Shane Claiborne, David Platt, and True Charity
Last summer, I read David Platt’s book Radical for the first time. If you aren’t familiar with the book, the gist of it is that David is challenging us to rethink how we live our lives and use and value our money, based on the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. He refers to verses like Matthew 19:21 and Luke 18:18-22 to basically say that we’ve got to let go of our materialism and start trying to live like Jesus did. I didn’t like the book very much, and I couldn’t really put a finger on why except to say that reading it filled me with guilt instead of conviction, paralyzing shame instead of a desire to change the world by changing the way I live in it. And I wasn’t sure whether my own heart was to blame for that, or if the ideas in the book were.
Right now, I’m reading a different book: The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. On the surface, it’s message seems to be the same. Jesus hung out with poor people all the time, and we should care about social justice and ending poverty. We need to rethink how we value, spend, and save our money. As I read it, I even found parts that echoed David Platt’s sentiments almost identically. Consider these excerpts, pulled from each book:
“We’ve been very careful at the Simple Way never to claim that we have the corner on the market for “radical Christianity.” Nor have we even tried to spread a brand or model. And the incredible thing is that the stories of ordinary radicals are all over the place, stories of everyday people doing small things with great love, with their lives, gifts, and careers. I heard about a group of massage therapists who spend their days washing and massaging the tired feet of homeless folks. Some manicurists told me they go to old folks homes and ask which old ladies have no visitors or family, and then they sit with them, laugh, tell stories, and do their nails…There are lawyers who bail us out of jail, advocate for human rights, and go with us before zoning boards that have no categories for understanding how we live. The examples are as numerous as the number of vocations. But the calling is the same: to love God and our neighbors with our whole lives, careers, and gifts.” ~ The Irresistible Revolution (source)
“When I sit down for lunch with Steve, a businessman in our faith family, it’s obvious we have different callings in our lives. He’s an accountant; I’m a pastor. He is gifted with numbers; I can’t stand numbers. But we both understand that God has called us and gifted us for a global purpose. So Steve is constantly asking, “How can I lead my life, my family, and my accounting firm for God’s glory in Birmingham and around the world?” He is leading co-workers to Christ; he is mobilizing accountants to serve the poor; and his life is personally impacting individuals and churches in Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe with the gospel.
Steve and others like him have decided that they are not going to take the command of Christ to make disciples of all nations and label it a calling for a few. They are not going to sit on the sidelines while a supposed special class of Christians accomplishes the global purpose of God. They are convinced that God has created them to make His glory known in all nations, and they are committing their lives to accomplishing that purpose.” Radical (source)
So what is the difference between the two? I was trying to figure this out, because at first I thought it was because Shane’s life experiences give so much more weight to his words. In college he and a group of friends stood by a homeless community as the Catholic archdiocese of Philadelphia tried to evict them from an abandoned cathedral. He spent a summer in India with Mother Theresa, caring for and learning about love from lepers. He had stories, and I believed him when he explained that living among and serving the poor opened his eyes to the heart of Jesus in a way nothing ever had before.
As I continued to mull over these two men’s books and the difference in my reaction to them, I realized that it went even deeper than the difference in life experience between the two men. Because really, God can use you wherever. We aren’t all called to the slums of India. Some of us might become David Platts who pastor mega-churches and talk about living a radical life for Christ even if we never leave the U.S.
What stood apart in Shane’s book, what reached into the core of me and infused me with a desire to love as Jesus commands us to love, is that Shane pushed not just for charity, not just for helping the needy. He writes,
“When people begin moving beyond charity and toward justice and solidarity with the poor and oppressed, as Jesus did, they get in trouble. Once we are actually friends with the folks in struggle, we start to ask why people are poor, which is never as popular as giving to charity. One of my friends has a shirt marked with the words of late Catholic bishop Dom Helder Camara: “When I fed the hungry, they called me a saint. When I asked why people are hungry, they called me a communist.” Charity wins awards and applause but joining the poor gets you killed. People do not get crucified for living out of love that disrupts the social order that calls forth a new world. People are not crucified for helping poor people. People are crucified for joining them.”
“We are not a voice for the voiceless. The truth is that there is a lot of noise out there downing out quiet voices, and many people have stopped listening to the cries of their neighbors. Lots of folks have put their hands over their ears and drown out the suffering…it is a beautiful thing when folks in poverty are no longer just a missions project but become genuine friends and family with whom we laugh, cry, dream, and struggle.”
Wow. Powerful. And that’s where David Platt fell short for me. I felt like his book emphasized charity, but didn’t have much to say about solidarity in the way that Shane describes it here. Blurring the lines between rich and poor looks a whole lot more like the Gospel of Jesus than just wiser money management, alms-giving, or even living out a vocation that plays a part in helping the least of these (all of which both David Platt and Shane Claiborne support, as evidenced from the excerpts I shared from their books earlier in this post). And this is why I felt convicted by Shane’s book—because he reached into the heart of the matter, the heart of why poverty exists at all. It exists because we, the rich, the privileged, find it so easy to keep the poor at arm’s length. But when we get down into the slums with them, we’ll realize…they are also made in the image of Christ. They are also worthy and treasured by God. They deserve dignity too.
In closing, I wanted to share this blog post with you. It’s beautiful. And it just rocks my world when the story of this agnostic blogger feels so very much closer to the heart of what Jesus desires of us than what my own life has been. It’s high time I change that.