How a Revolution Started With a Sleeping Bag

Shane Claiborne is a public speaker, social activist, and author. He strives to strip away all that culture has added to Christianity and get to the core of what following Jesus means.

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Shane Claiborne is a public speaker, social activist, and author. He strives to strip away all that culture has added to Christianity and get to the core of what following Jesus means. He has written eight books, including Jesus for PresidentFollow Me to Freedom, and his trademark book, The Irresistible Revolution. He makes some pretty bold statements; for example, an old heading on his Facebook page gave light to one of his cultural agendas: abolishing the death penalty. It read, “The death penalty has survived not despite Christians, but because of us.”  

After growing up in Tennessee, Claiborne went to Eastern University where he began to realize that his idea of following Jesus looked very different from his classmates. He was cut to the quick about social injustices, and instead of sitting en mass and discussing it, he wanted to get his hands dirty fixing problems.  

Claiborne speaks about how things began to change for him in The Irresistible Revolution

One night my friend Chris said to me, “I’ve been reading Mother Teresa.” I knew we were in trouble then. He continued, “She says that we can’t understand the poor until we begin to understand what poverty is like. So tonight we are going to sleep out on the street.” My jaw dropped. I asked him not to mention this to my mom, and we headed out for the streets. Night after night, we would head down. The Bible came to life for us there. When we read the Bible on the streets of Philly, it was like watching one of those old-school 3-D movies with the red glasses. Before, we had never put the glasses on (so it just looked weird). But now the words were jumping off the pages.  

This sparked something in Claiborne that changed the course of his life. In 1995, during his college education, a friend showed him a newspaper article about forty homeless families that had made their home in an abandoned church in North Philadelphia. Claiborne and a few friends visited the church and returned to campus to gather more people. Dozens of students moved into the church with the homeless. The city repeatedly tried to evict everyone, but because of the high number of college students, the homeless were repeatedly allowed to stay.  

Claiborne says, “It was in St. Ed’s that I was born again … again.” Claiborne’s conviction and level of obedience are not for the faint of heart. With truth in love, he gets straight to the point about how we as followers of Jesus should be living. In 1998, he and some friends formed The Simple Way, which is a collection of believers living in community in Philadelphia.

Initially, they pooled their money and bought an old shoe store at 3234 Potter Street. They made it their home and created an atmosphere where Acts 2:42-47 came alive. “[They] paint murals, help kids with homework, share food, host neighborhood celebrations, and try to live as one big family… which means eating together, praying together, doing life together.” 

Claiborne spends a great deal of his time out in the public eye. He travels, speaking for private and public audiences. You can take a look at his schedule here. He speaks over a hundred times a year both in the U.S. and abroad. He spends whatever time he is not traveling writing books and building community. One of his latest books, Executing Grace, was published in June of 2016. It asks the hard questions about the death penalty. “At the heart of the book are stories that show the true cost of the death penalty. These stories raise the question: should we kill those who kill to show that it’s wrong to kill?“ 

Shane Claiborne is radical. He steps outside the American box of Christianity and seeks to challenge social norms in order to bring an authentic way of following Jesus back to life. He has already left his mark on Christianity in America. There are groups of people all across the U.S. that are paying attention, and the heart for authentic community has had new life breathed into it.

Claiborne hasn’t done this all on his own; there are pockets all over the country being spurred by the Holy Spirit and other bold leaders (like Francis Chan) who are strong enough to live in the tide of the counterculture. It’s a bold move to stand outside the “normal way” of following Jesus, but Shane Claiborne does it with ease as he invites others to follow along with him.  



Featured Image by Martin Jernberg

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About the Author

Dawn King is a Carolina native with a Neverland heart. She's an Enneagram 4 that believes beauty can be found even in the darkest of places, light is always bright enough to outshine darkness, and love is stronger than any madness or evil. She values kindness and honesty more than most anything else. She will always believe that to change the world you must first change yourself.