Subversive Christianity: Imaging God in a Dangerous Time by Brian Walsh

1630879436I would not have come across this book if it was not endorsed and required by N.T. Wright for his Udemy course called Worldviews, the Bible, and the Believer. This book was first published in 1992 and was republished in 2014 with a postscript added in responses to the world change over the gap of 22 years.

This book has received quite a mix of reactions. Some people love it; some people find it quite disappointing. I think I kind of understand both types of response. Let me first give my two cents on why some may find the book dull:

First, this book, although short, is not an easy-read for general readers like me. Written with an academic tone and a dense style, I did occasionally find it – mostly chapter three – dry to read.

Second, some may find Walsh not “neutral” enough in this book in terms of politics. His critique of political parties such as the Bush Administration can get quite personal at times. But hey, this is his book, he surely is entitled to his views!

Third, his critique of Fukuyama is lengthy in a way that blows the book out of portion. One would expect this critique to be an illustration to support his thesis but somehow, the critique itself ends up like the main course.

Fourth, some believers may find it offensive (not me) that Walsh compares songwriter Cockburn and his songs to Jeremiah and his prophetic words.

Fifth, at times, perhaps because of his long critique on political parties and social systems, Walsh seems to give readers an impression that he has his hope set on reconstructing the world by human effort – sort of on the edge of a social gospel – even though he did say that the Kingdom of God – the restoration of creation – is not something we produce (pg. 94). Or, perhaps Walsh is a post-millennialist?

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the above, I still find the book worth reading with the following reasons:

  1. Walsh’s emphasis on our primary identities being image-bearers.

    Sure, you say, we all know we are to be image-bearers. But one cannot deny the fact that many presentations of the gospel today begin with Genesis 3. Walsh nails it when he says we live in an image-conscious society just like the 6th century babylonians, yet just as the Israelites in those days, our experience of exile “cannot define reality for us”. Walsh also states beautifully that both female and male are equal co-partners and gardeners who are to be stewards of the creation in our labour (pg. 22). Work is therefore a form of worship where we serve our neighbour with stewardly care of creation.

  1. Walsh presents the concept of human having dominion over creation in a refreshing way.

    To have dominion over the creation, according to Walsh, means to follow the one we call Domine – Lord. To have dominion means ”to pick up the cross and follow Him” ; “to lay down one’s life for that which we have dominion over”; “to sacrifice one’s power and one’s gain for the sake of the other”. 

  1. Wake-up call for the Church

    “While the Church is fighting among themselves, we are falling into a deeper sleep.”, writes Walsh (pg. 30). While our sleep has made us insensitive to the spirits of the age, causing us to live a dualistic life, we have also forgotten the real battle is between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Darkness.

  2. Lament.

    Because of our deep sleep, the Church has forgotten how to lament like Jeremiah. To be a prophetic people, we need to lament over the sickness of our society while bringing hope by initiating self-critique and passionate speaking.

  1. His sharp criticism towards idolising capitalism, nationalism, scientism, technicism, and economism, etc.
  2. Believe it or not, this is actually my favourite part, and I give Walsh lots of respect for it: Walsh, as a reformed Christian, criticises the “over-intellectualisation of the reformed faith”.  The intellectualisation of the Christian faith “makes professing Christ into a matter of saying ‘I do’ to a system of theological dogmas rather than I do to a bridegroom named Jesus who wants to enter into a relationship of passionate covenant keeping with you and me”. As a result, faith becomes static instead of dynamic, and Christians become reluctant to let reality inform our worldview. This humility is refreshing.
  3. Walsh encourages an active waiting for a miracle, that is, a full redemption of every aspect of our lives. What does an active waiting look like?

    “If your hope is to be found in a heavenly liar that is totally discontinuous with this earthly existence, then it is not surprising if the way in which that hope is manifest in simply in so-called spiritual exercises like fellowship church-going and personal evangelism. If however one has a hope in a new creation, a restoration of the creational life, then mundane things like buying fields behind enemy lines are powerful symbols of that hope. (92)

That’s it. With a heavy book comes a heavy book review. I will end with the encouraging ending of the postscript,

“Build houses in a culture of homelessness. Plant gardens in polluted and contested soil. Get married in a culture of sexual consumerism. Make commitments in a world where we want to always keep our options open . Multiply in a world of debt. Have children at then of shirty. Seek shalom in a violent world of geo-political conflict and economic disparity. This is Jeremiah’s\s word to the exiles. This is Jeremiah’s subversive word to us. And in this vision we just might see, with Jeremiah, a future with hop. This is what means to work and wait for a miracle. This remains at the heart of a subversive Christianity.” (pg. 124)

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