Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

J.R. Briggs on The Good News

Illustration by Nidhi Balwada from India

Illustration by Nidhi Balwada from India

This entry is a part of an on-going blog series called The Good News, which is taking place throughout the Easter Season, from Easter to Pentecost. A full list of the contributors can be found here. J.R.’s local city newspapers are The (Landsdale) Reporter and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Here is J.R. Briggs on the Good News.


A few years ago someone asked me this question: “If you had to describe the good news in five words or less what would you say?” It took me days to come with an answer that satisfied. After much thought, I eventually landed on my answer:


What I love most about these words is their commonality. They share an ethos of relationship. These words are not neutral or stagnant. There is action, an implication of moving towards people.

Grammatically, they share the small yet significant prefix re-, an indication that something must be done again. And if something must be done (or redone, as the case may be) its an indication that, as John Chandler wrote, all was not well.

Regardless of our background, upbringing or experience we know something deep within us: this is not the way it is supposed to be. One can’t read a newspaper or listen to the evening news without being aware of the brokenness and pain that is in our world.

But it’s the bad news that helps make the good news good.

Many people have attempted to communicate the story of good news by beginning the story with a cross or a manger. But the story actually starts much earlier – in a garden. A garden saturated with the Hebrew word shalom. In our current vernacular, shalom is often translated ’peace’ – but its meaning is much more robust than a mere absence of violence. Shalom is the essence of everything right and good. Perfection. Complete harmony. Truth. A reality that says, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.”

The bad news is that while that shalom once existed in a garden, it was God’s very own creation – humankind – who broke from that relational harmony. From harmony to division, a severe separation between God and humanity occurred.

But the good news is, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, that God was in constant search of man. His desire was to redeem, to reconcile. The Story of God and humanity is a compassionate, faithful God pursuing His broken, unfaithful creation back to himself.

His solution for this broken relationship came in the form of a relationship. His closest relationship: His Son Jesus.

The Bible recounts – with vivid detail and in great length – the constant pursuit of this loving God who provided – and still provides – Jesus as the clear solution to put back together that which was broken. The good news continues when we accept and embrace the life-altering rhythms of this Restorer Jesus and join him in his agenda of seeing the world renewed.

The Bible communicates the ending, the future, hope-filled finale to the Grand Story of God. Relationship is lovingly and painstakingly restored between God and humanity. Victory over brokenness is secured. Shalom returns. God’s hopes and dreams were realized. How does this happen? How else, but in relationship. And where does all of this happen? Where else, but in a garden.

J.R. Briggs is the founder and cultural cultivator of The Renew Community, a newly formed network of faith communities for skeptics + dreamers in Lansdale, PA in the greater Philadelphia region. He has authored three book projects and enjoys reading, skiing, hiking, playing racquetball, blogging and following the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. He and his wife Megan have a two-year old adopted son named Carter and are in the process of adopting a second child. His local newspapers are The (Lansdale) Reporter and The Philadelphia Inquirer, but on his day off he enjoys reading The New York Times and USAToday.

14 Responses to J.R. Briggs on The Good News

  1. Dustin James says:

    JR Briggs, it was helpful to think that life with Christ, “just doesn’t get any better than this.” No other story than the story of Jesus explains life better or gives a chance for us to live more fully.

  2. J.R. says:

    Dustin – the complete and understood shalom concept is, in fact, key to us understanding the true purpose of God’s grand story. Glad it was helpful.

  3. Keep restating those re- words. I don’t think we can be reminded of them enough. Love it.

  4. Sonja says:

    Jr Briggs,
    I like the r- words you came up with.
    About the Shalom meaning it does remind me to be in a state like a ‘flow’,musicians can experience that too like a ‘complete harmony’ where it simply ‘can’t get better than this’.I like the meaning too of Shalom.Thanks for remember me of that.
    How would you disern a false peace and a good peace?And how can you as a believer turn a false peace to a real peace without causing a division first?
    the peace sign is used in all cultures.

  5. jrwoodward says:


    I’ve always enjoyed the rich meaning of Shalom, because it is a holistic concept that includes living in harmony with God, one another, ourselves and all of creation. I love how Cornelius Plantinga defined shalom in “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.” He defined shalom as “the way things ought to be.” So thanks for framing the good news around such a “robust” idea.

    So while things start in a garden, won’t things end in a city with some gardens? What are your thoughts on that?

  6. esther says:

    i love the imagery that the garden in all its perfections provides. growing up my church experience focused mostly on the negative of the garden thus not leaving much room in the story for a new earth, as well as a new heaven!

  7. J.R. says:

    Sonja –

    You talked about the ‘flow’ of shalom. Great word, especially in regards to music.
    Personally, I connect with the word ‘rhythm’ (also a musical term).
    We see Jesus’ rhythm and pattern of life in the gospels.

    Matthew 11:28-30 in the Message paraphrase talks about the invitation to take on the rhythms of Jesus. Jesus’ invites us to “live in the unforced rhythms of grace.” Shalom is an expression of the reality of natural and graceful rhythms.

  8. Pingback: Guest blog: “What is the Good News?” — J.R. Briggs

  9. J.R. says:

    JR (Woodward) –

    You asked about the end of all things being in a city with many gardens. Yes. The beginning of Revelation 22 speaks of promise of a Restored Eden – back to shalom.

    1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

    I love the beautifully poetic and hope-filled line: “The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
    I find the juxtaposition unique: the return of shalom happens in a garden in the midst of a city. The populated place of life for humankind and the growth and (re)birth of life at its basic form. The imagery is stunning.

  10. jrwoodward says:

    I like that “A garden in the midst of a city.”

  11. Sonja says:

    Jr Briggs,
    Thanks, i like ‘live in the unforced rhythms of grace’ .

  12. Ali says:

    I love the re words and activeness of this post. Those words all require a response and action. Love how you brought us back to shalom. Great Job!!

  13. Kathy says:

    To both J R’s: there’s a sustainability movement afoot called urban agriculture. Not just random community gardens, but a planned use of fertile, idle land to bring food, employment and beauty into city neighborhoods. I wrote a story about it for the newspaper this weekend. http://tinyurl.com/cbr23k

    So, perhaps shalom isn’t either a garden or a city, it’s both! Sometimes we miss God’s work because we’re too busy analyzing the metaphor to realize how we embody it. Oops, I better not give too much away about my upcoming post.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.