Privilege has become a controversial word. Not so much for the rough meaning but because of the political implications and the tribalism that has arisen. In many ways, the main message of the book is what has commonly been understood as the Spiderman principle, ‘Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.’ (Which is a variation of Jesus’ statement in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (NIV) Popular culture may attribute this concept to Spiderman instead of Jesus, but it is a deeply Christian concept.
Privilege also has, in many settings, come only to be thought of in racial terms. While Gilliard is not excluding racial privilege here, he is reducing all privilege to racial. The book’s focus is seeking out biblical stories of the right use of privilege and drawing principles for modern use. Along the way, there is social teaching, but primarily this is a book of bible study and implications to that study. I can’t help but be reminded of Andy Crouch’s book on power, Playing God. When it is common to deny that we have privilege (or power) or the limit the concept of privilege (or power) to particular narrow types, Gilliard reminds us that we all are privileged in some ways and that all of us should strive to use what God has given us for the sake of others.
There are six primary biblical touchpoints, Pharaoh’s Daughter (who the bible doesn’t even name), Ester, Moses, Paul and Silas, Jesus, and Zacchaeus. The book opens with a discussion of what privilege is and why it is important to understand within the context of scripture and within the life of a Christian. And the book ends with two chapters on repentance, one about the biblical call to repentance and one about producing fruit in keeping with repentance. In many ways, being a Christian is about dealing with our need for repentance and our submission to Christ as king. Christians who are unwilling to repent or do the work to restore relationships around that repentance are not doing the real work we are called to.
Subversive Witness would make a great small group discussion. It is centered on biblical stories, which can lower the temperature of discussion around the concept of privilege. In addition, it is fairly short (188 pages of main content), so that it could be discussed in eight to ten sessions without a problem. There are several good podcasts interviews like this one with Marty Duren or Latasha Morrison or this one on the Shake the Dust podcast if you want to get a sense of the book. I also have about 20 highlighted passages which also will give you a sense of the book.