Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: Raised Right

Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics and Learned to Start Living the GospelRaised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics and Learned to Start Living the Gospel by Alisa Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is part memoir, with Alisa Harris walking through key events in her life, and part meditation on the appropriate relationship between religion and politics. I highly recommend this to anyone who has an interest in thinking more carefully about church/state relations or the place of religion in the public square.

The strengths of this book are many. It is well written, and flows easily (I read the whole thing in three sittings of about an hour each), which I suppose is to be expected of a professional journalist...

Moreover, it is thoughtful and raises points that many polemical Christians have forgotten. Our primary point of interaction with the world is not to be power, but rather love. As Christians we should find our responsibilities not in political credos or shallow one liners, but in care for those around us, in concern for those who cannot defend themselves, and in working to love our neighbors. This love should not be any kind of abstract love for humanity, but in concrete relationships with those in our lives (Harris is quite right to point out that the two are mutually exclusive anyway). Areas in which we can all agree, left and right alike, are that we should: 1) care for the poor and underprivlidged; 2) love "not just with words but with actions," and 3) to take heart that Christ has overcome the world "not through a show of power but a picture of love." (218-219)

The problem with so much of the Christian right, according to Harris, is that
The hope of the gospel meant more than the truth that Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, had come to earth, died on a cross to free us from sin, and then rose on the third day. It also meant the hope of being free from the shackles of government as we worked to redeem the world for Christ through political means.(65)
Most importantly, this book is remarkable evidence that as Christians we can disagree on issues (no doubt Harris and I would differ on many) while agreeing on methods and respecting each other as believers.

The primary weakness in this book seems to be that Harris has spent her life looking to politics for what she should be finding in a healthy, Gospel-centered church. As a conservative and as a liberal (seemingly starting with her parents' activism), she has continually looked to politics as a place where love is achieved. She writes of the civic potential to become a people of "no color, just people, loving each other and doing the right thing, helping." (162) While this of course is something we can and should work for not just in politics but in all of life, it must always be remembered that this is an ideal that will only be fulfilled where people are drawn together by the Gospel, and that is something which no state, political party, or law will ever be able to do. Only in a faithful local church do we see this ideal at work, and even then only imperfectly. (Perfect love on the part of Christians is seen only in heaven.)

But even this is a fairly weak criticism, as the book is about politics. Perhaps if she had written a book on the church this sentiment would be echoed...

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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