In his book Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, Trevin Wax addresses some of the common cultural rivals that threaten a believer’s wholehearted allegiance to Christ: self, success, money and leisure, just to name a few. Drawing a parallel with the early church’s struggle to subvert the Caesars of their time, Wax calls the modern day church to a subversive lifestyle that refuses to bow before the traps that can result fromthe pursuit of power and other rivals.
Lest you are uneasy with the idea of subversion, by no means is Wax advocating an overthrow of government as we know it! Rather Wax employs another understanding of subversion: “undermining” or “pushing something back down into its proper place.” Each of the “Caesars” that Wax explores in this book are “good gifts from God that become idolatrous when they are placed above God himself. Therefore our job as Christians is first to identify and unmask some of the more insidious ‘Caesars’ that seek to muzzle our message and demand our allegiance. Then, we must think through specific ways in which the church can counter our culture by subverting its prevailing idolatries and pushing them back to their rightful place, under the feet of Jesus.”
I found each chapter to be convicting and challenging, as well as encouraging and pastoral. While such a book could easily slide into legalistic morality, Wax is careful to keep the gospel—that we are insufficient and inadequate on our own to effect any sort of victory over any of these temptations and instead require the power and the grace available only through Christ—at the forefront. In his chapter exploring the Caesar of Self, Wax reminds us that self is subverted when we preach the gospel. “Salvation has been accomplished for us, by someone else. The cross-centered life is one of continual dying to self and living for God.” Talk about counter cultural–dying to self isn’t exactly a popular message! Equally counter cultural is his somber warning to the church concerning the Caesar of Success:
Our churches are parroting the surrounding culture’s definitions of success. We have consumers (the congregation), a board of directors (deacons or elders), and a pastor CEO that we hire to get us results. Success is getting people in the door. Traffic. Marketing. Visibility. One of the reason why some young people in their twenties have abandoned the church is that corporate-style Christianity is just a poor imitation of what we see in the world. It’s what we get everywhere else.
Wax isn’t afraid to hit us where we live. Take the Caesar of Leisure for instance (hey, it rhymes). Subversive communities of faith will consciously monitor their media intake and structure their time to reflect God as more valuable and focus on people instead of the vast number of distractions offered by our entertainment culture.
Ultimately, Holy Subversion is a call to believers to a different way of living, one that is in direct contrast to the Caesars of our world system. I highly recommend it to anyone who longs to exalt Christ in all things and live submissively under His Lordship.
A big thank you to Crossway Publishers for providing me a copy of this great book to read and review!
Wife and mother, Bible teacher and blogger, Lisa loves Jesus, coffee, dark chocolate and, of course, books. Read more of her reflections at Lisa writes….