Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Subversive Kingdom - by Ed Stetzer - Book Review

Subversive Kingdom by Ed Stetzer is available at Amazon.com

This past winter I purchased the Bible study called Subversive Kingdom that was created by Ed Stetzer to use in my church.  This was one of those odd instances where the Bible study hit the streets before the book of the same title did.  I knew from the study that I'd be very interested to read all of the book, so when the chance came along to review it, I jumped on it.  I'm not paid for my review, though I did get my copy for free.  Ed is a big influence on me, but I think that is because what he brings to the table with experience, knowledge, networking and resources puts him in a very unique position to speak clearly into many important areas of Christianity.  This book falls well within that realm of Ed's vast expertise.

In short, the book is about taking the Word of God seriously, and living it out in our every day life.  Not a ground breaking topic, but Ed does a great job of bringing clarity and his own perspective to it.  The book finds a very enjoyable yet challenging place by being both readable yet stretching of my faith to keep growing and going beyond my own personal comfort zone spiritually.

I asked an older lady of great spiritual depth in my church to review the curriculum for the bible study of Subversive Kingdom.  After going through it, she said it was very good, but that she didn't like the idea and terminology of subversion.  She wasn't quite offended, but she wasn't quite comfortable with it.  When I got my hands on the book, I felt somewhat similar, but not because of the terminology but rather because it managed to get the claws of conviction into my hide.  Upon reading the book it became clear to me that the concept of subversion was apt and well worth exploring in the life application of what Ed is talking about in living out our faith in a culture/world where we are spiritually speaking aliens.

Stetzer illustrates how many Christ followers find themselves in a holding pattern in their faith.  A middle ground between what Christ has done on the Cross for us, and Christ's return.  Living in this place of tension should propel us into action as Christians Stetzer believes (and I agree!) rather than find ourselves waiting for whatever happens next.  And as we begin to move forward authentically living out our faith in a culture that has rebelled against God and His ways, we are in a sense ourselves rebelling - "rebelling against rebellion" is how Stetzer phrases it.

While we rebel against the world's rebellion, we are agents of Christian subversion (thus the title) building God's kingdom to the best of our abilities in the here and now with the realization that our work won't be complete until the return of Christ.

The book calls on Christ's parables heavily to make Stetzer's point(s).  Pretty good source material from which to draw from!  The first section of the book (chapters 1-3) are about "A Subversive Way of Thinking."  Matthew 13 plays an important role in this section.  The second section of the book moves us from thinking and Ed building his argument to "A Subversive Way of Life" (chapters 4-7 with some key sections focusing on Matthew 25 & Matthew 5).  This gets to some of the real concrete examples of what Christian subversion might look like in our world today.  The final section caps the book well as we progressed from more of a intellectual/conceptual beginning, to a clear example driven middle, with a get in the game and go out there and do it conclusion section called "A Subversive Plan of Action" (chapters 8-10).

One of the strengths of the book is that Ed addresses this subversive kingdom living from both a personal level as well as a corporate (church) level.  Both are needed, and both are necessary if we are to be about God's kingdom work. 

While there are not a lot of parallels, I was nonetheless constantly reminded of the book "The Monkey Wrench Gang" by Edward Abbey.  Rather than destroying things and creating havoc and pushing for anarchy though, Stetzer's call is for us to move forward disturbing and disrupting people's lives for something far greater than what is in the here and now.  Rather than being destructive, Stetzer's goal is that we are reconstructive.  We don't just want to tear things down, we want to build people back up, restoring their vision of how they are created in God's image, and that to serve Him, and others in Christ's name and for His glory is our highest calling while we breath on this side of the cross.  The world is more broken than we think, but as Christian we cannot pull back and abandon it and hunker down in our spiritual fox holes.  Rather we have to get in the world and meet it where it has need and bring our most powerful weapon wherever we go - Christ.

I think of of the most helpful portions of the book is Stetzer's framing of mission and the Church.  His point is that the church doesn't have a mission, but that God's mission has a church.  I think that order is important, especially in some enclaves of Christianity that are somewhat isolationist in nature.  The Church serves God's mission, not the other way around.  It is a tool God has created for His glory.  Keeping that in mind should help us prioritize what we do individually and corporately as followers of Christ.

I think the book is well worth your time to read and fully recommend it!

A few quotes from the book that resonated with me (there were many more):

The kingdom of God is a radical rejection of every value or point of view that keeps people in bondage to untruth, blinded to Christ's mercy.  -pg. 8

Something is wrong when churches are filled with people who seemingly haven't changed their loyalties.  People who have a religious veneer but live like everyone else.  -pg. 20

The kingdom of God...
  - is informed and initiated by the Word of God
  - is designed to take place in the midst of the world.
  - uses small things to grow big things and impact lives.
  - offers a joy that's otherwise unavailable to the human heart.
      -pg. 47

Every believer has been designed by God to bring Him glory by serving His kingdom agenda.  Each one of us has been given a part in His grand scheme to subvert the broken systems of the world.  - pg. 86

Jesus is unapologetic to connect who you are in Christ with how you live for Christ.  Those things matter.  -pg. 101

Here is reality at ground level:  People who have been deceived into thinking they can successfully map the course of their own destiny, people who are wearing themselves out trying to cobble together a life that's too big to be figured out on their own, people whose greatest need isn't for more money or better job prospects or a couple of lucky breaks - they need Jesus.  -pg. 165

If we are not on this mission (living supremely for the glory of God and what He is doing through His Son in our world), then we must ask ourselves what we're doing here.  Are we just working to make the church a more acceptable place to our friends and neighbors?  Are we looking for a nice place to socialize on Wednesday nights?  Are we turning the spiritual cranks and pulleys because we think the church is supposed to do those things, because we feel better about ourselves when we do them?  -pg. 177

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