In 2003, Christian activist Lisa Sharon Harper went on a cross-country tour of the U.S. and was left with a haunting question: “If I were to share the gospel with my ancestors, would it be ‘good news’ to them?”
Harper, who is a descendant of former slaves and Native Americans, feared that her “thin” understanding of the gospel would fail to speak to their experiences with poverty, oppression, and racism. The question propelled her into over a decade of biblical study, during which she came to a greater understanding of the gospel’s answers for systemic justice, peace between peoples, and freedom for the oppressed—as told in her new book: The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right (Waterbrook, June).
In what she called her biggest discovery while studying Genesis, Harper noticed a difference between the Greek and Hebrew readings of the text. “In the Hebrew text, ‘goodness’ exists in the relationships between things, not in the things itself [which it is for the Greeks],” Harper told PW. And according to Harper, “goodness” was the closest word the Hebrews had to the Greek concept of perfection. Since the Christian faith was introduced by the Hebrews, their interpretation led Harper to see a whole new picture of what God considers to be “perfect.”
“The work of the kingdom of God is not to make us perfect,” said Harper. “The work of the kingdom of God is to make us whole and reconnected to God, to each other, to the rest of creation, and to ourselves.”
She goes on to use her findings surrounding the concept of “shalom” found in Genesis to elevate the gospel from a package of certitudes to “good news” that is applicable today. Shalom, as it appears to Harper, indicates when God renounces shame, heals families, restores human dignity, and joins nations together to protect the environment.
“At its heart, shalom is about God’s vision for the emphatic goodness of all relationships,” Harper writes in The Very Good Gospel. She discovered the message, not only for her forbearers, but for herself and for today’s oppressed and victimized minorities. “The darkness is real,” Harper writes. “But God is positioned over it and confronts the darkness.”
Throughout the book, Harper weaves her biblical findings together with her own personal story and moments in history in order to inspire readers. After growing up in a white, South Jersey community, she understands how the concept of shalom can heal someone’s pain. “I was a child survivor of bullying, sexual abuse, and divorce,” Harper told PW. “I learned early in life that the bruised places are where God presses in and shows up.”
Her childhood made Harper sensitive to the suffering of others. She earned a master’s degree in Human Rights from Columbia University and founded a non-profit justice organization, New York Faith & Justice, to help end poverty in New York City. Today, she is the chief church engagement officer at Sojourners, a nonprofit organization committed to justice, peace, and environmental stewardship, and writes for Sojourners Magazine, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and Relevant Magazine.
Harper’s goal for The Very Good Gospel is to inspire hope and faith that God’s intervention can solve even the most intractable global conflicts in our world, including threats of terrorism and “the demon of racial inequality,” she said.
Shannon Marchese, senior editor of WaterBrook Multnomah, says Harper’s “book is appealing because Lisa brings her understanding of Scripture together with a real-life perspective on the issues and a well-researched historical basis,” she said. “And, ultimately, she points readers toward hope.”
Marketing and publicity plans for The Very Good Gospel include a national media campaign involving both Christian and mainstream outlets, weekly Facebook Live spot, and a multi-city book tour.