The Subversive Pastor: The Fine Art of Subversion.

Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:

The kingdom of self is heavily defended territory. Post-Eden Adams and Eves are willing to pay their respects to God, but they don’t want Him invading their turf. Most sin, far from being a mere lapse of morals or a weak will, is an energetically and expensively erected defense against God. Direct assault in an openly declared war on the god-self is extraordinarily ineffective. Hitting sin head-on is like hitting a nail with a hammer; it only drives it in deeper. There are occasional exceptions, strategically dictated confrontations, but indirection is the biblically preferred method. Jesus was a master at subversion.  Until the very end, everyone, including His disciples, called Him Rabbi. Rabbis were important, but they didn’t make anything happen. On the occasions when suspicions were aroused that there might be more to Him than that title accounted for, Jesus tried to keep it quiet – “Tell no one.”  Jesus’ favorite speech form, the parable, was subversive.  Jesus continually threw odd stories down alongside ordinary lives (para, ‘alongside’; bole, ‘thrown’) and walked away without explanation or alter call. Then listeners started seeing connections; God connections, life connections, eternity connections. Parables aren’t illustrations that make things easier; they make things harder by requiring the exercise of our imaginations, which if we aren’t careful becomes the exercise of our faith.  Eugene Peterson (from Chapter Three, The Contemplative Pastor pp.41-42)

So which strategy of attack are you using in God’s war against the kingdom of self?

As Peterson references here, the typical hard-nosed approach to selfishness and sin that most of us ministers of the gospel are taught to use in converting people to Christ, simply hardens people’s hearts. On the other hand, the alternative; a seeker-sensitive approach where sin and selfishness are rarely, if ever addressed; ends up leaving us as pastors who (as Peterson states it) “slip into the role of chaplain to the culture.”

I love the way Peterson encourages us, in this chapter, to look again at the way Jesus confronts the culture in which He lived in and ministered to. While we do find a few moments of head-to-head confrontation (Jesus’ clearing of the temple is one example that comes to mind), the overall approach we find Jesus using is one of quiet and confident subversion. A godly man of deep prayer, deep trust, and of rich parables. Asking more questions than selling and telling quick answers.

As Peterson states, “Parables subversively slip past our defenses. Once they’re inside the citadel of self, we might expect a change of method, a sudden brandishing of bayonets resulting in a palace coup.  But it doesn’t happen.  Our integrity is honored and preserved.  God does not impose His reality from without; He grows flowers and fruit from within. God’s truth is not an alien invasion but a loving courtship in which the details of our common lives are treated as seeds in our conception, growth, and maturity in the Kingdom.”


Makes me wonder if we need to take a break from our current approach to doing ministry for Jesus in our culture and take a second and third look at the style and approach to ministry Jesus found so very effective in the first century? Subversive quietness and penetrating parables, thrown alongside people’s busy and self-consumed lives.

Who knows, maybe such subversive nonsense just might make sense?

My prayer: Without a doubt, Jesus, You found very quiet and subversive ways to undermine the kingdom of self. You came. You saw. You conquered. Yet all the while, You rarely raised Your voice and certainly never thumped a Bible. Spirit, empower me in similar ways so that my quietness and story-telling skills can be as effective as it was for the Master. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: How am I guilty of trying to make a big, loud splash for the Kingdom of God? Am I over-speaking, over-emphasizing, over-doing my efforts because of an inner desire to promote myself rather than the Kingdom of God? What might it look like for me to lower my volume while learning the fine art of subversive story-telling?

So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Contemplative Pastor?

Over a 37-blog series, you and I will take a deeper look at Eugene Peterson’s classic, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our blog series home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Contemplative Activist network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.

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Click here to continue to the next blog in this series…

1 thought on “The Subversive Pastor: The Fine Art of Subversion.

  1. Pingback: The Subversive Pastor: Undermining the Kingdom of Self. | The Contemplative Activist

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