I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the line people began to think of the term “Christian” and “Subversive” as mutually exclusive. It’s an odd development given that the life and teachings of Jesus were both radically subversive. The early days of the church were also revolutionary. Believers rejected the deification of Caesar, dispersed their belongings among the poor, and refused to participate in Rome’s military industrial complex. Many members of the early church were beaten, arrested and ultimately executed for their faith. That rarely happens to people who simply go with the flow.
You’d never suspect this looking through the Christian section of a bookstore. Most of the books resemble nothing more than a self help seminar for the well to do.
The sad fact is that somewhere along the line the Church became self absorbed, concerned less with spreading the Good News than in maintaining a comfortable status quo.
Martin Luther King Jr. warned of the cancer that this type of mindset becomes to the body of the church.
“If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority,” King said.
Luckily, there are still some writers of faith that burn with this prophetic zeal. Here is a list of six subversive Christian books that I think everyone should read.
- Letters & Papers From Prison – Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran theologian from Germany during the rise of Hitler’s Third Reich. He became part of what was known as the “confessing church”, which maintained opposition to Hitler’s message. He was eventually jailed and executed. The letters and papers he wrote during his imprisonment are a revelation for believers. Bonhoeffer discusses faith in the modern world, the perils of cheap grace, and the cost of being a disciple of Christ.
- The Irresistible Revolution – Shane Claiborne: A self described “reformed redneck” Claiborne is part of the New Monastic movement known as the Simple Way. As part of the Simple Way, Claiborne has worked for social justice in the heart of Philadelphia, travelled to Middle East during the American conflicts in the region, fought to end the death penalty, and acted to further racial and economic equality. This book details his faith journey and the creation of Simple Way.
- The Year of Biblical Womanhood – Rachel Held Evans: Televangelist Pat Robertson once said that, “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” With views like this, it’s amazing that brilliant, outspoken women still bother with the church. Lucky for us, Rachel Held Evans is one such woman. In this book, she examines the idea of Biblical womanhood and what it means. Along the way she tackles women’s issues across the globe, the role of women in the modern church, modesty, violence against women, and more, all with equal doses of insight, humor and compassion.
- Assimilate or Go Home: Notes of a Failed Missionary – D.L. Mayfield: The plight of refugees may be the most urgent and pressing moral issue facing the world right now. The last few years have seen an explosion in refugees and migrants worldwide, particularly from war torn locations like Syria. Mayfield’s book details her years working and living with Somali Bantu refugees. The book begins with the starry eyed idealism she brought to mission work, before diving into the challenges, doubts, and insecurities it exposed, as well as the joys, growth, and blessings she gained living among some of the world’s most forgotten people.
- Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived – Rob Bell: This is the book that made the Evangelical world explode. Bell, founder of Mars Hill church and author of books like “Velvet Elvis” and “Drops Like Stars” decided to challenge traditional concepts of hell, while addressing how the preoccupation with eschatology has led us to ignore the powerful message that Jesus called us to live in this world here and now. Bell discusses how Jesus’s teachings focused on a radical vision for building the Kingdom of God in the world rather than the Christian preoccupation with escaping it. After the book was published, Evangelicals largely decried Bell as a heretic who had abandoned the true faith.
- Tattoos on the Heart – Fr. Gregory Boyle: In 1992, Father Gregory Boyle founded Homeboy Industries after years spent working in Los Angeles with gangs and at risk youth. The project began as a job training program that led to the creation of several businesses employing former gang members and the recently incarcerated. Along the way, Boyle facilitated reconciliation between rival gang members, developed friendships, celebrated successes, and mourned deaths. The book is not a memoir, but a meditation on building Christ centered community and the belief that God wants everyone as part of His kingdom.
The world desperately needs our passionate engagement. We are called to build God’s Kingdom on Earth. These books are a good primer for how we can do just that.