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Good News to Change the World: An Interview with Lisa Sharon Harper

PneumaReview.com: The word Gospel can have so much baggage with it. Why must we get this word right?

Lisa Sharon Harper: How you interpret the gospel impacts everything. If you understand the gospel to refer exclusively to humanity’s relationship with God, not with each other and not with the rest of creation, then “The Four Spiritual Laws” works. But those laws fall mute when faced with the brutal realities of racialized oppression and economic inequity in our world.

In typical evangelical circles, we often talk about bringing our friends over the line into the Kingdom of God. In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus declares: “The time if fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) For Jesus the coming of the Kingdom is directly linked with good news. So, it matters what the Kingdom looks like. It matters what the Kingdom requires of its citizens. It matters how God’s reigns compares with the reign of the kingdoms of men. And it matters how those Jesus called “the least of these” respond to God’s Kingdom.

If we don’t understand these things, then “inviting our friends to the Kingdom” could effectively be to invite our friends into our white-centered churches with our white-centered worship and our white-centered ways of doing things and our white-centered worldviews and white-centered concerns and our white-washed understanding of history—calling that the Kingdom of God. This is the definition of white supremacy.

We must dethrone whiteness in our conception of the Kingdom of God. If the Kingdom of God is not “white,” if its norms are not white, if its concerns are not white, if its center is not white and western, then what is it? For that, we must go to the beginning—Genesis.

On the first page of Genesis we find a text written by oppressed peoples for oppressed peoples. We find a world under the reign of God and in that world all serves all. In that world all relatedness is intricately interdependent. And in this world all humanity has been made in the image of God. And in the same breath all humanity is created with the call and capacity to exercise dominion—to steward the world.

Within three chapters we see the break in all of the relationships God declares very good in the very beginning. And with that one by one the impetus to dominate the other (and even the self, through shame) enters the world. The snowball of broken relationship starts with broken relatedness with God. Next is relatedness with self. Next is relatedness between genders. Next between humanity and rest of creation. Next between humanity and life itself. Then within families. Then between ethnic groups. Then between nations—and that’s just the first 15 chapters of Genesis. The fall marks the epic shift between the rule of God to the rule of men. Under God’s rule there was reciprocity, truth, trust, choice, shared dominion. Under the rule of men there is domination, oppression, impoverishment, and ultimately the image of God on earth is crushed.

In Psalms 85 we hear the people cry out asking God to restore shalom. God answers and this is what God says: I will bring shalom and this is what it will look like: Justice and peace will kiss. Truth will spring from the earth. Justice will look down from heaven. This is what God’s rule looks like.

I have come to believe that Jesus came to confront the kingdoms of men, to restore the image of God on earth, and to re-establish God’s rule on earth.

Would this understanding of the Kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus compel my ancestor, Lea, to jump and shout for joy?

Yes.

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Category: Fall 2017, Ministry

About the Author: Lisa Sharon Harper is a speaker, author, writer, and activist. From Ferguson to New York to Germany and South Africa, Ms. Harper leads trainings and helps mobilize clergy and community leaders around shared values for the common good. She is the founder and president of FreedomRoad.us (launching online Fall 2017), a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap in our nation by convening forums and experiences that bring common understanding, common commitment, and common action toward a just world. Ms. Harper is the author of several books, including Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican...or Democrat (The New Press, 2008), Left Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Elevate, 2011 & 2016), Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith (Zondervan, 2014), and the critically acclaimed, The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong can be Made Right (Waterbrook, a division of Penguin Random House, 2016). The Very Good Gospel, recognized as the "2016 Book of the Year" by Englewood Review of Books, explores God’s intent for the wholeness of all relationships in light of today’s headlines. LisaSharonHarper.com. Facebook. Twitter: @LisaSHarper. Instagram.

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