Five Ways Evangelicals Can Save Evangelicalism

Five Ways Evangelicals Can Save Evangelicalism

Still Evangelical Lisa Sharon Harper bannerEditor’s Note: Books come to life in all manner of ways. Read on to discover a pivotal moment that animated Lisa Sharon Harper‘s contribution in the new book Still Evangelical?, which releases this week.


I sat on the stage during the final panel discussion of the Justice Conference 2017. I wasn’t supposed to be there; I wasn’t slated to speak. But bestselling author and blogger Ann Voskamp had called me up to take her place. I had watched her and the other panelists take their seats. I had listened intently as she shared about the women she’d just met at a refugee camp in the Middle East. I had watched as tears welled up in her eyes and her voice faltered.

Dr. Christena Cleveland had just given a powerful keynote address explaining to the largely white crowd that Jesus is not into equality but equity. For that reason, she said, there will be those who are first and those who are last. God’s call to take the lowest seat is for the redemption and healing of those who have known only the highest; being last is for the healing of white people in the United States.

I watched as Voskamp thanked Cleveland for her message and then asked, “Is Lisa Sharon Harper still in the house?” I raised my hand. Then she did something I’d never witnessed in a white evangelical setting. She said, “I think you should be up here. Please come and take my seat.” This tall, white woman with well more than one hundred thousand Twitter followers had decentered herself.

She said, “I think you should be up here. Please come and take my seat.” This tall, white woman with well more than one hundred thousand Twitter followers had decentered herself.

I was still marveling over the prophetic nature of the moment as I looked out over the audience and considered the question, “What will justice require of us evangelicals?”

1. We must treat every single human being as created in the image of God. (See Genesis 1:26-27.)

Still Evangelical? from IVP
Read the rest of Lisa Sharon Harper’s contribution in “Still Evangelical?” from InterVarsity Press.

Since we are made in the image of God, we are created with the divine call and capacity to exercise stewardship of the world—to protect and serve the world. But through our laws, policies, systems, and structures, we have crafted a world in which we declared some people to be “savages” and others “civilized.” By law, we declared that some people are “chattel” and others are full human beings.

Thus, for a full century, immigrants entered the United States and fought their way to the Supreme Court to prove that they were white. Why? Because they didn’t like their nationality, their ethnic heritage, their culture? No. It was so they could be counted as fully human—so that they could be counted as white. Only people deemed white by the state were recognized by the law as having the divine call, capacity, and right to steward this land.

Now consider this: the ancients believed the image of the king was a marker of where the king ruled. Wherever the king’s image flourished, it was an indicator that the kingdom was flourishing. Wherever the king’s image was crushed, mangled, destroyed, it was an indicator that there was war against the king in that land. We are made in the image of God. When we govern in a way that diminishes or crushes the capacity of people or people groups to exercise stewardship of the world, we are diminishing or crushing the image of God on earth. We are setting ourselves up as enemies of the kingdom of God—enemies of God.

When we govern in a way that diminishes or crushes the capacity of people or people groups to exercise stewardship of the world, we are diminishing or crushing the image of God on earth. We are setting ourselves up as enemies of the kingdom of God—enemies of God.

Luke set up the beginning of his Gospel in a way that tells us this good news is about the king of the kingdom of God come to earth to confront the kingdoms of men—kingdoms hell-bent on crushing, exploiting, and diminishing the image of God on earth.

Jesus declared in his very first sermon why he came:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19 NRSV)

I believe Jesus came to set the oppressed image of God free on earth. That is why justice matters. Justice protects, serves, and cultivates the image of God on earth.

2. We must not confuse compassion with justice.

Throughout the conference, stories of compassion were cited and called stories of justice. But we must not confuse compassion and justice. Both are needed, but they are different. Compassion is what happens when we are moved from the bowels to feel as God feels for the suffering of another. It’s what happens when we feel what the other feels. It moves us to action to help someone up. It moves us to give of ourselves to stop their suffering.

But we must not confuse compassion and justice. Both are needed, but they are different.

Justice is what happens when we examine the suffering in our world, find the structural, policy, systemic, social, and personal causes, and work to make the world as it should be.

3. We must talk about politics in our churches.

Politics, at its essence, is simply the conversations we have and the decisions we make about how the polis (the people) will live together. If we fail to have these conversations, we abdicate our calling to govern in a way that protects, serves, and cultivates the image of God on earth. That is our call: to govern in the likeness of God—to be witnesses (evidence) of the presence of the kingdom of God in the world.

Politics put simply is this: an incredibly powerful space where the ethics of the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of humanity are given permission to be lived out in real time and have a real effect on the image of God in our world.

4. We must decolonize our theology.

The theologians that most of the Western church exalts as divinely inspired interpreters of Scripture approach the text from the social location of empire. Yet every single word of every single verse of every single chapter of every single biblical book was by an oppressed person. Even David and Solomon were kings of a small nation that kept falling into war.

Every single word of every single verse of every single chapter of every single biblical book was by an oppressed person.

Here is the critical question: Is it possible for someone who lives, breathes, and interprets Scripture from the social location of empire to understand a book written entirely from the underside of empire—written by and for oppressed peoples?

All of us, no matter who we are, must decolonize our theology.

5. We must address shame.

Fellow speakers and conference attendees alike came to talk with me after the panel. One thing seemed to haunt every white person I talked to: shame. The temptation is to give in to shame. But shame is dangerous. It tells us who we are and what we do. Shame erases our humanity and makes us only as worthy as the worst thing we’ve ever done. Shame is a lie.

It’s possible to do shameful things. But when the message becomes “I have done shameful things, therefore I am shameful,” we are believing a lie, and we are in trouble.

Shame keeps us hiding in the dark. Shame keeps our heads buried in the sand while the world burns around us. Shame prevents us from facing the wrong things we have done—the evil we have complied with and benefited from. Shame tells us it will be better for us if we live the fantasy of perfection. But that’s just it. Fantasies always end. Reality always wins.

Shame prevents us from facing the wrong things we have done—the evil we have complied with and benefited from. Shame tells us it will be better for us if we live the fantasy of perfection. But that’s just it. Fantasies always end. Reality always wins.

What if the cost of facing evil (through lament, contrition, loss of control, relinquishing the fantasy of supremacy) is far less than the gain?

What if, by facing the evil, evangelicals deemed “white” by the state unlock a process that reconnects them to their own fleshliness, to their own need for others, to the yearning of their souls for deeper connection—for forgiveness?

What if the process of repentance—restitution and repair—is the way of God, the narrow road to the health of our world?

And what if repentance is the way to the restoration of the image of God in a people group twisted by hubris?

And what if the call of God to white evangelicals is to stop trying to be God, to control everything and everyone, and to join the rest of humanity—beloved dust?

Then the question is this: Will the hope of resurrection be enough to move white evangelicals toward the brown wooden altar? Will the hope of becoming human again lead to bowed heads and hunched bodies, pink knees kissing brown dust? Will lament lead to surrender?


About the Author

Lisa Sharon Harper A prolific speaker, writer, and activist, Lisa Sharon Harper is the founder and president of FreedomRoad.us and the author of several books, including Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican…or Democrat, Left Right and Christ, Forgive Us, and the critically acclaimed The Very Good Gospel, which was named “2016 Book of the Year” by Englewood Review of Books.

Harper has appeared on TVOne, FoxNews Online, NPR, and Al Jazeera America. Her writing has been featured in CNN Belief Blog, The National Civic Review, Sojourners’ God’s Politics blog, The Huffington Post, and Relevant Magazine. An Auburn Theological Seminary senior fellow, Harper earned her master’s in human rights from Columbia University in New York City and is currently in the process of ordination in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Connect with her at lisasharonharper.com and follow her on Twitter: @lisasharper.


Taken from the chapter “Will Evangelicalism Surrender?” in Still Evangelical? Edited by Mark Labberton. ©2018 by Mark Labberton. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com