Thursday, May 13, 2010

Review: Holy Subversion by Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax's book Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals is small, short, and unassuming. Like a hand grenade.

And like a grenade, it packs quite a wallop. Trevin's book -- which covers the major idols of modern society -- tracks along the somewhat recently rediscovered approach to discipleship as repentance from idolatry and redirection of worship to the One True God by using the "gospel" language of the early church under the Roman Empire. If Jesus is Lord, N.T. Wright reminds us, then Caesar is not. So Trevin transports that key exchange into our modern context: there is nothing new under the sun except the endlessly innovative marketing employed by the gods of the age.

One by one, Trevin reveals to his readers the Caesars of self, power, success, money, sex, and leisure, and sets forth plainly and persuasively how the Christian life requires renouncing the abuse of good things as god things and the subverting of this idolatry with the worship of Jesus Christ.

This is the most helpful and powerful part of Trevin's effort, however: He roots out and reveals this idolatry in the active practice of Western evangelicalism. From sniffing out ambition and zeal for "success" in seminary student surveys to clearly rebuking the reverence of Self epidemic in modern churches, Holy Subversion gets very personal very quickly. But Trevin never writes high-handedly or bitterly. Indeed, I can think of few among the young-types, restless-types, and Calvinist-types who are as winsome -- on both the page and in person -- as Trevin Wax. And his book is not mere theorizing, reflective pontificating. From his experience in the mission field to his pastoral work in the Bible Belt, from his extensive research to his interviews with and access to many of the movers and shakers in evangelicalism, Trevin writes from a place of authenticity. He has had and does have skin in this game.

Like its close cousin Counterfeit Gods (by Tim Keller), Holy Subversion is a clarion call "against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places," but while Trevin's book may lack the artfulness of Keller's, it certainly makes up for it in practical application.

That would really be my only disappointment with the book, extremely minor and personal as it is. As anyone who has read his indispensable blog Kingdom People or any number of his published articles (in Christianity Today and elsewhere) already knows, Trevin is a capable, competent, even strong writer, but I would have liked a bit more music in the prose, especially as the subject is worship. The book is not boringly written; that's not at all what I meant. I just think our generation is still waiting for this sort of content -- doctrinal, truth-concerned, gospel-centered -- from a writer whose words sing. But that's, again, a minor note, and a very personal preference of mine. I have a weakness for purple prose; most others probably find it a distraction. Why write 20 words when 10 will do, right?

Grenades don't have to be pretty to work, of course, even to work mightily. And maybe this book isn't so much a grenade but a smart bomb, one that is Scripture-rich in such a way that is reads us, illuminates the Caesars we hail, and drives us to eliminate them. This book on subversion is a subtle sabotage in itself.

What you will find in Holy Subversion is a highly readable, highly practical, and highly prophetic encouragement against the idolatry of today's world and today's church. I highly recommend it.

This book was provided to me free, in exchange for a review, of course, by Crossway, but I was under no obligation to give it a positive review. If I didn't like the book, I would have told you so.

1 comment:

Philip said...


Good review.

Plus this post needed a comment. ;)