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Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  259 ratings  ·  55 reviews
"I am a man torn in two. And the gospel I inherited is divided."

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove grew up in the Bible Belt in the American South as a faithful church-going Christian. But he gradually came to realize that the gospel his Christianity proclaimed was not good news for everybody. The same Christianity that sang, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound" also perpetuated ra
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published March 13th 2018 by InterVarsity Press (first published 2018)
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4.02  · 
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 ·  259 ratings  ·  55 reviews

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Erin *Help I’m Reading and I Can’t Get Up*
Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in order to produce an honest review.

This book is a passionate, emotional look at the Southern evangelical Gospel and its inextricable rootedness in racism and slavery. It is charitable, Scriptural, theological, and personal. The author's deep ties to his state (North Carolina, where I also live!) and to the work being done here, particularly the work of the Rev. Dr. William Barber II-- whose books I highly recommend-- drive the feeling that this
Adam Shields
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Short review: “There is no way to preach the gospel without proclaiming that the unjust systems of this world must give way to the reign of a new King."

Reconstructing the Gospel is an attempt to work through the problem of sin and culture infecting the presentation and living out of the gospel. A gospel that justifies slavery, racism and oppression of the poor and marginalized is not the same gospel that Jesus was presenting. I remember reading John MacArthur's commentary on Luke. MacArthur spec
This is a small but powerful book that helped me define and understand better the concerns that have been growing inside me about (white) American Christianity. While I have refused to give up my faith, I've struggled for the past several years to find a church that I felt comfortable in, that didn't feel segregated, ignorant, or even racist in major or minor ways. I haven't really attended church since the majority of American Evangelicals elected their latest "Family values" candidate, a thric ...more
Shannon Lewis
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Mandatory reading for all Evangelicals. Timely & relevant, Jonathan cuts to the soul of the significant issues of race & power within the church. I'm going to be reading this over & over to take it all in. I am pretty sure, come the end of 2019, this book will be my "Book of the Year." Thank you for writing it, Jonathan!
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A personal story of reflection regarding the Christianity in which the author was raised and his reckoning and grappling with its roots in and complicity with slavery, white supremacy, and oppression, and the attempt to "reconstruct" the Gospel to be more consistent with the Good News of Jesus.

The author is white and shares his story of having to acknowledge how churches in the American South perpetuated oppression both in the days of slavery and long afterward, and how it remains embodied in mu
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You Need To Read This

A few months ago, one of my white nieces asked a good black friend of mine what period of history she would choose to live in, if she could pick from any. Her response, so calm and poised, said that she was very content to live as she was today, because people who looked like her couldn’t live with the rights she had today in other decades in history. This moment stuck with me - and exposed the ignorance in my own heart. I didn’t - and don’t - have a worldview or an answer t
Joel Wentz
Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book surprised me in a few ways, and it's easy to recommend to people immersed in the American-Evangelical tradition of Christianity.

Overall, the book is much more 'memoir' and personal reflection than I was expecting. While the work is saturated in theological reflection, it is primarily expressed in personal language. Certain chapters feel lifted from a diary, which is absolutely not a bad thing, as long as you don't go into it expecting scriptural exegesis and didactic instruction. Wilso
Aug 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Actual Rating: 3.5 stars

Reconstructing the Gospel tackles critical issues at the intersection of race and the church, through American history to the present day. It challenges long held beliefs about how American Christians "should" vote and meaningfully deconstructs the (often problematic) role of the church through history in slavery, segregation, and latter forms of injustice.

In a nutshell, this had a lot of amazing nuggets and deeply thought-provoking passages, but a writing style that tend
Apr 04, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Written by a man filled with guilt from a prejudice he learned at home and fueled by his church, he assumes all view the world through a racial lens and that all white people share his guilt. The book is offensive to anyone who believes all are created by God to be equal. Perhaps this book has more meaning to someone who grew up experiencing Jim Crow laws and didn't see them as wrong. Never having believed they were just I can't assume the authors guilt just because I happen to be white.
May 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
The content in this book is good but I don’t think it is organized quite well enough. I also think it needed to be fleshed out more - whether that was more of JWH’s story or more historical context (or both).
A strong interpretation of our need to reconstruct the Gospel being preached from all too many pulpits and persons to reflect the Good News that is Jesus Christ.
If it is Good News for one, it is Good News for all. Without segregation or discrimination. Without support of one people group over another.
Jonathan Wilson=Hartgrove presents strong examples of what has been and what needs to be.. A thorough representation of his own life experiences of life in America's south; bringing his first hand
Amanda Samuel
Jan 26, 2019 rated it liked it
I found the framework of the second half of the book to be helpful as a way forward and a picture of what church could actually look like, and the contrast he paints between “the Christianity of the slaveholder and the Christianity of a Christ”. I’m particularly interested now in learning more about the Rutba house and the current Poor People’s Campaign because of this book. Jonathan says something at the end about how he’s done his job as a writer well if the reader has come to the end of the b ...more
Chris Schutte
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wilson-Hartgrove shares his journey as a Southern Evangelical, demonstrating how white supremacy is deeply engrained in the history of American Christianity. The author has found new life in following Jesus alongside African-American Christians, slowly letting go of "slaveholder religion" for the faith that inspired the Freedom Movement. Thought-provoking and important.
Jul 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's been almost two months since I finished this book, and the review is way overdue.

I believe that this is a very important book for the Christian subculture of our day. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove has given us some sobering things to ponder, both as a church and as a society.

When I began reading this, I was intrigued by the subtitle, "Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion." Surely, I thought, this is not relevant to me. I have never owned slaves, and as far as I know, no one in my family fo
Sherrie Kolb
I think Mr. Wilson-Hartgrove had a religious experience culturally about his relationship with white privilege and how he inherited it from generations of his ancestors, many of whom were slaveowners. I thought his autobiographical missive was mostly personal and an oversimplification of the many cultural complexities of race relations.

I was very excited to read about his theory of the gospel being interpreted through slaveholder's eyes and preached as a message of ironclad submissiveness of the
Matt Grant
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: i-own, 2019-reading
I'm frequently amazed at how often Christian pastors and speakers can be so eloquent and thoughtful from the pulpit and then write a book and manage to say so much without really saying anything at all.

I was excited to read this book especially after Frederick Douglass, because many of the same themes of slaveholding Christianity carry over here. But I felt like I needed more about Wilson-Hartgrove's background, his decision to move to a majority black neighborhood (which opens complex issues o
Nov 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: christianity
Ok, so if you have realized how profoundly hollow and rotten much of White evangelicalism is, and if you were brought up in this tradition and have found this realization to be beyond devestating, then this book is for you... for a time.

This book is poorly titled. No reconstrution happens, or it barely gets started in the last chapter or two. This book is a lament on the state of things. As lamentations go, it is repetitive. If you are still in this place and are feeling lonely, this book is pro
Maggie Boyd
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The unfortunate truth is that racial politics tend to have a Christian identity in America. From the creation of the Southern Baptist Church to support slave holding Christians to the burning of the cross by the KKK to backing candidates making racist statements in exchange for supreme court justices, American Christians live out their faith in a manner that often sends out a quiet, unintended message of what they truly value. To the God who said, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your po ...more
Ethan West
Jun 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
I agree with the premise of this book. There is an undercurrent of racism that permeates most if not all of society today. I have been and am guilty of this very thing. And in my very recent and very very limited scope of this issue I think that there is a different way that this issue should be and is being addressed. I can't articulate it as well as I would like to but I would highly recommend reading a book called White Awake by Daniel Hill. White Awa ...more
Jeffrey Kahl
Oct 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Personally, I found the book to be a very helpful narrative offering good insights into the ongoing conversation about race in this country, and in particular the historical reality of Evangelicalism’s failure to achieve authentic racial reconciliation. I think it makes a person better equipped to understand how persons of color look at the same country through radically different eyes.

I don’t believe that the author gives the whole story, nor does he attempt to. He generalizes quite frequently
Alistair Chalmers
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
When I first saw the title ‘Reconstructing the Gospel’ I must say that I was very intrigued. Was the book going to say that we have gotten the gospel wrong? Was it going to suggest ways in which we could fix the ‘divided gospel’? I must say that whilst the title intrigued me, the content was more of an analysis of the American church and the history of what Wilson-Hartgrove describes as ‘slaveholder religion’.

Possibly one of the problems, when I was reading the book, was that the division that
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The phrase "I am a man torn in two" is precisely how I've felt in the past few years. Reading these words in this book put precise language to my feelings.

It is quite the journey to understand "white privilege", "whiteness", and "antiracism" without feeling guilty for the color of my skin. I'm still not all the way there. Yet, this book helps me come to terms with these issues and I can continue to walk in faith.

We have to understand the insanity of our "whiteness" and the captivity it causes
Keith Beasley-Topliffe
Apr 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove begins with his experience of cultural disconnect as a white youth leader in a black church and how the kids taught him about being black. From there he goes on to explore the very different assumptions of what he calls slave-holder religion and the message of Christ. The difference between a call to submit to wealthy white men in return for heavenly rewards in the sweet bye and bye and a proclamation of release to captives, sight to the blind, together with a call to u ...more
Janet Richards
Sep 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A book I believe every American Christian should read. I would argue it goes farther than I would on some aspects of political activism. I am loathe to fall into the same trap I feel the Christian Right has done. Ultimately, I follow Jesus not any human leader or political movement. What I found the most valuable is to challenge the gospel I hold on to. While I am black, I did not grow up in the black church. I grew up in a primarily white-led church. I realized I have been taught a handicapped ...more
Johnny Mettlach
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a heartfelt, gut-wrenching (at times) interweaving of his own journey out of the water we American fish swim in (materialistic dualistic, gnostic separation of visible and invisible, body and spirit), the KoolAid we all drink (the white way is The understood if never stated or conscious "standard/best") along with the history of the USA, of NC's history (where he lives) and some powerful lives that have graced him, transformed him, with plenty of the parables or other Gospel interac ...more
Bebe (Sarah) Brechner
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book has a strong and timely message for the Christian community, most particularly, the Southern church. The author is passionate and knowledgeable, and draws deeply from his own experiences. The legendary Reverend William Barber II has been a huge influence on the author, and it was fascinating to read more about this intriguing and truly talented man. In fact, Barber writes the introduction to the book, and that, in itself, is well worth reading on its own. One feels the weight of histor ...more
Brian Elswick
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
I know this book is resonating with lots of people, but it fell short for me. I appreciated the intention, I actually was really excited for what I hoped this book would do, but ultimately it missed its mark. I always read with potential other readers in mind; who do I know that this book would be a good fit for? No one. I wanted this book to be THE book I give to my white evangelical friends looking to understand race in America (and the church). For now, Divided by Faith, remains my go to in t ...more
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Whiteness, I have learned, is a religion." And So, Jonathan Wilson-hartgrove takes us through the history of the church in America and how it was used to subjugate black people. The trauma of that violence has become part of the churches DNA even if we don't recognise it, even is we don't believe it is there. In this book we are shown the diagnosis and what we can do to live a more pure religion.
Paul Womack
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
A personal reflection on the dynamics of individual and collective racism and the steps that can enable the white individual overcome racial blindness and move in a direction of relationship and community. The author’s history of the monastic tradition of Christian disciplines is most illuminative. I read the book as part of an adult forum at the Christ Episcopal Church in Chattanooga, and am glad we did so.
Paul Herriott
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
I would not recommend this book to many people. The author uses too many weak examples and makes outliers seem like the norm. I actually agreed with much of what he wrote, but nuance was not done well. Part of the authors disagreement lies with American Christian traditions and in other examples he seems to be pushing against historical orthodox Christianity.
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