The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right (Paperback)
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“On these pages, the Garden of Eden meets the world we live in.”
– Shane Claiborne, activist and author
God once declared everything in the world “very good.”
Can you imagine it?
Through careful exploration of the biblical text, particularly the first three chapters of Genesis, Lisa Sharon Harper shows us what “very good” can look like today—in real time.
Shalom is what God declared. Shalom is what the Kingdom of God looks like. Shalom is when all people are treated equitably and 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, protected, and cultivated in every single human. It is the vision God set forth in the Garden and the restoration God desires for every broken relationship. Shalom is the “very good” in the gospel.
Because despite our anxious minds, despite divisions, and despite threats of violence, God’s vision remains: wholeness for a fragmented world. Peace for a hurting soul. Shalom.
About the Author
Lisa Sharon Harper is a prolific speaker, activist, playwright, and the author of several books, including Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican...or Democrat and coauthor of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith. Harper has been recognized by The Huffington Post as one of 50 Powerful Women Religious Leaders and is considered one of the nation’s most influential voices on a faith-rooted approach to advocacy. She lives in Washington, DC.
Praise for The Very Good Gospel
“Lisa Sharon Harper is so smart and interesting—she’s a wonderful leader. I respect her immensely and am passionate about the message of this book.”
-Jen Hatmaker, speaker and best-selling author of For the Love
“For anyone who has ever wondered if we were meant for more, Lisa Sharon Harper’s The Very Good Gospel provides a resounding ‘yes’ revealing God’s eternal vision of shalom for all creation—people, families, genders, races, and the nations. Our gospel has long been presented in a shallow way—and unattractive in its narrowness. The Very Good Gospel declares the breadth of God’s Word, reconciling social justice and personal salvation, and inviting readers to share the rich message of shalom for all people, as it was intended.”
—Michael Eric Dyson, political analyst, professor, and best-selling author of The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America
“Lisa Sharon Harper has presented the gospel, the good news, as it was meant to be—whole and complete. Our world has compromised so many elements of the good news that we are left with a divided gospel. We need to recover the whole Christian gospel, the wholeness of the church, the wholeness of relationships. Lisa has unleashed the whole-ism of shalom. Her application of the good news for America, for our culture, in the world, reminds us that God is bigger than our problems. My wish is that Christians and non-Christians alike read this book.”
—Dr. John Perkins, co-founder of the Christian Community Development Association, founder of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation in Jackson, Mississippi, and author of Let Justice Roll Down
“For many decades, both mainline Christianity and the evangelical church have been captive to competing, shallow, and ‘thin’ understandings of what the good news of the gospel really is. In The Very Good Gospel, Lisa Sharon Harper masterfully presents the case that the very good news God brings to us is about the restoration of shalom—that is to say peace, well-being, wholeness, and abundance—which conquers the false dichotomy between social justice and personal salvation. Lisa shows us that God’s creation is emphatically, even forcefully, good, and it is the duty of every human being to responsibly steward God’s creation. Lisa’s clear, evocative prose blends scholarly theological insights with moving life experiences to show the clear applications of the gospel to our cross-gender relationships, our struggle against racism, how we care for the environment, our relationships with ourselves, and much more. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who seeks to understand God’s true purpose for the world and for our lives.”
—Jim Wallis, New York Times best-selling author of America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, president of Sojourners, and editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine
“There are lots of ‘gospels’ out there competing for our affection—the gospel of the Kardashians, of Trump, of American exceptionalism—but Lisa Sharon Harper dives into the one true gospel, God’s very good news. On these pages, the Garden of Eden meets the world we live in. Harper stirs up an ancient, radical vision of shalom, whereby God heals all the wounds that sin has created—in our hearts, in our streets, and in our world.”
—Shane Claiborne, activist and author of Executing Grace
“To speak of the gospel as good news, it has to be good news for the oppressed, the impoverished, the brokenhearted. To embody God’s shalom is to embrace and restore the image of God in all humanity no matter who or where they are. Chapter by chapter Lisa Sharon Harper builds the case for reading, understanding, and living the gospel as the life-giving, freedom-bringing, shalom-infused reality it really is. There are new, exciting voices coming from a new, younger generation of evangelicals, and they are turning the traditional meaning of that word around. Lisa Sharon Harper is such a voice and well worth hearing.”
—Allan Boesak, South African human-rights activist and the Desmond Tutu Chair of Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation Studies at Christian Theological Seminary and Butler University
“Lisa Sharon Harper writes in a fresh and personal way, combining rich theology with deep experience working with contemporary issues to inspire us not to settle for a thin gospel but a thick gospel—the fullness of the good news of God’s reconciliation and shalom that touches all aspects of life. The Very Good Gospel is for all of us struggling with how the good news of Jesus should impact not just our own lives but also speak to the injustices in our world. This book brings all the threads together and weaves a glorious picture of God’s redemptive work in creation.”
—Ken Wytsma, president of Kilns College and author of Pursuing Justice and Create vs. Copy
“Exposing racism, sexism, and exploitation as a direct assault on God, The Very Good Gospel weaves its wisdom around God’s shalom—the blessed web of creation, where the flourishing of one is a flourishing of all. It is beautiful and true. Thank you, Lisa!”
—Dr. Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality, www.cbeinternational.org
“Part mountaineer, part miner, Lisa Sharon Harper has somehow ascended the mountain of Scripture to survey its entirety while also digging deep into its core to extract raw truth of immense implication and conviction. Lisa’s revealing stories, scriptural depth, and prophetic voice make The Very Good Gospel a very good read—one you won’t want to miss.”
—David Drury, chief of staff for the Wesleyan Church World Headquarters and author of nine books including Transforming Presence
“One can scan across the landscape of the church and not find a better articulator of the essence of the gospel in the twenty-first century. Lisa Sharon Harper follows a rich tradition of reformers and iconoclast theological practitioners who deeply love the gospel and God’s people. She has made it her life’s project to challenge lethargic and cynical people to live love and practice justice. Our world is richer and more vibrant because of her compassionate and strong voice.”
—Reverend Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ and author of Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World
“In a world that has legitimate reasons to question the possibility of a good God, Lisa Sharon Harper reminds us what is in fact not only good but beautiful about the God who loves us more than we want to be loved. Her winsome words wash over the reader with gentleness, while simultaneously striking out with a fierce love that is corrective and healing. The Very Good Gospel is more than just a social activist’s field guide; it is a road map to a better world—one marked by faith, hope, and love.”
—Christopher L. Heuertz, author, activist, and founding partner of Gravity: A Center for Contemplative Activism
"Christian social activist and public speaker at Sojourners in Washington, D.C., Lisa Sharon Harper (Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat) releases a salient, provocative look at scripture through the lens of her own life. From the shalom offered by God to humanity in Genesis, through the "wreckage of the fall," and forward to Jesus' "very good" gospel, Harper mirrors scripture's long arc with contextual family drama, including information about her "third great-grandmother" who was "the last adult slave in [Harper's] family." In an engaging accessible voice, she interweaves the provocative history of 19th-century evangelical movements, 20th-century social gospel and civil rights movements, and the 21st-century Black Lives Matter movement with her own testimony of coming to Christ and her varied experiences as a progressive evangelical. Harper provides detailed history, statistics, and vibrant stories that reveal the possibility of America's redemption. The willing reader will be restored to a "very good" gospel, which sets free those who are broken, economically poor, abused, ashamed, and oppressed. Built on a foundation of solid biblical study, Harper provides a vital, effective contribution to the narrative theology movement. When systematic theologian James W. McClendon coined the phrase "biography as theology," he was advocating for this book: life stories that remake the way we think about God today. (June)" —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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