Review by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, 2016
“Confession is central to the Christian faith. The importance of confession arises from the Christian view of sin. Sin is a reality and must be taken seriously.” It also acknowledges that “we don’t confess regularly, so when it comes time to confess, we don’t do it very well.”
This book addresses seven contentious topics in the evangelical community:
- Sins against God’s creation
- Sins against Indigenous People
- Sins against African Americans and People of Color
- Sins against Women
- Sins against the LGBTQ Community
- Sins Against Immigrants
- Sins Against Jews and Muslims.
The authors address these topics by elevating the theology of God’s dominion over all things and the imago Dei (image of God), which is the inherent nature of every human being: Christian and non-Christian, Jew and Gentile, female and male, rich or poor, and it does not change regardless of our ethnic or racial heritage. The book also provides a detailed history of these sins or injustices against God, the earth, and humanity, while taking note that “our unexamined and unconfessed history prevents full expression and witness to the Christian message.”
Again, “confession is the appropriate response to sinfulness” and “Godly lament and confession should lead to repentance, and repentance requires an about-face in our actions and a deep change in our way of life.” I learned and was reminded of much history from reading this book, and I like that each chapter closes with signs of hope and a prayer of confession and lament.
My personal take-aways: The “Sins against Indigenous People” chapter is quite heart breaking. It caused me to reflect again on the stories uncovered when I completed my racial reconciliation independent study, and specifically when I documented the Neglected Voices of the Church: Raising the Indigenous People or American Indian Voice. Other than lamenting, education, and prayer, I don’t know what, if anything, I can do to right the wrongs against the indigenous people when so many of us continue to benefit from those sins and so many from the indigenous people group are still hurt, confined, traumatized, and financially broke because of it.
Echoing some of the same “creation care” concerns of The Radical Disciple, the “Sins against God’s creation” chapter offers a more hopeful narrative. There is no doubt that “the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21).” All creation in groaning for Christ’s return, and that includes the sins against the earth that has resulted in global warning, the violent blood of innocent victims crying out from the land, the exploitation of land, the unnecessary killing of trees and animals just to name a few sins of commission. There is hope because people are being more conscious of these errors in our ways; people are trying to do their part every day with gestures like recycling or planning trees, providing education in schools, completing community service or nonprofit work; and even the President of the United States is speaking up against this.
The “Sins against African Americans and People of Color” chapter offer historical and theological insights about the history of American racism. “Racism usurps God’s right to declare what is good. The main expressions of racism in the US is the theological distortion that elevates whiteness to a privileged position over other races—most evident in the elevation of whites over blacks.” On the day after we celebrate the life, ministry, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and as we approach Black History Month, this is a worthy chapter of consideration. The “Sins against the Immigrants” chapter offers a brief summary of our broken immigration system and how it has changed over the years. For more on this topic I highly recommend reading the book, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion, & Truth in the Immigration Debate and paying attention to the work of the Evangelical Immigration Table. There are some interesting insights in this chapter about the Ku Klux Klan and their anti-immigrant agenda.
The chapters: Sins against Women, Sins against the LGBTQ Community, and Sins against Jews and Muslims, offer long histories of abuses and injustices against the identified people groups. The authors do not layout theological points like: the ordination of women, complementarian or egalitarian positions, or whether are not homosexual practice or gay marriage is a sin, or whether Jews, Muslims, and Christians worship the same God, which are often the theological issues at the heart of such debates. Right or wrong, our conclusions about those theological points cause us to respond in the ways that we do. Avoiding at least the presentation of both sides of these arguments weakens the theological sections. Likewise, the authors did not always help their arguments by sharing extreme cases in some of their historical narratives. I understand the powerful effect of looking at the worst case scenarios from drawing incorrect theological conclusions, but to be effective, those snapshots must be tempered with where real people are living every day and many of us are living somewhere along the spectrum between these extremes. As we watch the media, political, and social media climate grow more toxic, it is helpful to connect biblical truth to the ways that we all sin even when there is a conscious effort to “get it right.” There is more hope and encouragement for confession when we humbly acknowledge that we need God’s help to love others well, and in knowing that God and our community are present to hear our confessions and journey with us as we grow.
Regarding theology: “White culture was bound up with what it meant to be orthodox and what it meant to embody culturally acceptable Christianity. Christian identity, therefore, was tied, to Western identity.”
“The power of theology is the power to generate a worldview that looks beyond the limitations of one’s own culture, ethnicity, race, and place.”
Regarding the Racism: “White American Christians have made their own bodies the standard of reference in the determination of values and norms.”
“To belong to the Klan during its rebirth in the early twentieth century, one had to be white, Gentile, born in the United States, not a Catholic, and ready to defend Protestant Christianity.”
“Godly confession tells the truth about God, about us, and about our actions.”
“The sin of racism is best understood when God is the point of reference.”
“Sin results when human beings attempt to take the place of God in creation.”
Next Up by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson on this Topic: Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah
From Psalm 51 to the teachings of Jesus to the prayers of Nehemiah, confession is the proper biblical response when God’s people have injured others and turned their backs on God’s ways. In the book of Nehemiah, the author confesses not only his own sins, but also the sins of his ancestors. The history of the American church demands a Nehemiah-style confession both for our deeds and the deeds of those who came before us.
From Jacob Thielman’s review of Dear White Christians
The “reconciliation paradigm,” as Harvey calls it, must give way to a “reparations paradigm” which seeks to address the material harm that white people have brought about and benefited from.
It seems to me that in this racially charged environment — an environment which, as I have seen, stretches from the toughest ghettos to the sleepiest suburbs — the least our experiences merit is an honest conversation about white responsibility among those who are still holding nearly all the cards. Dear White Christians invites white people into that uncomfortable conversation about their material responsibilities, given the history of material injustice into which we have all been born.
Jennifer Harvey writes:
That’s precisely what we are called to do in this moment: to explore these questions in an open-hearted and gospel-committed manner, a manner that remembers our identity as a people that believes encounters with Jesus result in nothing less than metanoia (“turn around!”; “change your ways!”; “repent!”).
About The Very Good Gospel
Can you imagine it?
A Vision of Hope for a Broken World
Shalom is what God declared. Shalom is what the Kingdom of God looks like.
Shalom is when all people have enough.
It’s when families are healed.
It’s when churches, schools, and public policies protect human dignity.
Shalom is when the image of God is recognized in every single human.
Shalom is our calling as followers of Jesus’s gospel. It is the vision God set forth in the Garden and the restoration God desires for every relationship.
What can we do to bring shalom to our nations, our communities, and our souls? Through a careful exploration of biblical text, particularly the first three chapters of Genesis, Lisa Sharon Harper shows us what “very good” can look like today, even after the Fall.
Because despite our anxious minds, despite division and threats of violence, God’s vision remains: Wholeness for a hurting world. Peace for a fearful soul. Shalom.