Jesus for President? A Closer Look at Shane Claiborne’s Politics

The Institute on Religion and Democracy has again published one of my articles, this time on the neo-Anabaptist Shane Claiborne. Claiborne is in many ways a compelling figure and speaker. Educated in part at Princeton Theological Seminary, yet sporting baggy pants and dreadlocks, he has demonstrated impressive courage in his campaigns for peace. When the United States bombed Iraq in 2003 Claiborne was in the country, at the mercy of the Iraqis due to injuries sustained in a car accident. He is a pacifist but he has seen war firsthand. A great story teller, he repeatedly had his audience in stitches, and there is no question that on numerous points his critique of American Christianity has merit.

I think one of the dangers in election year is to sort of think that politicians are going to solve all of the problems when often they just keep creating them…. And we have to insist that, ‘No, we’ve found the last best hope on earth, we’ve found the light of the world, and it is not Barack Obama or Mitt Romney or America, it’s Jesus, the Christ, the Savior of the World.’

That said, when I listened to Claiborne speak, and I observed as the liberal, academic audience nodded in approval of so much of what he said, I could not help but think to myself that Claiborne is compelling in just the same way that the 16th Century Anabaptists were compelling. He firmly believes in Jesus and is willing to pay the ultimate price for his understanding of what that faith entails, and yet his prescriptions, if followed by all Americans, or even all Christians, would lead to absolute disaster (see my article for more on this). Like so many neo-Anabaptists, however, Claiborne tends to hedge on this point. On the one hand he calls believers to the way of the cross, the ultimate embrace of earthly disaster; on the other hand he continues to insist that if pacifism was tried maybe, just maybe, it would make the world a better place.

The consistent Anabaptists understand that you can’t have it both ways. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross, and Christians shouldn’t pretend that it will solve all the world’s problems. Of course Reformed folks like John Calvin agree with the Anabaptists on this point. But Calvin also emphasized that because of his graciousness towards the world (what Abraham Kuyper called common grace) God established civil government to preserve a modicum of peace and justice. Civil government is not the kingdom of God, as Claiborne rightly pointed out, but neither is it given the sword in vain, a point that Claiborne did not acknowledge.

In all the Reformed debates over the two kingdoms doctrine it is easy to forget why we need the doctrine in the first place. If you wonder, listen to folks like Shane Claiborne. After all, it was in part people a lot like Claiborne that led Calvin to articulate the doctrine in the first place.

You can read my whole article here.


About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on October 25, 2012, in Just War, Neo-Anabaptism, pacifism, Two Kingdoms and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Jesus for President? A Closer Look at Shane Claiborne’s Politics.

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