Join us for the Fifth Annual Hearts & Minds Pittsburgh Summer Lecture featuring Lisa Sharon Harper — author of “The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right”

You are warmly invited to spend an evening with nationally-known author and Hearts & MindsFifth Annual Pittsburgh Summer Lecture.jpg friend Lisa Sharon Harper at our Fifth Annual Hearts & Minds Pittsburgh Summer Lecture, Tuesday evening, July 26th starting at 7:00.

We will host this public lecture, conversation and author reception at Robert Morris University, in their lovely Sewall Center – they are located in Moon Township, right off the main drag there, out near the Pittsburgh airport.  We are thrilled to have Lisa presenting on themes from her book The Very Good Gospel: How Everything That Is Wrong Can Be Made Right (recently released by Waterbrook Press; $19.99; on sale for 20% OFF; $15.99.)

There is no charge to attend, we’ll have some snacks, a time for her to autograph books, maybe even a few other surprises along the way.

If you know anyone in Eastern Ohio or Northern West Virginia, or anywhere in Western Pennsylvania we hope you will share this invitation with them.

Or, if you want an autographed book but cannot join us, you can let us know and we’ll get one for you.

Beth and I view this as a way to say thank you to our many Western Pennsylvania-area customers and our friends there; in a way it is a Hearts & Minds party, with friends from churches, the CCO, camps and conference centers, denominational folk, nonprofits and para-church ministries, regional seminaries and schools, Christian radio, and friends in the publishing world, joining up to hang out a bit, shop at a huge book display we’ll have set up, and meet an author we truly esteem.

It really would mean a lot to see y’all.  And you’ll love hearing Lisa Sharon Harper.

A portion of our bookstore business is mail order and while we aren’t as faceless as some
on-line providers, we still long to truly greet our supporters. 
this summer lecture series we’ve connected face-to-face with some of
our mail order customers who we’ve never actually met. What joy!

Some of our business involves doing off-site events — Wee Kirk, Presby
stuff, APCE staff, college talks, UCC clergy gatherings, Lutheran
Synods — and, again, we value seeing our “on the road” supporters. We
cherish our diverse and ecumenical friendships, customers from
throughout the area.




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Most of our friends know that we used to live in what was then a gritty East Liberty neighborhood and worked in Pittsburgh – Beth for a while in the CCO home office and in a residential home for persons with special needs, I with the Thomas Merton Center, in a Christian bookstore in Monroeville, and on staff at a Presbyterian church in McKeesport, just outside of the ‘burgh. We were born and raised in Central PA and have lived here now for going on 35 years, but our time in the Steel City was formative.

When we started underwriting this annual Pittsburgh event part of our dream was to honor a theological truth we learned through CCO, through an itinerant Christian philosopher and Abraham Kuyper scholar with whom we studied named Pete Steen, and from friends who had studied with Francis & Edith Schaeffer: God cares about all of life, about every sphere of life; it is this world Christ is redeeming, and therefore we need to “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5) in order to not only “think Christianly” but to live faithfully, working out with redemptive practices the implications of God’s gift of salvation for every zone of culture. The life of the mind and the project of cultural renewal are part and parcel of any mature vision of Christian spirituality.  Sometimes we called it “whole life discipleship.”  According to Colossians 1, the old song is wrong: the “things of earth” do not “grow strangely dim” but are illuminated, made more important and lovely as they are being redeemed by their rightful King. As Colossians 1:18 puts it, Christ is to be preeminent in “all things.”

But, we’ve learned, that not everyone has learned to think about “all things” — or even most things — as the servants of the Lord Psalm 119 says they are.  From rocks to rockets, from city streets to science labs to laws to recipes to films to all manner to technological gizmos, the Bible says “all things are they servants, Lord.” What in the world does that mean?  It seems to me we need Christian thinkers to help us learn to think like the writers of the Bible did.

So our years in Western Pennsylvania were significant, raising life long questions for me, even as they are farther away in the rear view mirror these days. It is one of the reasons we enjoy hosting an author appearance with a lecture like this every summer (at the same time our friends at the CCO are having their own staff training gathering there at Robert Morris University.) It honors our past and celebrates what we are trying to do by curating the sort of book selection we do.

We do hope you can join us, or at least help us spread the word.

Also in those years, significantly, we learned from the CCO about the importance of racial reconciliation; even in the 1970s they regularly featured conversations about what was later called “diversity” by the culture at large. The leader of the CCO in those years (Robert Long) had done urban ministry in Harlem and introduced us to radical followers of Jesus like Bill Milliken – who is still showing God’s love for urban kids as a nationally-known advocate for educational reform in high-risk schools. (For the few that recall that name from late 60s Western PA you John-Perkins.jpgmay enjoy knowing that Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC hosted him not long ago at an event where we were selling books — it was such fun to re-connect with him, talking with Milliken about Bob Long and Reid Carpenter and Mon Valley urban Young Life guys and reformational thinkers like Pete Steen.) In those years CCO introduced us to black leaders such as Bill Panell, Tom Skinner, Barbara Williams-Skinner, Carl Ellis, Elwood Ellis, John Perkins (whose connections in PIttsburgh even figures nicely in one of the biographies about him.)

The awful state of race and urban justice in our land — from Alton Sterling, Philado Castile and the snipers who killed Dallas police officers to the systemic disorder of mass incarceration documented so powerfully in Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption — is something we’ve been talking about, and selling books about, for decades.  It is, sadly, as pressing now as ever in my memory.

martin luther dates.jpgI recall a quote by Martin Luther that I used often in our Pittsburgh years – Lutheran scholars might tell me if it is apocryphal. He is said to have said something about relating the gospel to “the burning issues of the day” or, in another version, “where the battle most rages” and that to fail to do so is to fail the gospel itself. 

Christ is Lord, the gospel of grace is true good news of a Kingdom breaking into human history; if Christianity offers a message of salvation coming via incarnation, then we must, we simply must, relate God’s grace and the teachings of Jesus not just to human hearts but to human hurts, not just to abstract spiritual things but to real life in the real world, including debates about politics, economics, structures and systems, ideas and initiatives. Social concerns and cultural engagement are not incidental or tangential to the work of the church but are its end-point: we proclaim God’s redeeming work in the cross of Christ and with Holy Spirited resurrection power we bear witness to the substantial healing and surprising hope seen as we erect signposts pointing to God’s renewed creation. Evangelism is a recruitment effort for the rightful King’s epic rescue project and we invite people to experience God’s mercy and enjoy eternal life, which starts now, as we take up citizenship in His Kingdom, “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

This is why we do the annual summer lectureship, to remind those of us who have been talking and living out these things for decades that it is true, and that it matters, even if sometimes our own churches don’t always proclaim such a down-to-Earth, fully Biblical, Kingdom vision.  As C.S. Lewis reminded us, we sometimes settle for lesser visions, content with other stuff, mere mudpies.

We must learn to live “in the world but not of it” as it says near the end of the Gospel of John.  As the famous fourth century African bishop put it, we live in the tension of inhabiting both the city of man and the city of God. 

I like what Calvin Seerveld wrote in Rainbows for the Fallen World, his dense book about aesthetics, when he said “culture is not optional.”  That is, we can’t decide not to “engage culture” because it is something we always do as humans made in the image of the creator God — one way or another. Even the monks and the Amish, in their rejection of culture, are, in their own way, being social creatures and interacting in some manner with the world. We are all always either serving the true God in ways that are coherent and proper or we are serving some kinds of idols, living disordered lives, “worldly” and tainted by idols. This is the only world we’ve got, and live in it we must, for better or worse. The question is how our understanding of the gospel informs us, transforms us, and what that means for our daily living, our insight about the world, and the nature of faithful lifestyles in the deformed society in which God has placed us. 

As that Pete Steen character used to ask, do we assume a dualism between the so-called sacred churchy and spiritual parts of life and the secular, seemingly profane parts of life? If so, we are “functional atheists” living mostly as if God didn’t really matter much in the rough and tumble of the real world of daily life. If Jesus is Lord, we are to be His ambassadors in all of life, being impossible people.jpgsalt and light and leaven, as Jesus Himself put it.  We are to seek first God’s reign, Christ’s Kingdom, His glory.  There is much wrong with the world to which we must say “no!” (Perhaps you recall the long review I did recently of the challenging new book by Os Guinness called Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization; he helps us think this through in necessarily serious ways.) And there is much good, or course, to which we may say “yes!”

We need discernment, insight, wisdom for, as the old hymn puts it, “the living of these days.”

To do this, or so it seems to us, we need books.

Please allow me to write that line again.

To do all this, we simply must be readers. We need books and helpful booksellers.

Reading for the Common Good.jpgAs C. Christopher Smith argues in Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish books can be transforming for us as we slow down, think about important things, take in new ideas, allowing the cadences and insights to shape us as we form bonds that reading together can create.
(Read a short piece Chris just published in Sojo making a lovely case for reading and talking together. Yes!)

I know you reading this realize that good readers become the best leaders. Heaven calls us to think well, care deeply, get involved. Reading matters, and meeting authors of good books is a very special treat. It is one reason why organizations like the CCO hold their big Jubilee conference, so good content from wise leaders can be passed on, face to face.  We hope you agree.

The Christian church has long seen books as tools for discipleship – of course the solas and the new catechisms of the Protestant reformation were promoted by the newly invented printing press; Luther himself nearly became a celebrity for his prolific writings, distributed widely by the antecedents of pamphleteers and Christian literacy campaigns and modern day religious booksellers. Methodist John Wesley’s “method” was to form reading groups, of course, small bands of folks reading and talking and praying together. This gave rise to groups of readers such as the ones formed by William Wilberforce in their efforts to reform morals and stop slavery in eighteenth century England. Did you know that US pilgrims brought a printing press along on the Mayflower as they set out to create a culture in the new world?  Books are important for anyone wanting to make a difference, anyone seeking to love their neighbors and engage culture well.

Serious Dreams cover.jpgThe authors in my own little collection of essays for young adults, Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life say this over and over: we need a Christian mind, we need to take up our vocations with intentional consideration; African American leader John Perkins in his chapter congratulated college graduates for learning to develop their personal libraries — this from a man who only went to third grade! My own chapter, delivered to graduates of the graduate programs at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA, drew on I Chronicles 12:32 which mentions those who “understood the times and knew what God’s people should do.”  Oh how we need books today, to inform and guide issachar poster.pngand provoke us to deep conversations about “what God’s people should do.”

And so we offer books for world changers, Kingdom of God citizens, I Chronicles 12:32 people, dreamers of dreams. We describe important titles to make us think, authors to help us along the way, resources to enlarge the heart and stimulate the mind, to help us relate Sunday worship and Monday work, as we sometimes say.  Books to help us relate prayer and politics. 

When we get a chance to honor authors by bringing our customers and friends into live conversation with them, we feel like we’re doing our good part of our job.  Or, conversely put, when we bless our customers by giving them a chance to meet a real, live, nationally-known author, we think we’re doing a good part of our job.

We love selling books, but there is something pretty wonderful about introducing our customers to those who write the books.

lisa head shot real.jpgLisa Sharon Harper is one of those authors we want our friends to meet.

She is, in the language of 1 Chronicles 12:32, a “daughter of Issachar.”

Lisa has co-written two books, one with a point/counter-point approach, done in collaboration with a conservative political thinker and OP pastor, D.C. Innes (Left, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics, recently revised and re-issued by Elevate Books) and the powerful, multi-authored Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith on which, by the way, I have a long endorsing blurb. It was nicely published by Zondervan.  We will have them both there the night of the 26th.

The Very Good Gospel.jpgHer brand new book, which I’ve mentioned before, is The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right (Waterbrook; $19.99.) We have it at at special sale price, too — 20% off, making it just $15.99.

list sharon harper talking.jpgLisa Sharon Harper is the sort of author who writes with a fire in her bones, a deep desire to tell her story, a passion to get us to think, to raise questions and point a way forward.  As a black woman who now works for our old friends at Sojourners – Jim Wallis did the first author appearance we ever did, I think, offering a talk at our store for 25 people in the early 1980s – she has a lot to say about “the burning issues of the day.” She has a remarkable amount of experience — she has organized in Ferguson and preached at national racial justice events these past months; she has prayed on the streets with environmental activists and she has gone on pilgrimage along the infamous “Trail of Tears.” She believes deeply that God’s grace shown in Christ Jesus is the key to the mysteries of human life, from the most personal poignant matters to the most complex public affairs, and that the gospel offers the truest vision of hope for a very broken world. 

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right is a splendid book, easy to read, full of stories as well as profound analysis of the way the gospel relates to the world in which we live. At some parts it is simply glorious.

Given that Ms. Harper is known for speaking about racial justice and being an advocate for the poor and marginalized, it is a delight to hear so much here about her own inner life, her struggles and personal faith journey.

She talks about her girlhood, her joys and fears and sadnesses (she went to an almost all-white school, so there are the not-uncommon experiences of being teased, concerns about her hair, her skin tone, etc. etc. etc.) Lisa bravely shares how Christ befriended her and yet how she struggled – she writes about her anxieties about weight and some subsequent eating disorders and about coping with the anguish of a broken home. She is vulnerable, sharing her longing to be deeply loved and truly accepted. I was moved to tears at one point as she tells of praying for healing, of her inner anguishing and how she learned to increasingly trust the God who loves her so, who wants her. Issues of shame circle around and around, it seems, and even though she is a national leader for a progressive sort of social action, her deeply felt, evangelical faith is, time and again, her balm in Gilead. Citing Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1:5, she writes, “The whole of our lives is a journey to return home.”  Oh, if we all felt such homecoming assurance that we are the beloved of God with a place at Christ’s table.

Near the end of the book she is led in nearly miraculous ways to minister to a dying friend, to share in a ritual of grieving with others in their time of bereavement.  When Lisa talks about God’s real presence and leading in daily life, about the way Christ’s gospel is the basis for renewal and hope, she isn’t just spouting a cheap social gospel or trendy liberation theology. She walks with the God who loves her, she serves the King who claims her, and she brings a candor and clarity about how hard it is to live into these promises of God’s presence and peace. She beautifully reminds us that we can experience the occasional miracle and know the in-breaking of spiritual renewal.

lisa praying on the street.jpgHarper is admittedly a professional organizer, equipping church folks to be more intentionally involved in matters of peace and justice, environmental stewardship and multi-ethnic ministry, but The Very Good Gospel is more than a handbook to social change. It is a testimony of one woman’s journey, a story of God’s healing, of the Spirit’s presence and power, even as it guides us into confrontation with the principalities and powers.  This is full gospel ministry!

very good gospel partial cover .jpgLisa’s book is largely arranged in two major sections.

The first part is her systematic telling of the overview of the Biblical story, drawing much on Genesis 1 – 3, talking about a good, good creation, blessed and well-ordered with God’s shalom, managed by humans made in God’s image; a torn and vandalized shalom, cursed by the fall, and a promise of redemption, offered in mercy and hope by a covenant making God.  Some of us talk about the “chapters” of the unfolding drama of redemption, naming them creation/fall/redemption/restoration, and she does this with close attention to the Biblical text.  She does this with lively and fresh language.  She highlights the gift of shalom and the gospel of reconciliation.

In a great foreword, Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes,

Lisa Sharon Harper has written a bracing, generative exposition of the elemental narrative of gospel faith. She has done so by sharing the sequence of the “very good” of creation, “the wreckage of the fall,” and the “very good” of the gospel of reconciliation and restoration.

There are lovely reflection questions at the end of each of the chapters in Very Good Gospel, making it an ideal book for small groups or adult Bible classes or campus ministry studies. She asks us to enter the story of creation, marveling in the wonders of God’s good world, be honest about our sin and brokenness, and embrace the deepest questions Jesus himself asked.  She asks us to ponder how we have said “yes” to God’s invitation, to consider the resurrection, to do an exercise to help us experience the gift of living water.  I do hope this book is taken up by small groups and classes – it is well worth talking about.

These opening chapters – taking us from a good garden to a new City — provide the strong and essential framework for the rest of the book which works out some of the implications of God’s plan for restoration and healing in every area of life.

Very-Good-Gospel-720x470.jpgAs the book unfolds, Lisa wisely and insightfully offers ways to apply the goodness of this grand narrative and the gospel to the complexities of modern life. Each chapter draws on the image of restoring shalom, of embracing and living into God’s work of reconciliation.  For instance, there is a chapter called “Shalom with Self: Shame and Freedom” and another on shalom between genders. 

Her study of Paul’s writing on women is insightful, a moderate sort of Biblical feminism; she draws on Carolyn Custis James and her recent book Malestrom  who “marvels at Paul’s conversion and its impact on how he engaged with women. She points out,” Lisa tells us, “that not only did Paul’s conversion catapult him across ethnic barriers into ministry with gentiles, but also across gender barriers into equal partnership with women.”

In a powerful section called “Restoring Ezer” she tells us:

All the way back to the days of slavery in America, every women in my mother’s direct line of ancestry suffered sexual violence. This include me. My great aunt died in the woods after being raped by her uncle. My third great grandmother, the last adult slave in our family, bore seventeen children by five “husbands.” Family lore says her husbands kept dying or being sold away. It also is possible that she was forced to breed children on a plantation in South Carolina. She herself was half-white, likely the product of a rape. Most of the women in our family suffered in silence, and some suffered again when they raised their voices to name their perpetrators. Fathers, cousins, even sisters and pastors minimized the pain and chastised the crushed ones for disturbing the peace.

Later, when she talks about God’s empowerment after she rejected her evangelical leaders forbidding her to teach (because she was a woman) and God’s healing when she attended to her own sexual molestation, most readers will want to cheer! It is always good to see folks move away from toxic faith towards empowerment and health.  This is an honest book, but one with much gladness as the gospel of Christ over and over offers transformation, new chances, fresh starts, real hope.


There is a good chapter on shalom restored in our relationship with the Earth. It is very, very good.

There is a chapter about shalom restored among broken families, there is a powerful chapter on race. As I might say regarding the other chapters, these are worth the price of the whole book – well worth reading carefully and talking about together.


In yet another she shows Christian principles for creating international policies that could enhance national security and global peace. Her views on Godly governance and principles for good citizenship are themselves very helpful  these days; her telling of being on a learning tour to the Balkan war zones and visiting the Nazi death camps is moving although most of this chapter is Bible study without venturing much about policy.

Her chapter on how to be witnesses to this kind of Biblical vision of peace is generative for anyone wondering about how to do full-orbed evangelism in these modern days.  Her stories of public justice work done faithfully by local churches are inspiring, helping us relate word and deeds.  Again, the discussion questions are useful.

Lisa Sharon Harper’s final chapter on death and dying offers a wonderful, moving close to this grand telling of God’s work in the world and the Spirit’s presence in our most tender, deepest moments. But, again, even here, she doesn’t miss the public and social consequences of thinking about life and death.  Her linking the “small deaths” of change – letting go of death-dealing ways and “choosing life” is extraordinary.

fix our eyes on jesus.jpgMs Harper’s reminder to turn to Jesus (she cites Hebrews 12:1-2) and the need to embrace a humility that leads to repentance and  renewed trust in God – as risky as it may feel–is beautiful.  For some of us, we can “hear” this evangelical truth and spiritual counsel because she has shown us how relevant and real it all is. These are no pious bromides or cliches, offered abstractly away from the context of our raw world of injustice and idols. Lisa brings together the best of  social justice thinking, lots of Biblical exegesis and theological reflection, and classic spiritual formation practices to bring us to this very place where we choose life.  We have genuine hope because alienation and brokenness and separation does not win. Christ reigns and this is very good news indeed.

Her closing words, after another fine set of reflection questions to help us ponder and process all these inspiring words and challenging insights, are these:

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.

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To show that we are not alone in thinking this to be a very wonderful book, please read these very impressive endorsements by some very impressive leaders.

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 many books, including Let Justice Roll Down

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 

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  7 and For the Love

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

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”

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

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, author of Pursuing Justice and Create vs. Copy

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