The Kingdom of God. No subject gets more real estate in the four Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) than the Kingdom of God. Jesus spends more time talking about it than anything else. But my limited experience has been that pastors are more passionate about the Church than the Kingdom of God. Recently, a large conversation about the Kingdom has created an argument between those who believe followers of Jesus should be involved serving in social causes versus those who simply want to verbally proclaim the Gospel.
It is into this context that Dr. Ed Stetzer submits his newest book, Subversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation. Out of his background as a church planter and a researcher, Stetzer attempts to capture the nature of the Kingdom that goes against cultural norms and the status quo. He calls it “the rebellion against the rebellion.” The Kingdom is a rebellion against the rebellion against God that consumes mankind.
As someone who is passionate about the Kingdom and tries to make sure all of my Gospel teaching comes through a Kingdom filter, I appreciate the unique approach of this book. Stetzer, a Southern Baptist, seems to take a position that will frustrate some of the traditionalists in his own denomination by raising the value and importance of going above and beyond gospel presentations. He doesn’t go the other extreme – arguing for community and social causes exclusively. Stetzer maintains the tension between signs of the Kingdom that announce its arrival and Kingdom ambassadors who explain what the signs mean and invite others to join the rebellion against the rebellion. (As someone who has been a part of two Southern Baptist churches and graduated from a Southern Baptist seminary, I appreciate Ed’s ability to challenge his own tribe to grow beyond our past.)
I have included some notable quotes below:
“If we think it is our job (and within our ability) to take over the world, then we often act that way. When Christians start trying to moralize the unconverted from positions of power so that the “nation will be just,” they end up hindering the mission rather than advancing it.”
“Isolated believers do little of kingdom benefit if they keep themselves removed from a culture held captive to the evil one….spiritual growth and maturity shouldn’t lead us away from contact with unbelievers but rather right into the midst of them.”
“This, by the way, is why the church itself should not be theologically equated with the kingdom of God. Jesus came announcing the kingdom and the church emerged as a result…as big as the church is, the kingdom is even bigger.”
“We join him on mission not only when we proclaim his saving gospel but when we confront injustice, when we touch human need, when we seek to bring about changes that transform this world to look more like it will be when Jesus returns.”
“The secret to the viral gospel influence of post resurrection kingdom citizens was not the meetings in their churches but their everyday lives.”
“One of the greatest things I’ve learned in this life is this: people are more important than the point. Instead of working so hard to defend our positions and enforce our demands, we can till up a lot more kingdom soil by treating other people as more valuable than our own appeals for fairness and justice.”
“The advancement of the kingdom is hindered when church-centric people believe their physical location is the ultimate destination for everyone in their community…(from this perspective) our communities can go to hello as long as our churches are full of people.”
“So I say any church daring to call itself missional might consider doing three kingdom things: 1) serving locally, 2) planting nationally, and 3) adopting an unreached people group globally. Why? Because God wants his glory to be manifest before men and women everywhere through his covenant people on earth. He wants his found children wholeheartedly engaged in rescuing his lost children.”
“(Quoting a United Methodist Church commercial) Sometimes prayer brings miracles. Other times it brings heavy machinery.”
“Not until we become the spitting image of what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like on earth: a bunch of otherwise incompatible people changed by the power of the gospel, sent out to rescue the lost and broken, and living out new lives in shared community with one another for the glory of God. They (the neighbors around Stetzer’s church plant) noticed us then. The same way they’ll notice you. Turns out that no church sign can attract the church’s attention like a church whose life is a sign of the kingdom.”
“But if we keep ourselves huddled inside, more concerned with making budget than making a difference, we will reduce what others see of our King and his Kingdom through us. Nice but not exactly noteworthy. Hinted at but not held out there with both hands so people can see what this is all about – and who it’s all about – by the way we interact with one another and interface with the culture.”
“Many churches today have made the kingdom into the kingdom of religion rather than the kingdom of God. In that world the goal is the survival of the church itself and the comfort of those who line its padded pews. So the end result is, we “grow a great church”. But that’s not living for a subversive kingdom. Perhaps this is why so many churches are filled with passive spectators rather than active participants in the kingdom mission.”
Stetzer paints the path for individuals (and churches) to identify where they’ve gotten off course and renew their commitment to live as members of a subversive kingdom. He balances well, including critique and prescription. Thanks, Ed, for challenging and stirring me to live as a Kingdom agent in my city today.
Disclaimer: I received this book as a part of a giveaway to bloggers on Ed’s blog this summer. I was in no way obligated to provide a favorable review. I posted this review much later than Ed requested. Sorry Ed! A six-month old little boy was a lot more interesting this summer. Thanks for the privilege of sharing your great work with my friends.