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

N.T. Wright recommended it; so I read it. Speaking of idolatry…

Okay, I was half-joking. Wright encouraged believers who wanted to understand more about Christian worldviews to pick up this book, and so I did, because I hardly knew the definition of a “worldview” and why a believer needs such a “worldview”. Speaking of stupidity…

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 love it; some find it quite disappointing. I think I kind of understand both types of response.

Readers can find this book dull because, although short in terms of length, it is not an easy-read for genral audience. The academic tone made chapter three especailly dry to read. Some may also find Walsh not politcally “neutral” enough in this book. His critique of political parties such as the Bush Administration can get quite personal at times. His critique of Fukuyama is also lengthy in a way that blows the book out of portion. Some may also find it offensive (certainly not me) that Walsh compares songwriter Cockburn and his songs to Jeremiah and his prophetic words.

With all these sections after sections of comments on political parties and social systems, many readers probably end up with an impression taht Walsh has replaced the gospel with the hope to reconstruct the world by human effort. At the same, this suspicion is left confused with Walsh’s assertion that the Kingdom of God, as the restoration of creation, is not something we produce (pg. 94).

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. 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 function as stewards of creation (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. Walsh pleas for a 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. Walsh emphasises the need of 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. Walsh offers sharp criticism towards idolisation of 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. (p.92)

I also find the ending of the postscript quite inspiring,

“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.” (p. 124)

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