ABOUT THE BOOK:
God once declared everything in the world “very good.”
Can you imagine it?
A Vision of Hope for a Broken World
Shalom is what God declared.
Shalom is what the Kingdom of God looks like.
Shalom is when all people 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 in every single human.
Shalom is our calling as followers of Jesus’s gospel. It is the vision God set forth in the Garden and the restoration God desires for every relationship.
What can we do to bring shalom to our nations, our communities, and our souls? Through a careful exploration of biblical text, particularly the first three chapters of Genesis, Lisa Sharon Harper shows us what “very good” can look like today, even after the Fall.
Because despite our anxious minds, despite division and threats of violence, God’s vision remains: Wholeness for a hurting world. Peace for a fearful soul. Shalom.
I loved this book! It was a breath of fresh air. I was impressed by Harper’s writing style that draws the reader into the unfolding story. Usually this is not the case with a book of this kind and I was pleasantly surprised. This book also has a depth to it that was unexpected as well. Harper touches on tough subjects, and unfortunately things we often don’t think about. I enjoyed how Harper sprinkles her personal story throughout the book. She shares her hurts and struggles and how she had to find her own shalom with God.
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 narrative 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 follower of Jesus. Harper provides detailed history, statistics, and vibrant stories that reveal the possibility of cultures redemption. The reader will be exposed and brought 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 understanding redemption of cultural issues we face today.
Grab a copy and begin to envision the world as God created and described it “Very Good” and how we can partner with Him in his redemptive and restorative work.
The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right
The very good gospel answers the heart cry of our age. Our ransacked world is crying out for the restoration of the governance of God and the shalom it brings. As the body of Christ lives out the very good gospel in pews, in households, and in the public square, it is partnering with God to restore very good (tov me’od) to the world. It is exercising God’s kind of dominion (radah) within the church. And it calls our leaders to do the same in society, to exercise the kind of dominion that cultivates the image (tselem) of God on earth while serving and protecting all of God’s creation.
Let it be so.
There is a way back to shalom. It is the way of God, demonstrated through the person of Jesus and made possible through his death and resurrection.
This is the good news. This is the very good gospel.
Harper begins the book by laying out what she believes is this “very good gospel.” The Gospel includes the reconciliation of the individual to God, self, and community. But it goes deeper. The Gospel involves pursuing justice and righteousness. It is news of God’s shalom, where we move into the vision of the Kingdom. Harper begins this conversation by looking at contextual issues. She reminds us that the world we live in has allowed slavery, poverty, racism, etc., to flourish. Shalom involves overcoming these realities, so that we might return to the original vision of God. The point is not whether there once was a golden age where everything was wonderful—a truly “edenic” existence—but that this vision of shalom might take root and begin transforming us.
If we’re to engage in this conversation, we need a starting point, and Harper finds it in Genesis 1. There we see revealed God’s vision of creation, which God declared to be very good. If this is true, then the goal will be returning to this model or template. Three words stand out in relation to shalom—image (tselem), likeness (dmuwth), and dominion (radah). We are created in the image and likeness of God so that we might engage in dominion, which she thinks of in terms of stewardship. This idea of dominion will appear regularly in the book, and she uses the term in such a way to encourage our sense of responsibility for the world in which we live. What is involved here is recognizing our agency in returning creation to God’s declaration that what God created is very good.
God created all things and deemed them very good, even the sea monsters! But as the story continues, things go wrong. There are two trees, one of which is placed off-limits. But humanity chooses to eat of its fruit, so that they might know shalom, but humanity chose otherwise. Sin, separation, took hold. Interconnected relationships were broken. She writes that “thirteen chapters after all relationships in creation were declared very good, nations are at war. Indeed, “separation looks like distrust, shame, confusion, and domination” (p. 49). The story doesn’t end there, however. As she notes the remainder of the Bible, from Genesis 12 through Revelation speaks of God’s “plan to redeem the world and restore shalom.”
The remainder of the book, from chapter four to the end, is focused on this work of redemption. It focuses on restoring shalom. First with God, and then with self. After that we explore the need for shalom between genders, with creation, in the midst of broken families. From there we look at how God restores shalom in relationship to race and between nations. She reminds us that the restoration of shalom requires us to bear witness to God’s vision. It means standing up for justice and what is right. It is a call to experience shalom here within creation, as God intended.
In her final chapter, Harper explores the question of death and resurrection. She notes the causes of fear of death. She addresses the myths that we can evade it. There were two trees. We ate of one and we were cut off from the other. In death, we are invited to share in the tree of life. In other words, the relationship with God has been restored. “Separation does not win” (p. 202).
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. The opinions expressed here are my own.