Don't let the glib title put you off. The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right by Lisa Sharon Harper is a solid primer on the sociopolitical implications of Christianity. Harper outlines a careful biblical argument for activism while maintaining an evangelical accent on personal salvation. In fact, she claims, emphasizing only one or the other of these dual impetuses of Scripture leads to a “thin faith.” To nurture a “thick faith,” she urges Christians “to study Scripture in light of the writers’ historic and cultural contexts, the original meanings of words, and the biblical text in the context of the teachings of church fathers and mothers.”
Providing a template for that kind of rigorous exegesis, Harper explains what it meant, exactly, when God called Creation “very good.” She reviews the Fall, the “hinge point of history,” as the crumbling of humanity’s relationships with God, each other, and creation itself. She then traces the subsequent arc of Scripture as the re-institution of shalom, a return of God’s peace to all that is broken.
Referencing examples from Scripture and contemporary life, Harper investigates the tensions that disrupt shalom within families and between genders, races, and nations. Drawing from her own experiences as a social justice advocate and as a single woman of color, Harper’s personalization of these issues is compelling.
Balancing that winsome authenticity, though, are a few of my reservations. Harper offers scant acknowledgment of the centrality of the church as the Body of Christ, omitting it entirely from her “relationship governance inventory.” She embraces public policy rather uncritically as a primary means to address poverty and oppression. Her idealism about the reestablishment of shalom is untethered to any discussion of theological eschatology. Some readers might legitimately wonder, along with me, whether everything can indeed be made right before the return of Christ.
Still, there is much to learn from Harper’s insider perspective on justice issues and from her clear delineation of a biblically-based hope for shalom. Reflective questions at the end of each chapter makes this book a fruitful resource for individual or small group study. (WaterBrook)