‘Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals:’ A Q&A with Trevin Wax, recent SBTS graduate and author

Communications Staff — February 18, 2010

“So, how can we as communities of faith live in a way that subverts the ‘Caesars’ that rule people around us… and seek to rule us too? The rest of this book is devoted to answering that question.”

So writes Trevin Wax at the outset of his recently-released book, “Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals” (Crossway: 2010). Wax has served as associate pastor for education and missions at First Baptist Church of Shelbyville, Tenn., for the last three years. In December, he graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with his master of divinity degree. Towers recently caught up with Wax for a few questions about his new book.

What is the thesis of your book?

Wax: This book is really a call to the church to intentionally discover what the idols are in the prevailing culture and then to deliberately subvert those idols by the way that we live. It is a very practical book on idolatry.

The way that the book is set up is that it takes the early Christians as our example and shows how they were deliberately subverting the Caesar worship of the day, the cult of Caesar worship, by proclaiming that Jesus Christ was Lord and by living according to the reality that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead.

So, by taking that truth and living according to that truth, they were a very subversive bunch. Not subversive in the revolutionary, “We are overthrowing the government” kind of way, but in the way that they lived challenging the powers and principalities of that age. We as Christians don’t live under a Caesar, but there are idolatries in our world that are grappling for our attention and affection.

In the book, you talk about subverting the idols of self, success, money, leisure, sex and power. Regarding leisure, you write “Instead of being a friend to a hard worker, Leisure often morphs into a taskmaster that squeezes the life out of us.” Explain what you mean.

Wax: I think leisure is one of the prevailing idols in our churches and sometimes I think pastors are afraid to touch it. Leisure should be a friend to us. God has created us to enjoy rest and enjoy recreation. For example, sports are a gift from God. We can honor God in our sporting activities and our entertainment choices. We shouldn’t be so hyper-spiritual in the sense that we can’t enjoy the good things in life that God has given us.

But we in the United States, including in our churches, have made work something that is necessary so that we have time for leisure. Work is also necessary so that we have the money to fill that leisure time. Take sporting events. Sports are a great way to instill discipline in your kids and to show them what teamwork is all about and sportsmanship, but what happens when sporting events compete with church? Too often I think ball is a modern day Baal. No matter what we as parents tell our kids about the importance of God in our lives and the priority of church, if church runs up against a ballgame and ball wins, we have demonstrated something completely different than what we have said.

Define success, biblically.

Wax: Faithfulness. Faithfulness to Christ’s call. Faithfulness to fulfilling God’s role for each one of us individually. Success looks different for different people. We, as a church, are often guilty of taking the world’s definition of success and imposing that on the church and on believers and it puts a certain kind of pressure on church leaders that we weren’t meant to bear. We have this mindset that a successful church is always a growing church numerically. So, part of the problem is how we have defined success.

We must remain faithful to doing what God has called us to do, day in and day out, week in and week out, seeking first His Kingdom, leaving the results in God’s hands and not just taking what the world sees as success and imposing it on the church and then trying to build that up. God calls me to be faithful and I have to leave the results in His hands. Success in the eyes of God is different from success in the eyes of the world. Sacrifice, serving and suffering: those are the three – when you look at Jesus speaking to His disciples and He is defining what greatness is He is constantly pointing them back to sacrifice, suffering and serving.

Do you think American Christians by and large see a need to be distinct from non-believers in the way that they live?

Unfortunately, no. My friend Tullian Tchividjian says we have a fascination with fitting in. His whole book, “Unfashionable,” is about that. I am saying a very similar thing as Tullian. I think that evangelicals believe that to make a difference we need to fit in. We are obsessed with fitting in: looking cool, being cool, doing things a certain way. When we as church leaders are fascinated by that, with showing how cultured we are and how much we fit in, our church people get that and they do the same thing and then we wonder why we don’t see enough difference in the lives of the people that we minister to.

” … True Christianity is not merely life-changing. It is world-changing.” Explain what you mean.

Wax: When I talk about the early Christians I don’t want to leave it at just, “What did individual, early Christians do?” We, as evangelicals, are the ones who champion the idea that Christ changes individual lives. That is one of the things that distinguishes us from the other traditions in the Christian faith is that we put an emphasis on personal conversion and we are right to do so.

The early Christians, though, also changed the world, not just individual lives. They changed the world not because they were trying to, but because they lived the life that was world changing.

What I mean by that is when communities of faith begin intentionally living according to the reality that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, when they live in light of the forgiveness they have received from God through His sacrifice and when they live in light of the power of His resurrection, then world-changing is inevitable because it clashes with the prevailing powers and principalities that the apostle Paul tells us about.

If you preach individual conversion and never stop to think about what the resurrection of Christ means as public truth in the world – how it deals with political structures, systems and society – then you have left systems in place and you have failed to call them under the Lordship of Christ. For example, I think back to slavery and racism.

On the other side, though, if you feed the hungry, champion rights for people and go on crusades against abortion, but you don’t share the Gospel then you have left people dead in their sins.

So, we have to bring together the importance of individual conversion with the importance of individual Christians in their vocations seeking to fulfill the will of God in their respective roles and areas.

What do you hope people take away from the book?

Wax: I hope they are challenged by the call to cast out our idols and to lean heavily on Christ, on His finished work on the cross and on the implications of His resurrection. That their lives would be shaped and formed by who Christ is and what He has done for us and in such a way that the idolatries that are in our world and that take hold of our heart sometimes, without us even knowing, are exposed and dealt with and then we move forward in a more positive light.

I do hope that churches as communities will seek to put into practice a lot of what is in this book because I think that is where … there is a lot of insight for individuals, but I would love to see churches intentionally trying to live out the things in this book.

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