Ed Stetzer says (and the Bible teaches), “Being a part of the kingdom [of God] means a new loyalty to King Jesus.” He goes on to say, “Something is wrong when churches are filled with people who seemingly haven’t changed their loyalties.” And yet, both research studies and anecdotal evidence seem to indicate that the previous description is often painfully accurate among churches today. In an effort to present biblical truth and practical counsel as a much-needed corrective, Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, offers his new book Subversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation (Broadman & Holman, 2012).
So what is Stetzer’s counsel to followers of Christ who want to live for a different King (King Jesus), as subjects of a different kingdom (the Kingdom of God)? Live lives of rebellion and subversion! Sound like strange counsel? In Part I – A Subversive Way of Thinking – Stetzer calls believers to rebel against the reigning kingdom of darkness, which is itself in open rebellion against God, His will and His plan. So, as Stetzer puts it, Christians are to “rebel against the rebellion.” Further, Christians are to live subversively, seeking actively and intentionally to subvert (undo, antagonize) the kingdom of darkness as we live under the reign of our King and promote the advancement of His kingdom.
In Chapter 2, Stetzer shares some of the “secrets” that believers need to understand in order to live rebellious, subversive lives. In Chapter 3, he goes on to provide both the current reality and future hope that should serve as the direction and motivation for the subversion. After laying this theological foundation, Stetzer sets out in the rest of the book to “flesh out what these kingdom realities should mean both in our personal lives and in our shared life together with other believers in the church.”
In Part II – A Subversive Way of Life – the focus shifts to several ways kingdom realities should manifest themselves in the lives of God’s subversive kingdom agents. Stetzer challenges Christ-followers to embrace three commitments as they seek to become the subversive kingdom agents God intends them to be: 1) Be [God’s]; 2) Be different; and 3) Be faithful. Those who live according to these three commitments will not live simply as ordinary, “good people” in the world, but rather as those who are “uncommonly good” – giving evidence of the transforming power of the Gospel in their lives as they live according to a new Kingdom ethic. Drawing from Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, Stetzer describes the counter-intuitive, yet Kingdom-expected, ways believers must interact with those around them. In order for a kingdom citizen to live in these ways, he must live in complete surrender and submission to his King, which means there is no room for idols – any substitute that would try to take God’s rightful place as supreme ruler – in his life.
In the final section – Part III – A Subversive Plan of Action – Stetzer begins by reminding the reader that God’s ultimate mission is bringing glory to Himself; a mission which He accomplishes, in large part, by using kingdom citizens as ministers of reconciliation, calling people to repent and believe the Gospel. This mission of God is to be engaged both by believers individually, and believers corporately – gathered together as the Body of Christ. Stetzer notes the Gospel impact of the people of God living collectively for God’s glory, demonstrating God’s ability to transform lives. As Stetzer puts it, “In living together as God’s people under his reign and lordship, our churches provide to the world the closest resemblance of the kingdom of God on this side of eternity. We are the invisible kingdom made visible through the people of God and their shared lives on earth.” Stetzer challenges churches to live this way: “It’s time our churches started reflecting a clear, noticeable, unmistakable kingdom difference.” Living this way requires at least two important elements: living transformed lives, and living these transformed lives together with other believers. This kind of living helps us not only to be prepared, but also to live with purpose – kingdom purpose: “We have a purpose that’s much greater than our individual purposes alone, and we find this purpose by teaming up with one another in shared kingdom adventure.”
This book is both desperately needed and extremely helpful. Balancing both doctrine and practice, it gives the reader the necessary theological foundations to understand the “why” of Kingdom living, while also offering the “how” – practical tips for living out these theological truths. I will encourage other Christ-followers to read this book. I will encourage fellow pastors to recommend it to their congregations. My prayer is that God will help His people not only to understand the biblical concepts put forth in this book, but to live them out consistently in a way that will point to the power and glory of the God who loved them, brought them to Himself, and changed them, making them new. As we live in this way, may our lives – both individually (as Christ-followers) and collectively (as the Body of Christ) – advance His kingdom by bringing God glory and drawing others to know Him.
(FTC Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for writing this review.)