Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice

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Editor(s): 
Mae Elise Cannon, Andrea Smith
  • Westmont, IL: 
    IVP Academic
    , September
     2019.
     376 pages.
     $36.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780830852468.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Images and expressions of the American brand of evangelicalism are often associated with a dominating theology that buttresses whiteness, if not white supremacist ideologies and practices. For the reader, Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice, edited by Mae Elise Cannon and Andrea Smith, is a reminder that the dominating theology, with its attending philosophies, narratives, and implications, is not exclusive and requires reexamination that involves the whole of the evangelical family. Indeed, a sizeable evangelical family exists beyond America’s geographical and cultural borders, suggesting that what American evangelical ideology and practice offers is inherently insufficient for the whole.

Often absent from discussions about evangelicalism is a foundational reliance on the liberation and justice that God demands, Jesus embodied, and creation anticipates. This edited volume positions liberation and justice as determinative qualities of evangelical theology with a notable diversity of perspectives. Cannon and Smith situate this collection of essays as contesting “the assumption that the pursuit of emancipation from injustice and oppression is antithetical to the core tenets of evangelicalism” (p. xi). Individually and collectively, the contributors interrogate ideologies and practices of evangelicalism and ask the reader reason with them as they consider “how evangelical traditions and perspectives intersect and have the potential to be deeply informed by liberation theological traditions” (p. xi).

At stake in Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice is the place and function of liberation theology and conversations about justice within evangelicalism. The editors develop space in this volume to promote prescient contributions to these ongoing conversations, as the contributors discuss the liberation and justice imperatives stamped in the foundation of evangelicalism. For these contributors, liberation theology and justice-seeking practices should feel at home within evangelicalism. More than presenting theories to support theological diversity, the book demonstrates how various practices can help normalize a range of evangelical options for theological fidelity.

Over five parts, this volume addresses liberation methodologies, the meaning and impact of liberation for specific communities, the effect of sin on thinking about liberation and justice, processing and developing a theology for marginalized communities, and treatment of presence as a feature for justice. As the contributors locate liberation within the evangelical tradition, thorough analysis and critiques of accepted evangelical positions greet the reader within each section and chapter. This work offers academics and laypersons several resources to reject attempts to divest evangelicalism of liberation and justice.

In the essay entitled “Evangelical Theologies of Liberation”, Soong-Chan Rah asks: “How does a cultural captivity to white supremacy result in the inability to engage other narratives within American Christianity, thereby stifling the possibility of an evangelical theology of liberation?” (p. 31). Rah defines and characterizes evangelical identity alongside the genesis of African American Christianity and suggests that an evangelical theology of liberation is possible if “the prophetic disruption of lament and the voice of the suffering” (p. 47) germane to African American experiences and theologies are given space within evangelicalism. Thus, identifying contextual nuances and available means of communication for a diversity of traditions is one way to loosen white supremacy’s grip on evangelicalism and promote liberation. The reader encounters similar conclusions throughout Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice.

The effect of Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice is a rethinking of historical norms that loudly discourage theological and practiced diversity. With the aid of its contributors, this volume seeks to recenter evangelical thought and practice around new normative and operative theologies that promote diversity of persons and perspectives within evangelicalism. Readers will note the potential for broad considerations of what liberation and justice can mean for various audiences, both human and nonhuman. As one might anticipate with this volume, the perspectives of theologically marginalized voices—namely, African American, Asian, Latinx, and womanist—are advanced. Still, readers will also appreciate what liberation and justice can mean in relationship with the human body and nonhuman creation. These theological perspectives can lead (or at least join) conversations for diversity within evangelicalism.

This volume’s contributors enter a conversation that has grown louder and more intense, and the impact of these conversations on American evangelicalism may be far-reaching. With a fair reading, Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice may resonate beyond those who immediately identify with the various perspectives. Perhaps most important for the evangelical brand, the contributors provide biblically sound, theologically astute, and accessible analysis and application highlighting the Gospel’s message. As such, this volume welcomes evangelicals who truly hear these voices for the first time.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Larrin Robertson is a PhD student in the African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric Program at Christian Theological Seminary and the pastor of WORD For Life Church Ministries in Fort Washington, Maryland.

Date of Review: 
July 9, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Mae Elise Cannon is the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace and an ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). She is the author of Social Justice Handbook and Just Spirituality, and coeditor of Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice.

Andrea Smith is a cofounder of Evangelicals 4 Justice and a board member of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies. She is currently chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at UC Riverside. Her books include ConquestNative Americans and the Christian Right, and Unreconciled (forthcoming).

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