The UnKingdom of God (Book Review)

On occasion, I review books for Mike Morrell’s Speakeasy network.  When Mark Van Steenwyk’s book The Unkingdom of God:  Embracing the Subversive Power of Repentance became available, it looked like something I’d enjoy reading, partly due to my interest and admiration of Anabaptist ecclesiology.  Van Steenwyk is a cofounder “Mennonite Worker,” a Christian intentional community in Minnesota.  He is also editor of JesusRadicals.Com and producer and co-host of the Iconoclast podcast.

Van Steenwyk’s thesis is Christianity has accumulated a lot of extra baggage throughout its history in its attempts to advance the Kingdom of God, the consequence being that we have a rather cloudy perception of what Jesus actually taught about the way of life for those who seek to embrace God’s Kingdom. This book investigates the ways those in the church have (with either noble or not so noble intentions) failed in its missional call by often adopting the strategies, mores, and agendas of the “kingdoms and principalities” of  the world.

Beyond Van Steenwyk’s exploration of this phenomena, he also invites us to a place of repentance so that a witness to the true Gospel of Jesus can be recovered as the only true hope of the world.  Van Steenwyk’s aim is that readers join him in his confessional statement: “I am a Christian. I repent of Christianity.” He argues that the only proper response is that we “repent of this thing we call Christianity and seek to follow Jesus.”

As a Jesus Radical, Van Steenwyk immediately begins his critique challenging The Gospel According to the Empire (chapter one). This chapter alone would be worth the price of the book.  The author explores some of the historic empire buildings tendencies of the church. Among this is the long-standing tradition of offering care for the person’s soul while showing little regard for their bodies, lands, or dignity. Yet Van Steenwyk does not end his critique in the pages of ancient history, but brings it current with these challenging words: “While most Christians easily recognize the sins of the past, we rarely, if ever, see how such misdeeds have any connection to our Christianity today.”

The most powerful aspect of this book was not only dealing with the history of the church, but also the author’s own history of coming to a place of repentance. Van Steenwyk’s explores the ways he believes Christianity has become co-opted by American imperialism, becoming in essence its puppet.  He accomplishes this through personal testimony, recounting how, as a teenager in church, he became indoctrinated by American Christianity.  He also shares how, with personal insight and a healthy dose of humor, how he awoke from and repented of the cultural version of christianity, which he believes is a poor substitute for a genuine encounter with Jesus and his radical gospel message.

Part of the problem inherent in books like The Unkingdom of God is that they most often end up “preaching to the choir.”  Those who understand and appreciate Van Steenwyk’s ecclesiastical leanings with resonate with his stories, exegetical inclinations, and his calling of the church to repentance.   To those who are tied closely into the institutional church, appreciating this book will require an open mind.  If you have that, this book will challenge you and cause you to reflect on your own religious traditions.  I hope this book finds lots of people who have such a mentality.   This book is sorely needed in today’s church.

Disclaimer: This book review was written after receiving a complimentary copy of the book from the “Speakeasy” blogging network. I was not required to write a positive review, but only to express my own honest opinions. The opinions stated in this review are my own. This information is being disclosed in accordance with regulations from the Federal Trade Commission.


The Unkingdom of God: Embracing the Subversive Power of Repentance by: Mark Van Steenwyk publisher: IVP Books, published: 2013-08-05 ASIN: 0830836551 EAN: 9780830836550 sales rank: 1158398 price: $7.99 (new), $6.20 (used) Christianity is carrying a lot of baggage. Two thousand years of well-intended (and sometimes not so well-intended) attempts to carry forward the good news of God with us have resulted in some murky understandings of the teachings of Jesus and the culture of God’s kingdom. To embrace Christianity, sometimes we have to repent of what we’ve made of it. In The Unkingdom of God Mark Van Steenwyk explores the various ways we have failed our mission by embracing the ways of the world and advancing our own agendas. He shows us that the starting place of authentic Christian witness is repentance, and that while Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, it remains the only hope of the world.

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