A couple of months ago I received a free paperback copy of Ed Stetzer’s latest book Subversive Kingdom: Living As Agents of Gospel Transformation to read provided that I write and publish a review of the book on my blog. So this review is in fulfillment of that request.
For those readers unfamiliar with the author, Ed Stetzer lives in Nashville, Tennessee where he serves as President of Lifeway Research as well as being a prolific author and speaker on the subject of Christian faith, ministry, and missions. You can read his blog here.
Overall, my rating of this book is only average and I hope my review will explain such rating. The book is written to help readers understand what it looks like for Christians to live as kingdom witnesses of Jesus, who bring about God’s agenda and mission by “living out” the teachings of Jesus “as flesh and blood realities, not just chapter and verse references” (p. 22). The book progresses from abstract theology to concrete beliefs and behaviors.
The upside of the book is that it can be easily read by many Christians, requiring little theological knowledge. To that end the book can easily be used for a Bible study or book club in your church. For instance, the book does a good job of explaining theological concepts like “kingdom” and “eschatology.” In fact, chapter three features a nice illustrative story about the invasion of Normandy during WWII to explain the “already” but “not yet” concept of God’s kingdom and the doctrine of eschatology.
Another positive feature of the book is its high view of the church, neither equating the church as the kingdom nor diminishing the role of the church in God’s mission. So, says the author, “the church doesn’t have a mission; the mission has a church” (p. 166). Thus, the church is meant to be what a store window so that by seeing the church, the world can see God’s kingdom at hand (p. 186).
Unfortunately, this book is too safe. The book is written for American Christians of the more evangelical persuasion and yet I seriously doubt that this book, with the issues it critiques would pose much of a challenge for the intended readers. For instance, in chapter six, Stetzer discusses Jesus’ teaching about loving our enemies (cf. Matt 5:44) and never once even hints that Jesus just might be calling for his disciples to love even their political enemies. That is a little disappointing given the historical and theo-political context of the Sermon on the Mount. One need not be a pacifist to challenge the comfort many Christians have with political violence.
Also, in the epilogue the author discusses how the confession “Jesus is Lord” undermines the claims of political leaders such as the Roman Emperor and Adolph Hitler as well as American consumerism (p. 224). Yet he curiously never raises the question of how this confession should subvert the growing hyper-patriotism or nationalism among American Christians. Of course, to do that would mean getting a little more risky and controversial like Jesus which may not sit well with the author’s constituencies.
Lastly, the book seems to push evangelism over ministries of good works. We need both, which the author would agree with. However, for far too long Christianity has separated evangelism and ministries of good works, giving preference to one or the other. Yet this should not be the case. What is more important is the ultimacy of God’s mission that all people are able to live life as God has created and redeemed them for. Ultimately, for people to experience this life, they need the grace of God manifested through both ministries of good works and evangelism.