February 8, 2010
The Hansen Report: Subverting for the Sake of Christ
An interview with Trevin Wax.
At the same time that many evangelical leaders lament the sin in our midst, talk of transforming the world for Christ rallies big crowds to action. We bemoan the present world as we long for Christ to return and make all things new. Somewhere in between, we eventually realize that we can accomplish more for the cause of Christ than we have so far, but not so much as our rhetoric sometimes suggests. Trevin Wax, author of Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, offers pastoral wisdom on living according to the next world’s values even now.
You pastor a Southern Baptist church in Tennessee. How has your experience as a pastor shaped your desire to write Holy Subversion?
For five years I served in Romania, a formerly Communist country where evangelicals were the minority. The majority of Romanians were Orthodox, but most were Christian in name only. So there were clear lines of distinction between evangelicals and the rest of society. Once we returned to the American South, we discovered the situation was completely reversed. I was ministering in a context in which everyone seemed to be Baptist, but the name was just a name.
So living in one context as part of a beleaguered minority and then being thrust into a different context where we were part of the “majority” opened our eyes to the way evangelicalism mirrors the world in the West. Holy Subversion is an attempt to call the Western church away from cultural captivity, and to shine light on the blind spots that we often miss.
What are the key threats to the church that you believe Christians need to subvert?
1. A self-centered understanding of salvation that centers solely on personal benefit at the expense of radical grace that transforms our hearts and lives.
2. A church-less gospel that individualizes the Christian life to the point where there is no longer any real reason for a Christian to be part of a church.
3. A worldly understanding of success.
4. A slavish addiction to work, wealth-accumulation, and entertainment.
You write, “The Church often mirrors the culture in its definition of ‘success.’ ‘Successful’ churches have the most wealth, the greatest influence, the most power, and the greatest talent.” What should be our definition for a successful church?
My Romanian brothers and sisters challenged my perspective on this question. Under persecution, the idea of success was faithfulness. When everything else was stripped away, the only thing left to pursue was faithfulness in the time of struggle.
I was also challenged by Paul’s “letter of recommendation” in 2 Corinthians, where he lists his “accomplishments” in order to set himself apart from the “super-apostles” he is criticizing. The accomplishments read like a list of indictments. Paul defines success as suffering for the kingdom. I worry that we have the mindset of the super-apostles—that success is ever-growing numbers, a celebrity pastor, bigger buildings, etc. Instead, we should be teaching our churches that while success sometimes leads to these things, we could very well be unfaithful and still wind up with the same results.
We need to recapture a sense of holy desperation for the Spirit, relying on his power to grow his church and send out the gospel. Until we arrive at that place of desperation, I think we will see more and more churches adopting a worldly definition of success rather than a biblical one that centers on service, suffering, and sacrifice.
How does blogging at Kingdom People help you fulfill the call to resist all rivals to Christ?
Blogging can go both ways. It’s tempting to use a blog as a platform for self-promotion rather than kingdom advancement.
The best way to allow the blog to be a help rather than a hindrance to pursuing Christ is to see it as an act of service. About a year ago, I told a friend of mine that blogging was just a personal hobby, but my real ministry was serving the people in my local congregation. He challenged me to wake up and realize that the blog was an important extension of my ministry. The blog is like writing, or speaking, or any other avenue of communication. The goal should be to serve others well in the name of Christ and bring glory to his name, not advance our own.
What is one simple step we can take right now to subvert culture and bring glory to God?
The simplest step? Pray. It sounds too simple. But if we really want to live a life of holy subversion, we must recognize our total dependence on God for the grace and strength to be continually sanctified. We live in a self-help world that encourages us to believe in ourselves. But until we see ourselves as ruined in sin and self-deceit and completely helpless and hopeless without divine intervention, we will not pray. Prayer puts us in the proper posture to see God for who he is and ourselves for who we are.