Book Review: Jesus for President, By Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
A friend of mine recently pointed out the importance of discernment when choosing what books to read. Most of us will not complete more than a dozen or so books in a year, and with all the fantastic books out there, we need to be careful not to waste our time on dribble. Unfortunately, Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, is not a fantastic book. It is a stunning example of what happens when Christians allow our political ideology and biases to affect how we approach the Bible. Billed as a “book to provoke the Christian political imagination,” the reader is left with more provocation than actual thought. Showing no understanding of the differing roles of the Church and the state, the authors conflate the two in a misguided attempt to shape Christians approach to politics. The end result is a work that only the most radical of the Christian left will find intriguing, while the rest of us are left wondering if it is Jesus they are following or the god of Liberalism. The book is replete with error, all of which fit into one or more of four different categories.
1. Bad Hermeneutics (Biblical Interpretation)
The most egregious and prevalent of all their errors, the authors blatantly rape Scripture in order to bend it to their ideology. For example, even though 1 Chronicles makes it quite clear that David was not to build the Temple because he had shed much blood, Claiborne and Haw argue that God didn’t want a temple because He likes sleeping in tents with poor people (pg. 35). Of course this doesn’t explain why God seems to have been pleased to dwell in the temple Solomon built. In another instance the authors state that the Israelites had laws for dealing with illegal immigrants (pg. 58). By choosing the phrase “illegal immigrants,” instead of what the text actually says “aliens,” the authors are trying to make a passage that has little relevance to our current immigration debate fit their own ideological purpose. At one point Claiborne and Haw state that Jesus was from a family of “peasants” (pg. 116), when we now know that the fact that he was a carpenter most likely put him in what we would know as the middle-class. In another instance, the authors say that the people were hungry for revolution, and thus chose for Barrabas to be freed instead of Jesus (pg. 76), when the Gospel account makes it clear that it was the prompting of the Pharisees that led to this decision. Finally, they state that the book of Revelation was written in code so the empire wouldn’t know what John was really saying (pg. 148), when it is commonly recognized that the genre of Revelation is apocalyptic and is thus written in such a mysterious manner.
2. Bad Theology
Despite the fact that Chris Haw is said to be working on a graduate degree in theology, the authors make some incredibly basic errors in theological understanding. In many cases they footnote their arguments by thanking some scholar for giving them “new eyes to see” on a particular issue, but due to the obscure nature of their argument, we are left feeling that they simply choose which eyes they like best. In one disturbing instance, they state that violence kills the image of God within a person (pg. 205). The doctrine of Imago Dei is one of the most foundational beliefs for Christian thinking, and no where does the Bible indicate that a person can have more or less of the image of God within them. The image of God is what gives each person their value, and, if the authors’ assertion were true, we would be left with some people that are intrinsically more valuable than others, hardly the traditional Christian understanding. Another instance where the authors show their ignorance is their understanding of the Trinity. In a poor attempt at humor, the authors tell a joke in which Jesus is letting people into Heaven whose names are not written in the Book of Life (pg. 290). This type of naiveté is easily repudiated when one recognizes that the Trinity cannot be divided, and thus would certainly know who is allowed into Heaven. Of course, this issue is further complicated by the authors seeming to indicate that they might not believe that Hell exists anyway. In another instance, Claiborne and Haw state that it is difficult to know whether or not Jesus would pay taxes if he lived in the U.S. (pg. 257), of course the simple phrase “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” seems to answer that quandary. In still another case, the authors revel in the act of lying when it fits their political cause (pg. 297).
3. Bad Political Philosophy and Logic
In many places Claiborne and Haw show utter inconsistency in their logic, coupled with a radically naïve approach to politics. For instance, they state that capitalism is a yoke that we need to be freed from (pg. 113). And while they admit that writing a book participates in capitalism, they don’t seem to grasp the fact that without capitalism their book would not be able to be printed or distributed. In a truly confusing paragraph, the authors argue that the industrial revolution wasn’t really an advancement, an assertion so absurd it is difficult to even respond to (I’ll let the fact that you are reading this be my rebuttal). And in perhaps the most stunning example of the sheer absurdity of their logic, Claiborne states that, if faced with genocide, he would simply take his clothes off and squawk like a chicken (pg. 273). Such a simplistic assertion fails to grasp the fallen world we currently inhabit, and instead makes a joke of over a million deaths on one continent alone.
4. Bad Use of Historical Argument
Still another way that Claiborne and Haw mislead their readers is by a deceptive use of history. They state that the more the early Church lived out the Gospel, the more they collided with the Roman Empire (pg. 141), when even a cursory understanding of early Church history shows that persecution was sporadic and wholly contingent on who was running the empire, not the degree to which Christians lived the Gospel. In an attempt to show the futility of violence, the authors state that an attempted assassination plot against Hitler only galvanized his resolve and made any efforts towards peace impossible (pg. 203). What they fail to mention is that this happened mere months from the end of WWII, and there was no indication that Hitler was going to surrender under any circumstances.
There are many other examples of all these types of errors I could list, all with equally simple rebuttals. The point is that Claiborne and Haw do not contribute anything new to the discussion of how our faith should influence policy. Rather, they simply carry the water for the far left, attempting to argue that Jesus agrees with them. Personally I am tired of people trying to prove that Jesus agrees with their ideologies, instead, I believe, we should be trying to agree with Jesus. Admittedly this is incredibly difficult for any of us to do, especially since Christ didn’t have much to say about the role of the state (contra Claiborne and Haw). What He did address, however, is how we as Christians should act, and I think if we put those things into practice the politics will come naturally.