In this post I review Lisa Sharon Harper’s book, The Very Good Gospel. She is the chief church engagement officer at Sojourners, a nonprofit organization committed to putting Christian faith into action in the pursuit of social justice, peace, and environmental stewardship. She is the author of several books, including Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican…or Democrat and coauthor of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith. Harper has been recognized by The Huffington Post as one of “50 Powerful Women Religious Leaders” and is considered one of the nation’s most influential voices on a faith-rooted approach to advocacy. Harper speaks extensively, nationally and internationally, and lives in Washington, D.C.*
The problem, with a capital “P”:
The American conception of the Good News is wrapped up in many things: Money, pragmatism, personalism, and also, a past which reveals leaders who on the one hand championed conversion – on the other championed slavery.
Harper, in her latest book, seeks to take evangelicals by the hand and reveal to them a fully orbed Gospel that looks at the problems in our society, as well as in our history, full in the face.*
What is the Gospel according to Lisa Harper?
The book begins with its strongest proposition: the “Gospel” – as we presently understand it in wider evangelicalism – is not big, wide, or inclusive enough to be called the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Shalom (Hebrew for ‘Peace’) was disrupted by the fall, and restored in Jesus. Now, this means that a whole new world is being opened up all around us, and the hard work of taking our faith from the private and into the public world is the next step.
Harper goes on to qualify her view by some solid bible study!
Taking a narrative approach to scripture, the themes of liberation are prevalent but not too overbearing. In other words, not every story is meant to reflect a people oppressed by an unfair structure we call “Babylon.” It was in this way I found her writing surprising and enlightening: Harper gives great care to word meaning and their context, resisting the temptation to bury the text beneath the interpretation. I believe she does this by demonstrating a deep care for scripture, people, and prayer.
Why does this matter?
The chapter featuring her thoughts on how to bring peace to the “self” is worth the whole book. Harper is clearly committed to opening her mystic eye to the problems of the world. She even says repeatedly that she gets visions, hears God’s voice, and uses these experiences to better her own ministry. Personally, this was my favorite bits of her book, especially given the frequent down playing of the Spirit’s work that seems to define the writings of the more popular writers in her movement.
So, what is my problem, with a lower case “p”?
The issues arise when she begins to take on case studies (which are the bulk of the book) and show the reader how her theology informs these issues. To this end I believe she fell extremely short. Taking on a positive “common ground” approach to Black Lives Matter, she seems to clearly choose the typical liberation theology pathway: If you are a victim, you have inherent wisdom of an elite nature, which makes your voice of more consequence than anyone else. The victim becomes the center, displacing Jesus. Now, I know it sounds like I’m not being fair, but mere mentions of black-on-black violence, as well as violence done to police, are given a footnote in her crusade for using the words of Jesus to support groups known for violent rhetoric and regressive politics.
If you are looking for some fresh revelation, look elsewhere. But if you are looking for a window into the soul of an evangelist with a desire to see whole communities set free, look no further.
(I received this book from Blogging for Books for an honest review.)
*I lifted this entire paragraph from http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/authors/2117255/lisa-sharon-harper/