Archive for May, 2016

SubversiveI was almost immediately turned off by this book when one of the first things I saw was a quote by Shane Claiborne. I pressed on because that's the deal and eventually arrived at page 24-25. What I read on those two pages inspired me to press on further:

From the time of the murder of every young boy after Jesus' birth to the day of his crucifixion, Jesus was opposed by an empire intent on maintaining the status quo. This kingdom labeled Jesus a troublemaker, rabble-rouser, dissident, community organizer, agitator, nonviolent revolutionary, renegade, rebel, and traitor. But none of this was a surprise to God, for God was preparing the world for the coming revolution.

Many of our Sunday schools continue to encourage followers of Jesus to embrace a respectable Jesus, an agreeable teacher with pleasant stories to tell about how to be good. But no one would crucify this Jesus. No one would be threatened by such bland personal morality. Instead, they'd invite this Jesus over for a cup of tea and a chat about the weather. (24-25)

At this point, I was fairly well hooked. I mean, if this was the basis for everything else Greenfield was going to write in the book, then how could it go wrong?

Greefield goes on over the next eleven short chapters to explain to his readers all the various ways that he and his friends believe Jesus is subversive. Jesus is subversive in sharing, parenting, charity, suffering, and vocation among others. And, sure enough, Greenfield and his followers have all managed to flesh these various subversions rather well. It is very compelling the way he and his family have lived out these subversive behaviors that Jesus evidently taught, lived, and advocated. "He came to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. He came to subvert the world as we know it" (27).

I'm torn, frankly, as to whether or not I like this book. There are times when I was all over it and marking up my pages, underlining sentences, posting quotes on Twitter. When Greenfield talks about money and power and how the birth of Jesus took place in that shadow and then goes on to talk about Jesus preaching an alternative to empire–wow, I was hooting and hollering and jumping up and down on my couch.When he poked the bear and said, "Today, too many of our churches have concocted a dozen ingenious reasons why these stories no longer mean what they say," (78) I was again stunned that someone had the nerve to say it, and mean it.

Then there were other times when I was fairly well convinced that I was reading the party platform of the liberal wing of the American government. There were times when I felt as though Greenfield was loudly condescending towards those reading the book who might take exception with his particular understanding of what kingdom means and how we might go about being subversive. There were times when I deeply disagreed with his particular take on something Jesus said or did (for example, his conclusion that the feeding of the 5,000 was a mere 'beautiful miracle of sharing and abundance', 51.) And there were times when I felt that his activism bordered on the absurd (for example, the Pirate Flash Mob is something I seriously doubt Jesus would participate in precisely because it is absurd. See chapter 9, 'Subversive Citizenship.')

In the end, I came down on the side of liking the book. It seems to me that what I heard him saying is that what really matters is Jesus and love in Jesus' name. We need not be divided by our binary code of political opinions if we are united in our passion for the Lord's heart.

I think there is a lot about this book to commend and I do recommend it to my readers who want their faith to be challenged and who want to start living a more Jesus driven, Kingdom oriented life.

There are parts of this book that people are going to like. There are parts of this book that people are going to hate. As I noted above, I'm not sold on all of his exegetical points and I'm not sold on all his practical applications of said exegesis. At the end of the day, however, this is a book that tells the story of how one family decided to live out their vocation among the poor of the world. I think they do it well and I think it would be great if more people could live in such a way. That's not, necessarily, Greenfield's ambition though: "You must resist the temptation to do nothing because you can do only a little or because you can't like someone else who seems more radical. It takes many candles to overcome the darkness" (164). He goes on, "There is nothing prescriptive about the stories I have shared in this book. The stories are merely demonstrations of how God has worked in my life and the lives of those around me" (164-165).

That is a helpful caveat and helped bring the book to a good close for me. Each of us is called to a place in life and we struggle to live out that life faithfully in the place God has called us. The Lord called Greenfield to live among the poor and enrich their lives. He called me to educate children with special educational needs–many of whom are poor and living in single-parent environments. Others will have their own calling to be faithful to. It's not always easy. Greenfield's book, despite my reservations, is a helpful corrective and a powerfully prophetic word to the church in America that has grown too Conservative, too Binary, and too wealthy to mount any formidable offense against the powers of darkness that prevail in this land. Prophets like this are necessary for the church to wake us up. One only hopes it's not too late.

I love the quote he includes on page 27 from Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador: "A church that doesn't provoke any crisis, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is proclaimed–what gospel is that?"

Herein is the challenge for Christians–especially American Christians–who live in a sterile environment where faith amounts to a mere tithe on the first day of the week. I think this book is a wonderful example of a radical alternative to the empire of this world, a counter-cultural challenge to be exactly the opposite of what this world expects Christians to be: white, clean, tidy, and full of all the right answers. This book got under my skin, it unsettled me, it challenged my privilege, and my values.

Let's hope that the provocation continues in me and begins in others.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Subversive Jesus (Amazon, $11.40)
  • Author: Craig Greenfield
  • On the Web: Alongsiders
  • On Twitter:
  • Academic Webpage:
  • Editor:
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Pages: 182
  • Year: 2016
  • Audience:
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book via the BookLook bloggers review program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.

41wJvgywzYL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_In today's circles of American Churchianity, leadership is all the rage. There are seminars, Twitter pages, books galore, and so much more teaching us how to be the leaders we ought to be in the world and in the church. Walk into a Christian book store and I'm certain you will find an entire section of shelving dedicated entirely to books about leadership. It is really quite a sight to behold.

Into the fray of those who claim to know what leadership is and how we ought to do it jumps mega-mega church leader Perry Noble and his latest tome, The Most Excellent Way to Lead, a book about, you guessed it, leadership. The entire book is based on his novel idea that when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13 he had in mind leadership. Thus: "Paul is continuing his discussion about leadership here, and when he says he's going to show you the most excellent way, I believe he's saying, 'I will show you the most excellent way to lead.'" (6) This is most convenient for the outline of the book (but I seriously doubt that is what Paul was writing about in 1 Corinthians 12-14 or that Paul had any inkling towards American mega-church leadership styles).

Each chapter then explores leadership from the perspective of love. That is, if love is patient, so is leadership. If love is kind, so is leadership. And so on and so forth all the way through to 'Love never fails.' This is a novel approach to leadership and along the way Mr Noble explores leadership as love through the lenses of his own experience of success and failure. He is rather transparent in the book and some of his stories are nice and others are funny and a couple I simply did not believe were true at all. I can take or leave his anecdotes.  There were too many illustrations about himself (for example, the number of times he reminded his readers that his church has 400 staff members and a $50 million dollar budget; I didn't care the first time and I didn't care the last time and to be sure, nothing about either of those statistics necessarily means he is an expert on anything.)

The end of each chapter features a page with several 'summary statements' about the material found in the preceding chapter. This will make excellent Tweets if the reader happens to be on Twitter and I suspect that is exactly what they are there for. There are also a series of questions for the reader as well: questions to ask yourself (about your own leadership) and questions to 'ask your team.'

Along the way he pieces together some leadership ideas from the story of David and Saul found in 1 Samuel. This is fine; although, again, I seriously doubt that it was leadership in particular that the author of those stories had in mind. I have a hard time with books that use Scripture in this way–as if it were written to satisfy a set of principles or ideas that we have about how to do things in a culture thousands of years removed from theirs. I am not sure that this is why Scripture is or was written and preserved for us so many years later and I am going to deduct points in every review I write that treats the Bible as a mere handbook of principles for whatever the cause du jour happens to be.

In some ways, this book felt like insulation for Mr Noble. Mr Noble is a preacher, excuse me, leader, at a very large church in South Carolina–over 400 staff and a $50 million budget!–and that means he is exposed a lot. We have seen in the recent years that a lot of mega-church preachers have fallen into disrepute and scandal and have brought great shame upon themselves and their churches. So, in some ways, exposing, in book form, the inner workings of how he does things at the place he leads kind of serves as insulation for the decisions he makes along the way. That's how a lot of this came off to me while I was reading. In other words, it's awfully difficult to criticize the guy who has written a book about how to do the very things he is doing.

The bottom line is this, there's nothing inherently wrong with the book–my complaint about his 'use' of Scripture notwithstanding. There are a lot of helpful principles, thoughts, and ideas that people in leadership positions can use to help their organization be a much better place. And how can a person complain about a book where love is somewhat the focus? It's true. That is a difficult thing to do. Nevertheless, I didn't find that book all that appealing or interesting–and mostly because I did have such a hard time with the way he used the Bible to formulate his outline. If you are one of those folks who sucks up leadership books by John Maxwell or whoever, you will enjoy this book. If you are not, you won't. The book has a limited audience, in my opinion.

This is a one-off review of a book written by someone whose sermons I have never listened to, whose church I have never attended, and whose other books I have never read. I'm sure in a lot of places Mr Noble is well respected and loved and admired and among his peers, these thoughts will resonate. Perhaps justly so. Jesus said that if we want to lead, we should follow; that the first will be last; that we should take up our cross and deny ourselves. Jesus said the servant is not greater than the Master who washes feet. Jesus said, simply, love one another. None of this, to be sure, Noble will deny. But at the end of the day, that is not how he comes off in this book.

Noble tells his readers that "if I'm going to receive criticism from someone, they need to meet the following requirements: 1) they must love Jesus, 2) they must love the church, 3) they must love me." (122) What he doesn't tell us is if he himself has to meet the same standards. It might be implied, but it's not explicitly stated.

He tells us over and over and over, from the first page to the last, that he is a leader. That tells us what we need to know about the content. What we must ask ourselves is this: does Noble's vision of leadership correspond with what Jesus told us about being a disciple. Really. That's where it breaks down for me.

Leadership is overrated.

2/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase The Most Excellent Way to Lead (Amazon, $9.89)
  • Author: Perry Noble
  • On the Web:
  • On Twitter:
  • Academic Webpage:
  • Editor:
  • Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
  • Pages: 288
  • Year: 2016
  • Audience:
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book via the Tyndale blogger review program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.