A number of recent publications have helped us enlarge our frame of what the gospel is beyond ‘pie in the sky in the great by-and-by.’ Lisa Sharon Harper’s The Very Good Gospel (Waterbrook Press, forthcoming June 2016) is one such book. Harper helps us see the expansive implications of the biblical concept of shalom (peace). Our contemporary concept of peace is deficient—our imagination forged in the eras of Cold War stalemates and our tenuous Post-9/11 world cries for ‘peace in the middle east.’ The biblical concept of peace is more robust than the mere cessation of conflict. It involves good news to the poor and oppressed, justice for all, and “God’s vision for the emphatic goodness of all relationships” (14-15). In short shalom means that everything wrong can be made right.
Harper’s voice is one I trust. I have read her online articles at Sojourners (where she is the chief church engagement officer), and The Huffington Post and I follow her on social media. With Leroy Barber she was on the ground in Ferguson training clergy on how to respond to the crisis. She is a passionate advocate for social justice tackling racism, economic injustice and systemic oppression. As an African American woman she brings perspective and insight to these issues; however, what also makes The Very Good Gospel so very good is her deeply rooted faith and her serious engagement with biblical theology.
Harper draws on the insights of Walter Bruggemann (who writes the forward), Miroslav Volf, and a host of other scholars, commentators and researchers). In this book she unfolds the biblical concept of shalom. She explores what it means to live at peace with God, and to live at peace with self, to have real peace between the genders, to live at peace by exercising proper dominion in creation, to bring peace to broken families, to have real peace between races and nations, what it means for Christians be witnesses to God’s kingdom peace, and to have peace in the face of death.
This book goes a long way toward helping us see how robust Shalom really is. Harper blends personal anecdotes from life and ministry with biblical theology and astute cultural analysis. She shares some of the ways she has seen (or experienced firsthand) the lack of peace, and where shalom has burst into our broken world. She has practical suggestions for how to live into God’s kingdom shalom. Harper shares painful moments and touching and poignant parts of her own journey (such as her final goodbye to fellow evangelical justice advocate Richard Twiss). This is a very good book and it oozes good news. Read it. I give it an enthusiastic five stars! ★★★★★
Note: I received this book from Waterbrook Multnomah through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review.