Shane Claiborne’s Peculiar Message

“Maybe God’s plan is different than Wall Street’s.” Shane Claiborne gently entered into his message at Mosaic Church in Portland, Oregon on February 6th with this statement. It hung in the air a bit before he proceeded. I have read both of his books, An Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President, but this was the first time I have heard him speak. He had his trademark look: The long dreads, bandana neatly tied around his head, black rimmed glasses, white plain T-shirt and baggy cotton pants. Upon walking on stage he gave a loud, giddy hillbilly laugh and his tall frame and lengthy arm span lent to his quirky, fun-loving demeanor. 


What followed his opening statement was the message that we are called to be a peculiar people. If we are falling right in suite with the power players of our day, where is our peculiarity? This struck me. Rather than living to transform the patterns and systems of our world, the church more often (and more loudly) appears as if our desire is the other way around. Yet if we look at Jesus, he was always peculiar. So peculiar, that John the Baptist had to second guess him. This led to another point: the love of Christ “spreads through fascination, not force”. This is pivotal in understanding our role as believers. In light of consumerism and the church, it was refreshing to remember that Christ’s gospel is irresistible and fascinating. It needn’t be a bait and switch gospel, where we must lure in the masses with great music, yummy coffee and popular preaching in order to gain the most converts. Yet this is what I often see: a hope and confidence in nailing down consumer preference and achieving consumer-based success over against living a gospel whose confidence and vitality lies in abandonment and the creativity of Christ. I can’t help but wonder then, what good news are people coming to understand? I often feel like we have lost hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and are instead putting our trust in the gospel of consumerism driven by a worldy desire for more: more members, more converts, ultimately, more power. 


Shane continued to explain that when John the Baptist asked if Jesus Christ was really the One, Jesus responded by asking what he has done and what they have seen. Blind people can see, the dead are brought back to life, sick people are healed. As Shane points out, really, who else would they want?


This begs the question: What would the response be if I asked others to “look at what I’ve done and tell me what you see”. Not only individually does that scare me, but what about the church as a whole? As Shane challenged us, we tend to “preach God with our mouth, but resist him with our lives”. He shared that the top three things Christians are known for are being (in this order): anti-gay, judgmental and hypocritical. That is not a movement I would want to join, and those are certainly not the top three characteristics of the life of Christ. On the contrary, as Shane discussed, Christ’s harshest words were to the religious elite.


 “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but to bring dead people to life.” This is a point he made that I believe we as a church need to meditate on and be transformed by. The religious elite were about control, power, and appearance. Life in Christ does not mean that we are now “good”; it means we are now alive–no matter how messy and reckless that may be. I fear that this compelling message is being choked out by those who wish to gain more followers by introducing them to a non-intrusive, non-threatening message of salvation (a sort of ‘you can have your cake and eat it, too’ salvation). As Shane said, we are not making the gospel too hard, but rather too easy. He challenged that we need a recklessness in the church. Reckless because we trust in the enormity, profundity and unconstrained love of our Creator, rather than the financial, medical, educational or political systems of this world.  What would that look like if we truly lived this way? We are not called to be calculators and purveyors of progress but rather patient, gracious lovers of truth and justice. If we live a timid life harnessed and controlled by the systems our world lives and falls by, what does that say of the One in whom we profess? 


What do you think about Shane’s statement “Maybe God’s plan is different than Wall Street’s”?  How do you envision that we, as the church, can begin as Shane said to “dream big and live small”, and how do you see this affecting consumerism in the church?

5 Responses to “Shane Claiborne’s Peculiar Message”

  1. Dave Hickox Says:

    The problem with consumerism in the church is not just limited to greed, but rather a broader self-centered focus more on what the church can do for you than what you can do for your church. The question that is asked is more often than not, is who will I become if and less who can I help people to be? Frequently, I think people come in to church just looking for an excuse to leave. The problem is both one of supply and demand. Churches feed in to this pattern of thinking through feel-good easy to listen to sermons from the pulpit and budgets too devoted towards graphics, church strip-mall style buildings, and over-priced production equipment. Attenders feed demand for it, by transforming their first weekend at church in to an experience not all too dissimilar to a TV hunt at Best-Buy. They frequently demand worldly perfection and all to often can be caught after service commenting on the theme of a series, quality of the musicianship, and seamless transitions.

    In answer to your question, I think it really comes back to focusing less on the outputs and more on the inputs. The focus should be less on living small and more on making sure that our decisions aren’t based out of self-interest and a desire to be recognized. Frequently I think we as Christ-followers get so focussed on how we’re being perceived by the world that we miss the forest from the trees. While it’s important to ensure that we aren’t being misunderstood in our mission and message, I think fundamentally we just need to love God and love people. Forsaking our concern on how we’re being perceived and submitting our lives daily to his calling. Trusting that HE and not us will bring his lost children back to Him.

  2. Rachel O'Brien Says:

    Great comment. Thanks for the review Kelsi. Though I missed the talk, I will respond to the posting and comment. I wonder that we are able to “just to love God and love people” without intention. One of the things that I have learned as I review some of my life experiences is that, I don’t just love God and people. And those that I do, I hand pick because they are able to love me back in a way that I have deemed valuable. I think what I stumble over is the idea that we “just” do anything. Humans just hate, just segregate, just disconnect, just hurt. But loving, and healing, and learning are htings that don’t just happen without the tender grace of Christ. We must be intentional, thoughtful, reflective and critical in how we live our lives and how we profess Chirsts love. I agree that we should focus outwardly, never be overly self concerned and yet I cannot turn away from the top three things Christians are known for and the affect that has on our outward focused lives. If we are not tuned to how we are perceived, though we cannot be consumed by it, we cannot find a ground from which to communicate. I believe that Christ was the perfect communicator, reaching, teaching in various ways to everyone. He addressed, not ignored, peoples’ perceptions, he radically taught them so that they could understand and be changed. I would hope that the church continue its strong course of teaching in a way that always redemtively communicates, not our own motto, but the story of Christ and our role in it “not by force but by fascnination”

  3. benjamin malick Says:

    Great thoughts. This “following Christ thing” is really hard! There are days I wonder what it would have been like if someone had sat me down prior to my conversion and explained that “death to self” wasn’t just the latest church marketing catch phrase, but a serious call to unite with Christ and community. I probably would have been like “what-ev”, and run as far away as my legs would carry me. Then I would jump into the closest “personal” autonomously isolated cubbyhole of self-centeredness I could find. Yippee! Except I’ve been in that hole before, as is said beautifully in Psalm 40:2, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” HE did it. HE lifted me. It was by HIS power. How HIS power is seen through HIS church as viewed by the world is a question that has been ripping my soul apart.

    Recently, Dr. Metzger was leading a devotional at our NewWine intern meeting and read Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. There are days when I feel like a Jew and a Gentile. Let me explain. Sometimes I feel like I need to do something to be right with God, but I also sway to the opposite end in a spirit of apathy that tells me it doesn’t really matter what I do or don’t do for Jesus. I can spin in the whirlpool of cheap grace. Ahhhh… It feels so good, but WAIT! Both of these are slimy pits! And I’m at the center of the universe once again.

    God is revealing more and more to me everyday that it is only by HIS POWER that I even have the ability to die to self. So, in regards to Shane’s message, how are we to redemptively engage the “American Dream” or the “Consumer Christian Church” dream? Well, I’d say first let’s “pull out” of her (I think the technical term here is coitus interruptus) The tricky part is to still interact with her after we’ve pulled out. This is where peculiarity becomes key, especially peculiar love. It’s far to easier to disassociate and detach. That’s one of the reasons I’m compelled to believe tension is where it’s at. It’s usually the tough stuff that’s the good stuff. Lastly, let’s never forget that it is by the power of God that salvation comes, not our by our power. That being said, I’m all for a simpler way of life like Shane is, but let’s be careful that don’t elevate the simple way above God, or else it’ll just be another slimy pit.

    In case you missed it, you can hear it all online! Shane’s talk has been posted to:

  4. Kelsi Says:

    Dave I hear what you are saying, there is a real danger in focusing on “living small” or striving for a multi-ethnic church just for multi-ethnicity’s sake. But I also agree with Rachel, in that it is impossible for me to stumble into the reality of “loving my neighbor as myself”. That is a great point Rachel; it is natural for us to become disconnected, selfish, and concerned only with those who we find attractive and interesting. It is going against our grain entirely though, to live sacrificially. That’s why it was so striking and humorous that in the Q&A with Shane someone asked, “how do my wife and I meet our neighbors?” It was an honest, ironic question (and pretty amusing)–the people we are physically and consistently closest to are the people we don’t even know how to meet! Shane’s friend Chris pointed out that this is why it is called “intentionality”. It does not “just happen”. So yes, I agree, we must love God and love people, but when we really flesh that out, I do believe that living simply is a necessary–but not sufficient– first step. Dave in reference to the good point you raised, that we should strive to live a life not out of self interest or to be recognized, I believe living simply is one crucial way to fight those desires. If we don’t contextualize and flesh it out, then the desire to live a selfless life for Christ simply becomes a nebulous, nice idea. And the more we flesh it out, the more I believe we will come to realize how peculiar and awkward it really is. But I agree, we must always remember the “why” of all that we do, or else, as Ben said, it will become a slimy pit.

  5. Brandon Says:

    Good summary of the talk.

    The operative phrase he had for the night was that bit about the gospel spreading through fascination, not force. And the fact that this is such a surprise to many in the church, not least myself, only shows how deeply and tightly my imagination has been captivated by the powers… the same powers that were defeated on the cross of the captivator of my heart…

    Newbigin says that time and again in the NT, people are asking the early church, basically, “what is this new reality?” They’re drawn by fascination… And the answer is the story of the gospel, of God’s dream invading the world through Jesus. What a joy it is when that question gets asked, if only so rarely! I was hacking at some blackberries on the Springwater Corridor today and had several neighbors come up to talk about it, about life on a street known for its “tweaker” traffic, and about their kids’ safety. When I was asked, “what are you, a hippie”, I should have answered, “No, I’m just doin’ Jesus-y stuff.” Instead I just shrugged my shoulders and grinned. I long for the day when God better forms my heart so that these truths come out more naturally…

    Anyway, I got distracted… thanks again for a good post, Kelsi. 🙂

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