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Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  523 ratings  ·  94 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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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
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
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
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. ...more
Shannon Lewis
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
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! ...more
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).
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
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
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
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
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
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
Jun 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I want to place this book directly into the hands of all of my fellow folks who grew up in a White Christian tradition. The author draws the lines so clearly from the ways Christianity was used to justify slavery in America to the current racist policies still at work in our society—and he offers a way back to the Christianity of Christ. He is humble and insightful, incisive toward heretical doctrine and compassionate toward people who grew up blind to what was really going on. He learns from an ...more
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
Mar 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
A worthwhile companion to the literature of antiracism, through a progressive Christian lens. Wilson-Hartgrove is an excellent writer, but each chapter read like an individual essay. I’m not sure this was his intention. The introduction and first and last chapters are the most important and enjoyable, with the middle seeming to be just as much about William Barber’s work and ministry as his own. While Barber is inspiring (and a must follow on Twitter), the more than occasional focus on him seeme ...more
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. ...more
A book which, refreshingly, takes advantage of the insights of social justice movements (and some of the vocabulary) while centering a distinctly theological/religious argument based on those insights. Highly recommended.
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
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
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
Chari Regina
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Jonathon Wilson Hartgrove is brilliant and has his finger on the pulse of our culture. His book paints an accurate picture of where we are for anyone who is interested in social justice and the church.

I enjoyed the stories shared in the book and they left me feeling hopeful and encouraged. I recommend this book to anyone who cares about social justice and anyone wrestling with the state of the church.

The publisher provided an ARC through Netgalley. I have voluntarily decided to read and review,
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
Oct 08, 2019 rated it liked it
I’ve read several JWH lately, and he’s an excellent writer and communicator. My criticism of his books is is that they all stop just sort of helpful.

If you’re not willing to be arrested or join a monastic community, there aren’t many answers here. He rightly levels the criticism that white people feel like they need to solve any problem they encounter and encourages us to shut up and listen. To ask what others see. That’s a great start, but then why write a book at all? What’s the solution? Is
D.j. Lang
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Don't go into reading this book thinking it is a how-to book. Other reviewers stated it well: it is a lament, a personal narrative. I read it at a time when I was personally lamenting and grieving so perhaps the timing was the right time for me.

Also, this book by a white author fell right in the middle of reading after reading Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson (black author), I'm Still Here Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown (black author); Thirteen Ways of Lookin
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
Nick Jordan
Sep 30, 2020 rated it it was ok
There is no lack of books out there right now doing the work of showing the symbiotic relationship between American evangelical theology and American white supremacy. That’s why this book is disappointing, especially from a deeply studied and committed activist and Christian like Wilson-Hartgrove. (I loved his *Wisdom of Stability,* and I’ve always found him to be deeply challenging, thoughtful, and admirable in his eclectic sources, and I think this high standard of previous works might be maki ...more
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
"Many white people would rather do something to address the symptoms we can see than acknowledge our original sin. Racism isn't only a part of who we've been, it is in ways we don't even comprehend, who we are. It has cut us to our very core."

"I prayed for freedom for 20 years," Frederick Douglas would later write, "but received no answer until I prayed with my legs."

"One in three African American boys born after 2000 would experience incarceration."

"In the Greek of the new testament, church is
Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove is one of the lead organizers of the Poor People's Campaign, and a member of Red Letter Christians and the New Monastic Movement. In this book, he reflects on the religion of his upbringing as it relates to the understanding of the Christianity of Christ here an now. He characterizes his former expression of faith "slaveholder religion" which is characterized by adherence to the white supremacist status quo, individualizing and hyper spiritualizing religion and "[refusi ...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
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“Even though Jesus took on flesh for my sake, whiteness prevents me from knowing how to live in my own skin.” 1 likes
“But if we stop short of the personal work—if we deceive ourselves into thinking that we can reconstruct the gospel without addressing our divided souls, then we carry the germ of white supremacy with us into our most noble efforts to rid this world’s systems of racism. Nothing is uglier than the inevitable explosion when white people try to participate in antiracist work without addressing their own hidden wound. Each of us has to do our own soul work.” 0 likes
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