I’m in Denver for the Gospel Rescue Missions national conference, and last night I missed the first half of the free-throw shooting contest in Orlando to attend the plenary talk by Shane Claiborne. Shane was in the Christian news last year when my alma mater disinvited him (not his fault), so I was interested to hear him and see if I could discern what the controversy was about.
I liked Shane’s speech. It was basically a series of witty and convicting vignettes about our need to care for the poor. Good stuff. There were only three times that my ears perked up.
1. Shane said that on Judgment Day we will not be asked whether we believe in the virgin birth but whether we cared for “the least of these.” Fair enough. But I am getting weary of what seems to be a constant carping on the virgin birth. Besides being clearly taught in Scripture, the virgin birth points to the deity of Jesus, which is essential for our salvation. We are commanded “to believe in the Son” (1 John 3:23), and it is difficult to do that if we don’t know who the Son is (for starters, he is God, which is why the church has long valued the virgin birth). So rather than say that we will be judged only by our works and not by what we believe, why not say that both are important?
2. One of Shane’s stories was how he and his friends violated Philadelphia’s law against feeding the homeless by holding a worship service in a downtown park and then serving everyone there the Lord’s Supper, in which the bread and juice (I’m guessing he didn’t serve them wine) was followed by pizza. It was funny and a clever way to get around the law, but I wonder how strictly Shane observed the Lord’s Supper. Did he indiscriminately distribute it to everyone in attendance, Christian and non-Christian alike, or did he announce that this part of the worship was only for those were committed followers of Jesus?
3. Shane cited the survey (from the book, unchristian) which said that Christians are known for being anti-gay, judgmental, and hypocritical. This is probably true, but I disagree with Shane that this is necessarily our fault. Certainly many Christians have contributed to this perception, but even if we did everything right we would still be perceived as homophobic and judgmental. We are responsible for what we communicate, but it isn’t fair to hold us accountable for how we are perceived. If Paul was alive today, saying to our postmodern culture the same things he said in the New Testament, he would undoubtedly be called judgmental and anti-gay. There is a reason why Jesus and most of his disciples were martyred. The world has rarely had a good view of Christians, and it hasn’t always been our fault.
These are the only questions that arose as I listened to Shane. In all it was a most enjoyable and challenging talk, one that would have been appropriate for a Cedarville chapel.