Those kind people at Zondervan sent me a copy of Jesus for President to review, so here goes…
I regard this as one of the best, most challenging and thought provoking books around at the moment. Despite it’s American target audience (we don’t have a president here – yet) this makes great reading for any reader, as its themes are universal.
This is unlikely to look like any book you have ever read before, it’s got nearly as much in common with a graphic novel as it has with a standard text book. The best comparison I can give, and it is quite inappropriate really given the anti consumerist approach of the authors, is with a Howies clothing catalogue. It has that same earthy, lived in, thoughtful, artistic and engaging feel, but thankfully without the pictures of models wearing expensive clothes.
Put simply, this has got to be one of the most beautifully designed books on the market – working with the writing, the design emphasises the creative, radical spirit of the text, and the provocative joy of the authors. Quite rightly the designers, Holly and Ryan Sharp, are credited at the end of the book along with the writers. The colour is full throughout the book, with design elements interacting with the text throughout, which adds immensely to the value of the content. If you liked the look of ‘Irresistible Revolution’ then this is a quantum leap forward, like as if the publishers suddenly realised what this thing was all about…
In some ways it reminds me of an illuminated manuscript, from back in the day of monkishness, when religious texts were coloured and illustrated by devoted scholars. This fits with the fact that the authors are part of the new monastic movement – and perhaps this could be seen as the contemporary equivalent.
But aside from a fantastic design job – what does the latest offering from our dreadlocked brother actually contain? Well first point to make, there are very clearly two voices audible in this book. Claiborne and Haw have coinciding views, but different emphases, or perhaps just different experiences, which while bringing occasional difficulties to the academic niceties of the text, actually helps lend weight to this book. Actually – if you count the design, then add in one or two more voices as well.
Written throughout in easily digestible chunks, the book begins as a dissection of a theme of radical God politics which the authors show running through the bible. It sidetracks through stories of friends, writings of early Christians and reflections on current affairs.
It’s a book of stories, parables, and prophecy, it is not supposed to be a tome, or a text book, or a prize winning essay – this is a work of love, an object of discussion, a catalyst (for want of a less clichéd term) for renewed engagement with the themes, and an encouragement to live a different way.
Rather than taking an easy option, such as a single standpoint, of a Christian anarchy for example, or an anti war vote, Claiborne and Haw manage to turn the whole idea around, arguing for a radical Christian engagement with politics and society in a way that is at once submissive and subversive. American voters wanting to know who the writers say they should vote for, will find themselves left with the same choices, but hopefully looking at them through new, or perhaps ancient lenses. I suspect also that this will help many bring a new creativity to their decision making.
Pacifism and anti (or non) consumerism are key themes, but they each form only part of the overall principal argument, which is to see God’s people as a people set apart by God, called to live another way, and to follow only one leader. It critiques the philosophy that one can serve God, and walk in the way of the world.
This clarion call to a subversive and renewed people of God is a creative and stimulating read – it’s not without its problems, one cant help thinking that if Claiborne authors another book, he will have come close to being part of the system which he so clearly wants to work against, but at the same time, I like many others would be happy to read anything he writes. One might also question how the authors can happily work with others such as Jim Wallis who argue for a more conventional approach to politics… clearly McLaren is not the only one with a generous orthodoxy these days.
Some readers may find biblical references to apocryphal books troubling or confusing, I don’t, in fact I like it. Some factual discrepancies may exist within the text, (numbers of dead in Iraq, or etc) but these are minor when looked at in context, and can be put down to the issue of dual authorship.
It’s a beautiful, peaceful, challenging, affirming, prophetic, subversive and creative book, well worth reading, sharing, mulling over… likely to become a classic.