Buzzwords buzz around. They float and fly and flit, but they don’t often land anywhere. “Missional” has been one such buzzword. Churches and ministry leaders have discussed the term for the last several years, but much of the conversation has remained theoretical, focusing on definitions of the gospel, the mission, and the church. Few books have ventured into the day-to-day aspects of actually being missional. Subversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation by Ed Stetzer seeks to fill that void. In Subversive Kingdom, we find a helpful and highly accessible volume on missional living.
Stetzer makes one constant argument throughout the book: The Kingdom of God spreads best through the subversive, counter-cultural lifestyle of the Church. Notice, “lifestyle” is key here. For Stetzer, spreading the Kingdom is less about doing church and more about being the church. He shifts our focus from program-driven, building-centered, come-and-see ministry to incarnational, infiltrating, go-and-tell ministry.
“The subversive kingdom has come near, and the church has sprung up to carry out this kingdom mission…But we don’t do it by constructing fancier buildings or outdoing the programs offered by other congregations. We do it by just faithfully living out our callings together as representatives of God’s kingdom” (p. 192).
Stetzer unfolds this vision in three sections. In Part 1, A Subversive Way of Thinking, Stetzer anchors his rationale in the Kingdom Parables of Jesus. In Part 2, he makes the mission personal, challenging us to become our kingdom selves, free of sin and full of integrity. Finally, in Part 3, Stetzer zooms back out to consider how the church as a whole faithfully carries out this kingdom mission.
As a whole, I found Subversive Kingdom to be clear, compelling, and practical.
When I began Subversive Kingdom, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had mainly read Stetzer’s more academic and statistical work. But I was pleasantly surprised by his facile writing style and user-friendly explanations. Stetzer traverses the missional landscape with ease. He engages the theology of mission, gospel, church, and kingdom without bogging down.
I sometimes rate books by how often I underline passages. Subversive Kingdom brought my pen out about once-a-page. That’s pretty good. Stetzer consistently produces helpful insights and tweetable quotes that propelled me along to the book’s conclusion. Here’s one such notable quote: “Truly, nothing melts away the bitter cold of a broken world faster than the exponential heat of one person discipling another” (p. 211). I like that.
Stetzer takes the idea of missional living and gives it feet. He makes the buzzword land. He writes, “This book is my attempt to put a face on a vital, biblical concept that has too often failed to congeal in our minds” (p.22). In my opinion, Stetzer succeeds. Through examples and stories, he offers a practical picture of missional living anyone could get his mind around.
Subversive Kingdom works. Stetzer manages to take a potentially complex topic and make it accessible and real. By framing the discussion around the Kingdom of God, he provides a theologically sound framework for missional ministry while also supplying the reader with a powerful picture of what that ministry looks like.
Missional living requires us to walk a careful line. We want to avoid both gospel dilution and gospel insulation. Stetzer’s explanation of subversive kingdom provides the theological balance we need to walk that line. As subversive agents of the kingdom, we are both in the world (as agents) and yet not of the world (subversive). This proper tension encourages both the anchoring of the gospel biblically while also moving us out to spread this gospel in word and deed.
I gladly recommend Subversive Kingdom. For anyone looking to expand his or her witness, this book is a great place to start.