and, if the authors’ assertion were true, we would be left with some people that are intrinsically more valuable than others, hardly the traditional Christian understanding. Another instance where the authors show their ignorance is their understanding of the Trinity. In a poor attempt at humor, the authors tell a joke in which Jesus is letting people into Heaven whose names are not written in the Book of Life (pg. 290). This type of naiveté is easily repudiated when one recognizes that the Trinity cannot be divided, and thus would certainly know who is allowed into Heaven. Of course, this issue is further complicated by the authors seeming to indicate that they might not believe that Hell exists anyway. In another instance, Claiborne and Haw state that it is difficult to know whether or not Jesus would pay taxes if he lived in the U.S. (pg. 257), of course the simple phrase “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” seems to answer that quandary. In still another case, the authors revel in the act of lying when it fits their political cause (pg. 297).

3. Bad Political Philosophy and Logic
In many places Claiborne and Haw show utter inconsistency in their logic, coupled with a radically naïve approach to politics. For instance, they state that capitalism is a yoke that we need to be freed from (pg. 113). And while they admit that writing a book participates in capitalism, they don’t seem to grasp the fact that without capitalism their book would not be able to be printed or distributed. In a truly confusing paragraph, the authors argue that the industrial revolution wasn’t really an advancement, an assertion so absurd it is difficult to even respond to (I’ll let the fact that you are reading this be my rebuttal). And in perhaps the most stunning example of the sheer absurdity of their logic, Claiborne states that, if faced with genocide, he would simply take his clothes off and squawk like a chicken (pg. 273). Such a simplistic assertion fails to grasp the fallen world we currently inhabit, and instead makes a joke of over a million deaths on one continent alone.

4. Bad Use of Historical Argument
Still another way that Claiborne and Haw mislead their readers is by a deceptive use of history. They state that the more the early Church lived out the Gospel, the more they collided with the Roman Empire (pg. 141), when even a cursory understanding of early Church history shows that persecution was sporadic and wholly contingent on who was running the empire, not the degree to which Christians lived the Gospel. In an attempt to show the futility of violence, the authors state that an attempted assassination plot against Hitler only galvanized his resolve and made any efforts towards peace impossible (pg. 203). What they fail to mention is that this happened mere months from the end of WWII, and there was no indication that Hitler was going to surrender under any circumstances.

There are many other examples of all these types of errors I could list, all with equally simple rebuttals. The point is that Claiborne and Haw do not contribute anything new to the discussion of how our faith should influence policy. Rather, they simply carry the water for the far left, attempting to argue that Jesus agrees with them. Personally I am tired of people trying to prove that Jesus agrees with their ideologies, instead, I believe, we should be trying to agree with Jesus. Admittedly this is incredibly difficult for any of us to do, especially since Christ didn’t have much to say about the role of the state (contra Claiborne and Haw). What He did address, however, is how we as Christians should act, and I think if we put those things into practice the politics will come naturally.
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LibraryThing member kungfuquaker
In Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne starts at the beginning of the Bible to demonstrate the roots of Christian social justice. The area of social justice is weak point for most Christian writers. I appreciate the challenge to step up to the plate and tackle the whole message of Jesus, not just
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the right wing hot button issues.
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LibraryThing member rpdan
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member KendraRenee
thank goodness for one version of christianity i can resonate with. inspiring, just like shane's first book (the irresistible revolution)--only i actually finished this one. love the various drawings and illustrations. probably most relevant to people who already come from christian backgrounds,
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with at least a cursory knowledge of the biblical story... but regardless, an interesting read for anyone.
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LibraryThing member True54Blue
Whether you agree with Claiborne and Haw or not you have to admit that they are determined to represent Christ in the world. In so doing they take on the establishment in every manner from global economics and American foreign policy to church state relations and domestic policy.
LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
The term 'kingdom of God' is about as overtly political as it's possible to be. Jesus wasn't glossing over the political implications of his ministry so it's unfortunate that so many Christians today have learned not to hear them. Praying "thy kingdom come" in the Lord's Prayer is political
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subversion and a hope for radical overturn of present day politics. As the book points out, if the prayer meant God's support for current world leaders, then Jesus would have in fact just prayed for people in power. But Jesus was never a fan of people in power; he would much rather advocate for the dispossessed and marginalized at the mercy of unjust systems headed by the powerful. We hear that in the Beatitudes, another passage that Christians today certainly know but generally don't hear as a political message.

So Jesus for President is meant as a reclamation of the political overtones of Jesus' ministry, offering challenging considerations for what it means for Christians in the United States today to live under a hyper-capitalist republic (slash oligarchy). This does not mean that the authors are suggesting the US government should impose Christianity, nor should anyone be led to think that America is a "Christian nation" in any appreciable sense of the term. The title is rather tongue-in-cheek: the authors cite the adage that anyone who desires power isn't trustworthy enough to deserve it. And Jesus' most direct experience with the power of the state was when it executed him, so there's that. Ultimately they argue from a bottom-up involvement with people rather than a top-down involvement with systems. "No government can legislate love" in any case, but individuals can participate in the good of their country by being concerned for the good of one another.

For readers who are interested in biblical scholarship about Jesus' politics, please look elsewhere (I'd begin with Horsley's Jesus and Empire; this book relies heavily on Yoder's Politics of Jesus). Claiborne and Haw aren't scholars nor claim to be, so the academic sections of this book were the weakest. But once they hit their stride with reflection on present day issues of justice, with citations of Jesus as a tool to think with rather than an answer, this book invites readers into considerations of their own politics and responsibilities to their nation, fellow citizens, and God.
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LibraryThing member cbradley
Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s Jesus for President lays out a sort of electoral strategy for making Jesus our President, if not in reality than at least in our hearts. Claiborne and Haw look at the prophetic templates for rulers in the Hebrew Bible, the teachings of Jesus, and the
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pre-Constantine church for inspiration on how to live into the politically subversive nature of the Christian message. The authors make it clear that no political party has a claim on the party of Jesus; in fact it would seem that Jesus’ politics would take a creative reimagining that would transform the way we live into our worldliness while acknowledging our other-worldliness.

In the Hebrew Bile the authors look to the warnings against becoming like the other nations and to the precedent of rulers being accompanied by a “critic on the margin” who could challenge the ruler to be more aligned with the will of God than with the will of humanity. The plenteous examples of rulers from the Hebrew Bible make it clear that kingly power is ultimately corruptive in human hands; even the great King David abused his power. The solution to the earthly kings came in the form of the marginal Jesus. The authors make the point that the Bible is ironic, with great power coming from the unexpected and lowly places. Jesus does not fall neatly into the political schism of the world, rather Jesus approaches the world in a “third way.” By suffering crucifixion, and encouraging his followers to suffer the path of the cross, Jesus preaches a “completely different way to view the world.”

The authors conclude by showing how this ‘third way’ of Jesus could look in the world. They describe the various hypothetical situations that people propose to them, and then show how a third way could be used to emulate Jesus’ actions. Rather than confronting or escaping evil, Jesus and the authors of this book propose doing the unexpected. Even though this third way may result in the same tragedies that traditional responses would, they would at least refuse to pay back violence for violence. The ultimate message of Jesus for President is trying to find a third way for dealing with the problems of the world by the people not of the world.
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LibraryThing member swampygirl
Certainly not perfect on an academic/thinker/senser level, but since I already agreed with most of what he has to say it served to inspire me. I mean, we all read our own agenda into the Bible one way or another anyway.
LibraryThing member JEPartrick
Bottom Line Up Front: Absolutely crucial for modern Christians in the US. Truly a challenge of what being a disciple of Jesus should look like.

I was, however, tempted to give it a lower rating based on the design of the book, but ultimately the message overshadowed any misgivings I have about its
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design. I wish it would have been a simple, boring old book, but they over-designed it. I am not sure the reason, but it seems silly.
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LibraryThing member empress8411
Pretentious but it made me think. I need to read it again to really figure out what I think about what Claiborne says.
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