The UNkingdom of God, Mark Van Steenwyk. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013.
Summary: The author advocates a kind of “Christian anarchism” consisting in a repentance from the ways Christianity has been entangled with worldly “empire”.
Mark Van Steenwyk is an anarchist. Not the violent, bomb-throwing type, but an anarchist nonetheless. In this book, he argues that Christians have, from pre-Constantinian days down to the present in “USAmerica” been entangled in systems of destructive domination.
His solution is not revolution but radical repentance, whether from plastic-consumeristic Jesus or the use of evangelism to subjugate people to “empire” as was the case in his home of Minnesota with Native Americans. He goes so far is to advocate repentance from “Christianity” to pursue the love of God and neighbor in the way of Jesus. The call is to form local communities that seek to live out the radical teaching of the gospels without rationalizing them and without the alliances with government, politics, media, and other institutions of society that again and again compromise the counter-cultural message of Jesus.
In the latter part of the book, he calls for living out the compassion of Christ in our local settings, paying attention to what is in front of us, discerning the subversive Spirit in our worship as we recognize the injustices the impinge on the lives of those around us, practicing a kind of communal Jubilee where there are no needy among us, and where all are welcome to the table.
One is tempted to write this off as “emergent extremism”. Two things give me pause in doing so. One is that the author is seeking to live it, not always successfully (and he admits it) in the Mennonite Worker intentional community. The other thing is that he strikes me as “the canary in the coal mine” whose cri de coeur is indeed a prophetic word to a church that after decades of broken promises still looks every presidential cycle to an election to provide a savior, that is as caught up in the frantic materialism, and news-cycle-fed trumped up rage, and a moral therapeutic deism that covers secular psychology with a veneer of Christian lingo. The disenchantment of so many with all the traditional forms of Christianity makes me wonder if the author is on to something.
This is not a feel good book. It probably will make you angry at points, in the kinds of ways my parents generation got angry with “hippies.” It makes me wonder if I’ve become them and made my peace in too many ways with the gods of this world. It reminds me that repentance is not a “one and done” kind of thing accomplished in a moment, but to be true to Christ is to embrace repentance as a way of life and to continually question all the rationalizations we erect around the radical call of Jesus to “follow me”. It convicts me of all the ways we attempt to tame the One Steenwyk calls “the feral God.” And the hope in all this is that we meet the one we call “Lord” again for the first time.