The Very Good Gospel, Lisa Sharon Harper (foreward by Walter Brueggemann). New York: Waterbrook, 2016.
Summary. Through a study of the early chapters of Genesis with application to contemporary life, Harper explores the theme of shalom and how this enlarges our understanding of the good news.
Have you ever felt that there must be more to the gospel? This is a question that Lisa Sharon Harper has struggled with in her own life and for which she found profound answers as she explored the biblical theme of shalom as well as the early the early chapters of Genesis, that begin with a vision of shalom, explore how shalom was broken, and the effects of that brokenness on our relationships with God, ourselves, between genders, in the creation, in families, around issues of race, and relations between nations.
In each chapter, Harper explores the Genesis text, develops the idea of shalom, and through this weaves in other biblical material from both testaments. In the process, she weaves in her own life as a black woman, from a flawed family, experiencing issues with her own self-image, with relationships, and in the journey to pursue racial reconciliation and justice. As she does so, she develops a vision of the gospel that is so much larger than just me and my sin and Jesus rescuing me from hell so I can spend eternity with Him. It is a gospel that explains both God’s incredibly wonderful intention for the world, and how our choice to love something more than God and believe a lie damaged the fabric of relationships, broke shalom. From the sacrifice of an animal in Genesis 3 to the sacrifice of Christ, she explores how God has restored shalom, which is indeed very good news.
The final chapter was the most moving. She talks about death, and her own struggle with dealing with death, including her silence when a close friend lost her father. And she movingly describes the breakthrough she experienced when Richard Twiss, a Lakota Indian ministry leader was dying and she had a vision of anointing his feet with oil, confirmed by a friend who had a similar vision.
“On the way to the hospital, I read the story of Lazarus and the grave (see John 11:1-44) and felt called to read it over Richard. When I arrived, I learned during the day, Richard’s kidneys had failed. I shared the two visions–mine and my friend’s–with Katherine, Richard’s wife and cofounder of Wiconi. She gave me permission to read the passage over Richard and to anoint his feet. As I read, we all wept. I never noticed this before, but the passage begins with an explanation that Lazarus was the brother of Mary, the woman who anointed Jesus feet for burial. I anointed Richard’s feet and prayed.
. . .
“I can’t help but think back to the moment when I anointed Richard’s feet. It is clear now. We were anointing our brother’s feet for burial. As I moved the oil over his feet, I repeated the words that Richard’s editor had said to me when we talked earlier that night: “Beautiful are the feet of the one who brings good news.”
I think there are many like Lisa who have feared death, who never have been alongside someone as they were dying in the hope of Christ, the hope of Jesus’ resurrection, whose body with anointed feet was laid in a grave, only to walk out on those feet when the stone was rolled away. Lisa described this moment as “devastating and sweet.” She describes how we both grieve and yet hope because of this very good news.
This is a book for the believing person who is wondering, “is that all there is?” when they think of the gospel, particularly if they wonder about the relevance of the gospel to the brokenness they see around them. This is a book for new believers to help them understand the fullness of what they have believed. And it is a book that the person considering faith might also read, both because of its exposition of this “very good gospel” and for the honest yet winsome account Harper gives of her own growing understanding of that gospel.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via Blogging for Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.