Posted On September 28, 2012

Subversive Kingdom by Ed Stetzer: Book Critique

by | Sep 28, 2012 | Academic Work, Reviews, Theology

Subversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation 

Review

Summary

Chapter 1: “Rebelling Against the Rebellion”

Humans are in rebellion against God, against the New Jerusalem, but Christians are citizens of the New Jerusalem.  We must rebel against the rebellion through subverting their world by showing Christ’s love where they live.  Just as Christ subverted the Devil’s kingdom through serving, Christians must serve others to draw people to the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ into a genuine saving relationship with Him.

Chapter 2: “Secrets of the Kingdom”

Christ came preaching the Kingdom, identifying the Word of God as the Seed of the Kingdom.  The Word of God produces growth in us and through us as well.  Unfortunately, there are weeds that seek to squelch the growth of this seed, but God’s sovereignty will usher in His final and completed Kingdom, nevertheless.  Until He comes, we must subvert the communities God has placed us in with the gospel of Christ and acts of mercy.  The joy of Christ is found in this subversive activity.

Chapter 3: “Already, but Not Yet”

While living between the time of the King’s departure and arrival, Christians are considered subversive agents of the Kingdom.  We have three objectives: 1) We must share Jesus with a broken world. 2) We must alleviate the needs of our neighbors. 3) We must reach our communities, even to the ends of the Earth. As we wait for God’s inaugurated Kingdom to become God’s consummated Kingdom, we must renovate this Kingdom toward the likeness of the coming Kingdom.

Chapter 4: “Becoming Your Kingdom Self”

If we’re going to be useful agents of gospel change, there are three things we must strive to embrace: 1) Belong to Jesus. He possesses the talents, and gives them to us as stewards. 2) Be different. Use the talents you’ve been given with contentment instead of desiring the talents of others. 3) Be faithful.  God expects us to be faithful. The God who entrusts is also the God who expects. Furthermore, Kingdom agents of gospel change need to deploy with an awareness of three critical perspectives: 1) At one point, they were like the unbelievers to whom they’re ministering. 2) Unbelievers are self-aware of their own depravity. Christians, though depraved, have been reconciled to God; thus, they are living hope for the hopeless.  3) There are good reasons why unbelievers feel irreconcilable to God.  The truth of Christ, however, will set them free.  Kingdom agents must tell the truth in love.

Chapter 5: “Uncommonly Good”

Subversive Kingdom agents must compare themselves to Scripture and to Christ, not to the status quo of “good people” as defined by the world.  Furthermore, these kingdom agents must be as radical in their holiness as they are in their subversiveness.  Our holiness must be more than a persona; it must be our core, who we are when no one is watching.  It’s not something we do on our own—trying harder to be a good person.  Our holiness’ source and expression is found in the finished work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Through Him we can be uncommonly good, and point a lost and dying world to Him for salvation.

Chapter 6: “Rules of Engagement”

Another important step in constructing our Kingdom selves is relationships.  Jesus tells us to respond to mistreatment in a manner that is counter-cultural: 1) Turn the other cheek.  This doesn’t mean Christians should never defend themselves. Striking someone on the cheek was an insult in Jesus’ time. We need to learn to diffuse insults, to diffuse insulting situations, instead of escalating them.  2) Give what’s asked for . . . and more.  We must be willing to give more if it reconciles us to others.  3) Walk a little father.  We should be willing to place the needs of others above our own needs.  4) Show generosity.  Christ cared for the poor, so we should care for the poor as well.  Furthermore, Christ loves His enemies and commands us to do the same.

Chapter 7: “Idol Elimination”

We either worship God or some other form of ourselves. If Christians are to be subversive agents of the Kingdom, then our idols must be destroyed.  We can neither tolerate our own idols nor the idols of others.  Whether these idols are sinful in and of themselves or we’re worshiping the blessings of God in place of Him, the result is the same: embracing the rebellion instead of rebelling against the rebellion.  In order to choke out the idols, the answer is to fill our hearts with Jesus.  As we yield ourselves wholeheartedly to God in worship, our idols will fall away. The overflowing result will be the subversion of the various idols present in our communities as we unite with other Christians as an army of the Kingdom.

Chapter 8: “The King’s Mission”

The church must be on mission for God’s glory.  The goal of Christianity is God’s glory.  The local church is God’s plan to see that the nations glorify God as well.  We display God’s glory to the nations through subversion.  God’s plan for overthrowing the Devil’s kingdom is for the church to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in both word and deed.

Chapter 9: “A Sign of Things to Come”

The church’s Kingdom subversion is not merely meant to be encompassed in an occasional gospel presentation and local church ministries. Gospel subversion is a way of life, a 24/7 endeavor.  As the world observes God’s Kingdom being displayed in the local church, they see a preview of God’s coming Kingdom. This is extremely attractive!  The danger, however, in being attractive is portraying that churches are peddlers of Christian goods and services: good music, funny preaching, children’s programs, etc.  On the contrary, the local church is a cell of subversion and transformation.  We’re not just a light in the darkness or a candle in the wind, we’re blinding lights in the deepest darkness.  Through how we live, we display to a watching world concerning our citizenship of the New Jerusalem.

Chapter 10: “Instrumentality”

God wants His people to be instruments of subversion in His hand.  We are not just like a body, we are the body of Christ, united in a kingdom adventure.  This adventure is one of disciple-making, since as disciples go out to subvert their communities, they will transform them through further disciple-making.  Changes may not occur overnight, and fruit may be scarce, but we can labor with absolute certainty that Christ is working wisely and skillfully to make all things right in the end, according to His good pleasure.  “He calls.  We go.  We declare Him.  We display Him.”

Epilogue

Jesus is Lord, and this changes everything.  Christian must live for this Lord: 1) We must live in rebellion against the rebellion.  The world is in rebellion against God, and we’re in rebellion against the world.  2) We must deconstruct our false view of the kingdom.  The Kingdom is more than sitting in a church pew week after week. No more! We must stand and subversively fight.  3) We live as agents and ambassadors of God’s kingdom in small, subversive ways.  The point is that we’re involved in subversion, and this begins with the opportunities present in our daily lives, among our neighbors, co-workers, etc.  4) We show and share the love of Christ.  These are not two-sides of the same coin, but parts of one mission.  5) We live our lives in a manner directed by (and empowered by) our King.  Our ethics are other than the world’s, and must be lived out.  6) We wait for this lost, broken world to be completely fixed and reconciled to God.  Even through our best efforts, the Kingdom will not be restored until Christ returns. We subvert, waiting in hope for Christ’s return.

Positives

Subversive Kingdom is convicting, in that it points hearers to a genuine Christianity that is all-encompassing.  In many ways, evangelical Christianity has two-extremes: we are the church gathered or we are the church scattered.  Stetzer says “Yes” to both!  He tries to mediate these two extremes by suggesting we are to be subversive Kingdom agents twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week.  We must seek to subvert the Devil’s kingdom in whatever area of culture we exist, even unto the ends of the Earth. This subversion takes place through the sharing of the gospel and through showing others how we’ve been changed by the gospel.  In other words, Christians rebel against this world’s rebellion against God by living like Jesus lived, and taking His name to the ends of the earth.

Negatives

Some of the illustrations used would have served the author’s specific point(s) better, had they been a one-to-one illustration.  For example, after previously arguing the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t prevent Christians from protecting themselves or others, Stetzer uses an illustration of a local church who did not seek the prosecution or arrest of a thief as an example of obedience to Christ’s command, “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” (124-127; Matt. 5:40).  Granted, this illustration may be an optional example of obedience to this command, but this doesn’t mean if this church chose justice they would have been disobedient to this command. The government exists for administering justice in the “not yet” according to Romans 13:1-7.  Also, the thief wasn’t this church’s only neighbor. What about past victims or other potential victims?

Furthermore, I was admittedly uncomfortable the first half of the book due to Stetzer placing sharing the gospel and acts of mercy virtually side-by-side concerning importance.  Granted, Stetzer does say God’s Kingdom is a spiritual one (pg.35), but he makes statements about Jesus serving others as if His service was side-by-side or equal to His identification as God the Son, the Messiah, the Savior of sinners.  There were times when Jesus didn’t help the poor, sick, hurting, etc. For example, at the pool of Bethesda, out of a multitude of hurting people, Jesus only helped one, even though He had the power and ability to help all of them (John 5:1-12).  He must have had a concern that was greater than helping the poor.  I’m also reminded of the time Jesus told the disciples they always have the poor with them, but they don’t always have Him (John 12:8).  This was said in response to one of them questioning Mary’s act of love in pouring expensive perfume on His feet. Jesus’ work and identification as God the Son, the Messiah, was more important than feeding the poor. The church must follow suit.  Our identification of Jesus as God the Son, the only Answer for the Sin problem, is more important than feeding the poor.  The best case for this argument is in how the disciples interpreted Jesus’ life example in the rest of Scripture.  They didn’t always show acts of kindness and acts of mercy as they preached the gospel, but they always preached the gospel.  The two don’t always go hand in hand. 

To Stetzer’s credit, he rejects the social gospel and identifies the church’s primary responsibility near the end of the book by arguing, “the kingdom of God will not arise from the social advances of efforts such as these.  Jesus will finalize His kingdom whenever he deems the time eternally appropriate, and our chief job in this hour as instruments of his grace is to see that people are saved and disciples are made” (215).  However, on pages 57-58 Stetzer argues that alleviating the needs of others is almost inseparable from sharing the gospel. I think he places sharing the gospel and meeting people’s physical needs too close together.  If Christ’s Kingdom is primarily a spiritual one, then the primary task of the church is a spiritual one as well: sharing the message of the gospel. We cannot “display the gospel” to others, although we can display the transforming results of the gospel. Yes, Displaying the results of the gospel is important, but it is secondary.  The gospel is primarily a message, not a way of life.  I think the two should be separated and distinguished more than Stetzer has in this work.

Conclusion

Finally, I gladly recommend this book to all readers.  Go buy it now!  Stetzer is correct; we evangelical Christians have grown too accustomed to our churchly comforts.  We must go outside the walls of our local churches, taking the name of Jesus with us as we go, in both Word of deed, albeit with the Word being primary!  Are you ready to be a subversive soldier of the Kingdom?  If you’re a Christian, you’re already enlisted!  The question is if you’re an obedient solder or a disobedient one.  This book will encourage you to bleed and suffer for the sake of your neighbor (the world), just as Christ suffered and bled for His.  As we live lives that have been transformed by the gospel, and we share this transforming gospel with others, Christ will subvert through saving the lost!

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