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  • Writer's pictureSam Hitchcock

A Review of “The Upside Down Kingdom” 

Before I preach or teach on a new topic, I always love finding fresh, new resources so I know what contemporary thinkers say about it. When I began organizing a teaching series on the Sermon on the Mount and planned on spending a few weeks on the Beatitudes, one of the first resources that I purchased was Chris Castaldo’s new book, The Upside Down Kingdom. I found it to be a very helpful resource in teaching the Beatitudes. Throughout the book, Castaldo emphasizes the significance of each of Jesus’ Beatitudes, showing how counter-cultural each of the Beatitudes was in their original context and how they remain so today. 

The book begins by setting the Beatitudes in their scriptural context and defining some key terms that help us understand the Beatitudes as a whole. Castaldo does a great job from the onset of the book of showing how each beatitude presents a seemingly counterintuitive claim that was just as baffling to its original audience as it is today. “The Beatitudes pour gasoline on our contemporary ideals,” Castaldo writes, “and then light a match” (Castaldo 4). This theme runs throughout the entire book as Castaldo spends time in each chapter showing how each of the Beatitudes is contrary to human perceptions of success and happiness. His thesis is perhaps summed up best toward the end of the book, as he writes, “This undulating movement – from strength to weakness, from life to death – is enough to make us crazy, that is, unless we see it as belonging to the larger pattern of God’s counterintuitive kingdom” (Castaldo 138). The Beatitudes set the expectation that life in Jesus’ kingdom will look drastically different than life lived for the world, and Castaldo does an excellent job of making this clear as he examines each beatitude. 

One of the main strengths of this book is how Castaldo clearly defines his terms. He starts by defining the word “blessed,” which is very helpful since each of the Beatitudes begins with this term. Even though I think the way that he defines the term is too nuanced – he defines it as “the tangible gift of God’s loving embrace” (Castaldo 5) rather than simply “fortunate” or “happy,” which are more literal meanings of the term – but I do appreciate his dedication to defining the terms that he is interacting with. He defines each key phrase in the Beatitudes well, like identifying those who are “poor in spirit” as those who “are completely and utterly destitute in the realm of the spirit” (Castaldo 8) and defining “meekness” as “gentle strength, governed by the Holy Spirit” (Castaldo 42). His clear explanations and definitions are very helpful throughout the book. 

Another strength of the book is the number of quotes and illustrations that Castaldo utilizes throughout each chapter. Castaldo does a great job of using stories from history and literature to illustrate each point well. Whether it is how Deitrich Bonhoeffer counterintuitively modeled his underground seminary in Finkenwalde after Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount or contrasting Jesus’ call for gentleness with Constantine’s offensive at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, Castaldo does a masterful job of using illustrations and stories throughout the book. This mix of positive and negative examples not only brings each beatitude to life but also serves as a great aid for those who might find themselves teaching through the Beatitudes themselves to have a great resource of illustrations to draw from. 

One weakness of the book, in my opinion, is the brevity of devotional reflection. While the book's strengths are the clear explanations and illustrations, these are not met with the same strength of practical and devotional elements. Each chapter in the book is around 15 pages, and Castaldo devotes most of it to explaining the meaning and significance of each beatitude. As a result, the devotional development of each beatitude is too brief, usually relegated to one or two pages toward the end. With a topic as rich as the Beatitudes, I was hoping for more practical elements to be developed and brought to light. When comparing this work to some other resources that I used to prepare for teaching this topic (like Martyn Lloyd Jones’ section on the Beatitudes in his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount), I did not find it as stirring devotionally. So this resource leans more on the academic side of a theologically rich portion of Scripture. 

All in all, this is a good resource for learning more about the Beatitudes. I would especially recommend it to someone who is teaching or preaching through this topic, but anyone who is looking to better understand Jesus’ teachings would also be aided by this book. 

Sam Hitchcock (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) serves as the Director of Spiritual Formation at Oklahoma Christian School in Edmond, OK.


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