The gospel as subversive fulfillment


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

In this sermon from Tim Keller, called “Public Faith”, he explains how the gospel is subversive fulfillment:

In his exposition of John 4, Keller argues that Jesus says to the Samaritans, “I am the one you are looking for, and yet, I am different than the one you are looking for.”

He builds on cultural beliefs and cultural expectations, yet at the same time, he bursts the bounds of them. He builds on expectations but also subverts them.

In one sense, he fulfills your deepest desires. He fulfills the culture’s deepest aspirations. But at the same time, he challenges you. “The gospel of Jesus Christ is subversive fulfillment.”


  1. How would this understanding of the gospel affect your own discipleship?
  2. How would this understanding of the gospel affect your evangelism?

(Helen Tan) #2

Thanks for the video, @CarsonWeitnauer. I was intrigued by the term “subversive fulfillment” which appears to be an oxymoron. How can it be fulfilling (derived from the achievement of something desired, promised or predicted) when it’s subversive (which entails the overturning or overthrowing of something that’s established)?

Yet, on looking back, it’s the best fulfillment there is because it sets me free from my preconceived and established boundaries given my weaknesses, life experiences, limited understanding and biases. There’s no true fulfillment unless it makes me better and opens me up to what God knows is best for me. Tim Keller pointed to the example of the woman at the well. The acceptance and value Jesus placed on her subverted her limitations, and inspired her testimony which demonstrated 3 things: disarming transparency (she openly acknowledged her past which she was prone to hide previously), Jesus simplicity (her call was for everyone to go see and hear Him) and bravery.

I’m thinking that bearing this in mind will help me as I struggle when my limited thinking and desires are being subverted for something greater, and trusting God seems tough or questionable. As for evangelistic encounters, I should be cognizant of where my questioner is, and build on that with a view to see how the Gospel will subvert their thinking to bring about greater fulfillment.

There’s so much more to be appreciated when we reflect and see how beautifully God has led us to places we could not have dreamed of. It may be bitter on initial encounter but how sweet it is when the full impact of that truly fulfils us.

(SeanO) #3

@CarsonWeitnauer As @Helen_Tan pointed out, our preconceptions have to be surrendered at the cross in order for our knowledge of God to grow.

I think what is interesting is that in some forms of evangelism, subversion is overt and comes first. Whereas in other forms of evangelism, subversion is much more subtle and at first overshadowed by fulfillment.

In some ways, I think this idea of subversion is related to Lewis’ description of ‘sneaking past the watchful dragons’ that prevent us from truly experiencing the power of Christian truths:

“I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.”

While Lewis wanted to use fantasy stories to achieve a form of subversion and sneak past the walls people use to guard their hearts from God’s truth, apologetics is all about communicating truth in a way that achieves a similar end.

People want the fulfillment God offers without God, but our goal must be to communicate, by God’s grace and with the help of His Spirit, that the fulfillment is only found in surrendering to God. Every other path ultimately leads to death and corruption of the soul.

(Jennifer Judson) #4

Often when I hear someone use words in an unexpected way I look to the dictionary to see what wisdom I can glean via the standard meaning of the words (in case I have a culturally corrupted understanding of the meaning). So I looked up the verb roots in the Oxford Dictionary online.

Subvert (verb): Undermine the power and authority of (an established system or institution)
synonyms: destabilize, unsettle, overthrow, overturn

Fulfill (verb): Achieve or realize (something desired, promised, or predicted); Gain happiness or satisfaction by achieving one’s potential; Complete; Carry out (a duty or role) as required, promised, or expected; Satisfy or meet (a requirement, condition, or need) – (of a retailer) pack and dispatch (a customer’s order)
synonyms: succeed in, attain, realize, consummate, satisfy, manage, bring off, bring about, carry off, carry out, carry through, bring to fruition, deliver

Nothing I really didn’t expect, but I’m often surprised at a nuance of a definition I had never known. I’ve certainly heard of Jesus as a subversive and a revolutionary–it was those particular aspects of his ministry that were used to justify to his crucifixion. He certainly came to “Undermine the power and authority of (an established system or institution).” He was also the fulfillment of prophecy and God’s plan for our salvation. And to the saved, indeed fulfilling. So the pairing of the words is very meaningful.

I think the order of the word pairing is equally important. Because for humanity (the sinner/the saved) first he destabilizes/unsettles any confidence you have in your own abilities to do life “my way” then he shows you true fulfillment in a life lived God’s way in God’s economy of time, resources, gifts, service and purpose for the kingdom.

What human concepts does he not undermine? That would be the question. Darwin tells us that nature is the survival of the fittest. Society tells us to achieve (wealth, status, fame, power). Jesus tells us the least shall be the greatest. To live we must die. And not just a passive dying–we are to put to death…Rom 8:13: For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

It would be interesting to take another look at the parables (or many of them) in light of the phrase “subversive fulfillment” or in other words: set our mind on the things of God, not on the things of man.