Subversive Jesus: An Adventure In Justice, Mercy, & Faithfulness In A Broken World, by Craig Greenfield
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Books/Zondervan Press in exchange for an honest review.]
Reading books that encourage subversive behaviors among Christians that tend towards the social gospel and what are typically viewed as left-leaning political agendas written by people who live and work in cities where Christianity is nearly entirely lacking and who are far longer in books written than any genuine success at encouraging the growth of the Church  is far from unusual for this reviewer. The context of these books, in that they are written with a clear and obvious political agenda and written with a total absence of focus in actually obeying God’s ways, virtually guarantees that the cynically inclined reader will find much room for cynicism. Nevertheless, this book does focus on a particularly noteworthy aspect of Christian faith–the absolute biblical requirement to show love and outgoing concern for misfits and outsiders, for orphans and exploited people, for lepers and pariahs–and does so in a way that appeals to many likely readers’ enjoyment at tweaking the corrupt systems of this wicked world. If this book seems not very interested in matters of building up local congregations, the book is very long on encouraging practical Christian involvement in life, and the proclamation of the Gospel by engaging in meaningful acts of solidarity with those who suffer, even if many people who are chronic outsiders are not always very easy to love.
The organization and structure of the book is very straightforward, which is admirable. After a note for the reader, the author discusses his own efforts at radical identification with the poor and marginalized with chapters like: subversive Jesus, welcome, sharing, parenting, family, vulnerability, charity, community, citizenship, suffering, and vocation. The book closes with the discussion of the author’s new Calcutta–going back to Cambodia, where the author’s wife was born. In between these bookends, the author discusses the awkwardness of throwing Welfare Wednesday cookie parties for drug dealers who don’t show up, helping people with the difficult task of prehab, detoxifying and readying them for residential treatment, raising children while deliberately living in the slums where the police and good people fear to tread, and opening one’s heart to misfits with broken lives and family backgrounds who don’t always respond appropriately or accurately, and yet still loving anyway. The book is a poignant one, all the more so because it does not give advice about political takeovers, and shows no interest in political grandstanding, but rather about providing a godly example of alternatives to the corrupt ways of empire and domination that we find in our present evil world. This is a book that does not shirk facing that evil honestly with love and compassion and also a grim sense of realism.
If the author is prone to somewhat exaggerate the politically subversive nature of Jesus Christ , the author’s discussion of the Bible and, perhaps more notably, its application in the contemporary world, is worthy of praise. This is a book that is gritty and honest, and takes no prisoners when it comes to demonstrating a spirit of protest against evil as well as acts of love and concern towards others that lead to changed lives, if imperfect achievements. For those readers who are inclined to practice what this book speaks about, at least in some fashion, there is encouragement from afar, but no whitewashing or false optimism about the task or its challenges. What the book does offer is a robust understanding of the revolutionary nature of Jesus’ warmth and generosity to those who were excluded from second temple Jewish society. Given our own society’s rather ruthless tendency to marginalize and exclude others, this book encourages its readers to love as Jesus loved, to rebel without being violent about it, to be subversive in the manner and similitude of our Lord and Savior. It is an invitation that genuine Christians should be happy to take, even as we realize the depth of evil that is present in the legal and institutional structures within our civilization. One word of caution, though, for the reader, is not to take the author as being too much of an anarchist, as he grounds his support of the poor and outsiders on an astute knowledge of the implications of the Sabbath commandment , even if he does not tend to speak of the seventh day Sabbath directly.
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