Trevin Wax is the Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church in Shelbyville, TN, and he maintains a popular blog called Kingdom People. Trevin kindly agreed to answer some questions about his recently released book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals [sample pages here].
James Grant: Can you provide some background for the development of Holy Subversion? Where did the idea originate?
Trevin Wax: During the five years I lived as a missionary/student in Romania, I was confronted with many questions: How has my culture cluttered my view of the gospel? How have I succumbed to the prevailing worldviews of my Western Americanized society? Can the gospel be properly proclaimed without a community of faith living according to the story it tells? Looking at the United States from the outside-in, I began spotting places where the mindset of the Christian community mirrored the surrounding culture.
As I saw the Church in Romania transition from oppression to freedom, I began studying the history of early Christianity. I quickly discovered that the gospel today is just as revolutionary as it was then. The Roman Emperor would not have been threatened by a private religious experience for individual believers in Christ, just as the Communist regime in Romania was not concerned with private religious feeling. It was the subversive, communal nature of the gospel – “Jesus is Savior and Lord” – lived out by believers that threatened Caesar’s own kingship, and in Romania, led to the toppling of a dictator. The early Christians were pledging allegiance to another King, an action that subverted the Caesar worship of the day.
In the United States today, we do not live under an oppressive dictatorship. But the postmodern, consumerist culture of 21st century America has its own creed and praxis – one that needs to be directly challenged by the Church, if we are to reclaim the subversive nature of our confession.
James Grant: Your title uses the term “subversion,” and this becomes a prominent theme throughout the book. What do you mean by subversion?
Trevin Wax: Yes, the words “holy” and “subversion” do not typically go together. There are two ways to understand the word “subvert” or “subversion.” The first definition refers to “overthrowing” or plotting the downfall of a kingdom.
The second way that “subverting” something is commonly understood refers to “undermining” or “pushing something back down into its proper place.” In the book, I use the term “subversive” in the second sense. Most of the time, the idols in our lives are not bad things. They are good things that have become idolatrous because we have placed them above God himself. The goal is not merely to destroy our idols, but to return the gifts of God to their proper place where they can be enjoyed once again to the glory of God.
So our job as Christians is first to identify and unmask some of the often-unnoticed idolatries that seek to muzzle our message and demand our allegiance. Then, we must think through specific ways in which the Church can counter our culture by subverting its prevailing idolatries and pushing them back to their rightful place, under the feet of Jesus.
James Grant: Another image in the book is the idea of “Caesars.” What do you mean by “Caesars,” and why is it helpful for us today?
Trevin Wax: I presented portions this material at an Intervarsity conference in early 2007. The breakout session that elicited the most feedback was the one I did on naming the “Caesars” of our day and finding ways to subvert their influence. I use the image of “Caesar” as a creative way of linking us to the early Christians. We may not be confronted with Emperor-worship today, but the same powers and principalities behind the first-century Caesar are also behind the idols of our day: sex, money, power, leisure, success, etc. These “Caesars” demand ultimate allegiance, and they need to be demoted back to their proper place so that our lives can show that Jesus is King.
James Grant: You examined six “Caesars” we have to guard ourselves against: self, success, money, leisure, sex, and power. Does one stand out more than another?
Trevin Wax: The greatest of these is Self. The reason that “Self” is the first chapter to deal with a specific “Caesar” in the book is because it is the one from which all the others flow. Wealth, leisure, sexual pleasure, and power – all of these things can either be enjoyed and utilized for the glory of God, or they can be results of seeking first the Self. We live for ourselves or we live for God. “Subverting the Self” prepares the way for us to live for God in other areas of life as well.
James Grant: A prominent theme of your book is the importance of Christians engaging culture. Can you give us some thoughts on your view regarding “Christ and culture,” and how your view informed this book?
Trevin Wax: There is no way to solidly critique the idolatries of our day and not run up against current cultural manifestations. I don’t typically use the phrase “engaging” when speaking of culture, because the idea seems very nebulous to me. I’m never sure what people mean by that unless they are careful to explain their definitions.
There are two poles moving through this book – the Church as a counter-culture that provides an implicit critique of the culture we live in, and the Church as a culture-creating institution that actually displays a culture of its own. At times, the critique of culture comes out. Other times, it’s the church as its own institution, creating a new way of life for the world to see, a way that stems from the power of Christ’s resurrection.
Ultimately, the cross and resurrection are central to my understanding of Christ and culture. If Jesus did indeed come back from the dead on Easter morning, the whole world is fundamentally changed. New creation has begun. The church is now the foretaste of the new heavens and new earth that God will bring about at the end of time.
We are to provide people a glimpse of the reality that Jesus is indeed Savior and Lord. Our churches should be a place where the veil is torn and people see the reality of Christ on his throne – the reality that one day all will see when he is unveiled and every knee bows and tongue confesses.
James Grant: What other avenues of study and writing developed from your work on this book? How about other writing projects?
Trevin Wax: I have two writing projects in the works. One centers on the beauty of truth, specifically the truth of the Christian metanarrative. Another centers on the counterfeit gospels at work in our society (and sometimes in evangelicalism) and how only the true biblical gospel has the power to save.