Book Review: Subversive Kingdom by Ed Sterzer

I got this book this past spring to write a review on it. I’m obviously a little late on this. Summer will do that to you.

Full disclosure: I got this book for free to review. And…I like Ed Stetzer. I’ve never met him, but I read his blog and follow him on twitter and I’ve read his books. So I’m either a stalker or in desperate need of a life. Or both.

If you don’t know Ed Stetzer – here’s the full bio but the short version is he is Lifeway’s guru of research trying to help churches (predominantly SBC churches) figure out how to minister to our constantly changing culture.

This is the basic direction of the book – how does a person or a church function as a change agent in culture that accurately reflects Jesus? And that is the tough part of this equation – reflects Jesus. We have lots of examples of people and churches and movements that challenge the culture in hopes of changing it in Jesus’ name that look nothing like the Jesus we read about in the New Testament. Most of our examples either make us cringe from embarrassment or there is NO example at all – just a refusal to engage the culture at all. Stetzer’s book attempts to help us to figure it out.

The book has 3 “Parts.” Part 1: “A Subversive Way of Thinking.” There isn’t a nice way to write this – this part drags. I think part of it is that I didn’t need to be convinced of where Ed was taking us. If you have spent any time reading ‘missional’ and ‘emergent’ authors that have stressed outside-focused living, meeting people where they are, how this was the way of Jesus, that the church exists to meet needs with love and grace – then I’m thinking you’ll feel the same way. You are already where Ed wants you to be, don’t really need convincing. But…Ed does a lot of convincing.

What Ed writes is good and necessary. If half the problem is churches not doing anything, this is the section for them. He is methodical and thorough in his defense of a life and a church that is Kingdom focused – not program, not church growth but – dare I say – ‘missional?’ I just kept catching myself agreeing/arguing with Ed – “I’m with you. I’ve already bought my ticket. I’m in the boat with you. Hit the long pedal. Keep going. Get to the goods.”

Here’s the great news – Ed delivers the goods in the other two parts. They are just full of practical ways to flesh out a Kingdom lifestyle – individually as well as church-wide. Chapter 6 on the Rules of Engagement is worth the price of the book alone. (I know – I got it for free but I WOULD have bought it for this chapter alone.) His four simple rules need to be posted in every church, in every Christ-follower’s office or on their door as they leave the house.

1. Turn the other cheek
2. Give what is asked…and a little more.
3. Walk a little further.
4. Show generosity.
5. Love your enemies.

Simple. Convicting. Loving. Jesus-like.

My favorite quote is found on page 128:

When we hold our rights and privileges too tightly and refuse to let anyone take advantage of us, when we resist opening ourselves up to being hurt or disappointed – under any circumstances – we do not live as one who’s on the receiving end of God’s grace.

It’s a great reminder for Christ-followers that this world is not our home. So be subversive Jesus style so we can see the world be changed. And it does no good to “change the world” if Jesus hasn’t first changed us to look more like Him.

A must read for any church staff wrestling with these things – and they all SHOULD be wrestling with these things. A very good read for a life group study. Great job by Ed.


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