Earlier this year the “Christian Leader” magazine covered the Shane Claiborne controversy.  This post serves to clarify some of the issues of concern. – Administrator

Shane Claiborne is a sincere, “ordinary radical” committed to achieving justice for the poor. He has devoted his life to this end. For him, loving Jesus and loving the poor go hand-in-hand. The sincerity and seriousness with which he pursues this is admirable in many ways. Yet nine Mennonite Brethren churches kept their youth home from the US Youth Conference last Easter because he was the keynote speaker. Why would these churches question the decision of setting him up as an example and teacher for our youth? His influence goes beyond what he would say at the conference through his books, website, and public appearances. 

Our youths’ understanding of the gospel itself will be incorrect if they accept what Claiborne teaches. It is important to know what the gospel is, so that we do not believe a “different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4, Gal. 1:6). The gospel is not what we do but rather what Christ did for us. Claiborne’s call is to preach the gospel always and when necessary, use words.1 This is impossible because words must be used to explain the gospel. His exhortation to “shout the gospel with our lives”2 reduces the uniqueness of Christ’s work on the cross by implying that we can do what He did. Only Christ can pardon sinners by dying on the cross for their justification. Claiborne distorts the gospel by confusing the Great Commandment with the Great Commission. By doing this the Commandment becomes the Commission. Although Claiborne’s call to love God and neighbor is a command of Christ it is not what saves sinners. Good works are not the gospel but they are a result of salvation by that gospel. Furthermore, Claiborne writes that “religious doctrines just aren’t very compelling, even if they’re true.“3 “I gave up Christianity in order to follow Jesus.”4 Is what we believe about God and salvation “uncompelling”? Shane Claiborne is a teacher who belittles religious doctrine while redefining the gospel as the law, which doesn’t need words in order to be communicated.

This is where universalism approaches the scene. Love is a universal moral law evident to all humanity. Claiborne seems to believe that love can save. While serving with Mother Teresa in India, he said,

There is a morgue in the home for the dying. As you walk into it, a sign on the wall reads, ‘I’m on my way to heaven.’ And when you turn around to walk out, the sign says, ‘Thanks for helping me get there.’ … I was finally seeing a church that was storming the gates of hell itself to save people from its horrors.”5

[Mother Teresa] seemed to be giving the gospel a pretty good shot … .”6

Did Mother Teresa relate the gospel of repentance and grace through faith alone to those dying, or did she only love? Claiborne wrote nothing about the lepers’ repentance and faith in Christ. Mother Teresa’s own writings testify that she did not try to convert people.7

Furthermore, Claiborne’s teachings about the poor go beyond the meaning of Scripture, implying that God is mystically present in them and that his death on the cross was intended to improve poor peoples’ lives:

Jesus was crucified … for joining [poor people].”8

People are crucified for living out a love that disrupts the social order.”9

… when the curtain of the temple was torn open as Jesus died on the cross. Not only was God redeeming that which was profane but God was setting all that was sacred free. Now God dwelled not behind the veil in the temple but in the eyes of the dying and the poor …”10

As I looked into the eyes of the dying, I felt like I was meeting God.”11

Is this possible without their repentance and faith in Christ, which are absent from Claiborne’s accounts? No.

Shane Claiborne also showed universalist tendencies when he interviewed Tony Campolo about the Muslim faith:

Campolo: [regarding Muslims] And to speak to each other with a sense that even if people don’t convert, they are God’s people , God loves them, and we do not make the judgment of who is going to heaven and who is going to hell … I think that what we all have to do is leave judgment up to God.

ClaiborneThat seems like a healthy distinction—between converting and condemning. One of the barriers seems to be the assumption that we have the truth and folks who experience things differently will all go to Hell …

ClaiborneYou also note in your book the encounter of Francis of Assisi and the Muslim Sultan …they came together across major religious divides and had a mystical unity … Maybe we will even find a mystical union of the Spirit as Francis did.12

Claiborne also believes that wrongs committed in the name of God are driven by bad theology. For example, he believes the warrior God is bad theology, and needs to be replaced with more loving language.

Let’s dive into the Scriptures together, correcting distorted understandings of the warrior God by internalizing our allegiance to the slaughtered Lamb … “13

But the Scriptures teach that the slaughtered Lamb will become a judging deity.

[Jesus speaking] Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done” (Rev. 22:12).

Then … everyone, slaves and free, hid themselves … calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Rev. 6:16).

[description of the rider on the white horse, who is called the Word of God] From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Rev. 19:15).

… Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead … “(2 Tim. 4:1).

The most loving action then is to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name while being a people who are zealous to do good works (Titus 2:14b), to help cases of urgent need (Titus 3:14), and to remember the poor (Gal.2:10b). We ought to tell the whole news of who Jesus is, including His role as judge. We must not let our fervor for the Great Commandment (loving God and our neighbor as ourselves) cause us to relabel it as the “Good News.” Jesus’ work on the cross alone bears that title. “It is finished!” This is the message our youth should be hearing and that should challenge all of us.

 1. Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 127.
 2. Ibid.
 3. Ibid., 28.
 4. Ibid., 71.
 5. Ibid., 79.
 6. Ibid., 73.
 7. Tim Challies, “The Myth of Mother Teresa.” Challies.com …Informing the Reforming, November 2, 2003. Retrieved October 13, 2011 from http://www.challies.com/articles/the-myth-of-mother-teresa.
 8. Op. Cit., 144.
 9 . Ibid., 129.
 10. Ibid., 80.
 11. Ibid., 79.
 12. Ibid., Shane Claiborne, “On Evangelicals and Interfaith Cooperation,” Cross Currents, Spring 2005, Vol. 55, No.1, Retrieved October 13,2011 from http://www.crosscurrents.org/CompoloSpring2005.htm.
 13. Op. Cit., 169.