Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals
The publisher describes JESUS FOR PRESIDENT as a "radical manifesto to awaken the Christian political imagination," and those eight words are about as accurate a description of this book as you're likely to find. But then, the authors are quintessential ordinary radicals --- two young men who live out the teachings of Christ pretty much under the radar in two intentional spiritual communities in the Greater Philadelphia area --- and we would expect nothing less from them.
The book is indeed radical, and that's sad, because as Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw show, most Christians have strayed so far from living out the radical teachings of Jesus that they need a serious refresher on what Jesus was all about and what He wanted for His followers. And it's a manifesto in that it clearly presents the authors' mission, vision and purpose.
Most important is the authors' intention to "awaken the Christian political imagination," and in that Claiborne and Haw have the greatest chance of success in converting readers to their social, cultural, political and spiritual perspective. The fourth section of the book --- in my opinion, the most reader-friendly --- shows the creative ways in which Christians can live as Jesus intended in a society that makes it increasingly difficult to do so. At the heart of their "political imagination" is their desire that believers become the kingdom of God, in part by resisting the lure to live according to "Caesar's" economy. They make a compelling argument for developing an alternative lifestyle that stretches the imagination and relies on creative and unexpected solutions to everyday problems.
There is so much to like about the core message of this book that I hesitate to quibble over some of its problems. But those glitches, while they were easy for me to overlook, may pose significant problems for some readers. First is the sense that the book needed a dedicated fact-checker, one person whose sole job was to research information that was presented as fact but seemed shaky at best. I had far too many "Hold it --- that's not right" moments, but it's not my job to fact-check. An example is the figures they used for the number of deaths since the start of the war in Iraq. The death toll may be the "official" total of 300,000 or, as they write, 600,000 or 1 million, and we can argue over which figure is right. But the point to me is that it's an obscene number no matter what, and we'll never have an accurate figure. Other readers, though, may consider some of the questionable material presented as fact to be significant enough that they will call into question the authors' basic premises, and that's a shame.
Another glitch is the design, which employs lots of margin notes, creatively presented sidebars, and artwork. I really liked it, but only to a point. After a very short time, I began ignoring the extraneous text altogether. As beautiful and intriguing as it was, it turned out to be too much; it distracted from the message rather than enhancing it. And the type size of some of the supplementary text was so small as to be unreadable.
All that said, I have no problem recommending JESUS FOR PRESIDENT, as long as readers are prepared to mentally argue with some of the text and ignore the overly designed pages. The bottom line is that the bottom line --- the call to use our God-given gifts to become the kingdom of God --- far transcends the problems I mentioned. This is one case in which the conclusions the authors reach are valid, regardless of the bumps in the road that led them there.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on November 13, 2011