Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion, By Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove alt

Reconstructing the Gospel

Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion

by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Foreword by The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II

Reconstructing the Gospel
  • Length: 192 pages
  • Published: February 26, 2018
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 8648
  • ISBN: 9780830886487

*affiliate partner

  • 2018 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award Finalists - Multicultural

"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 racial injustice and white supremacy in the name of Jesus. His Christianity, he discovered, was the religion of the slaveholder.

Just as Reconstruction after the Civil War worked to repair a desperately broken society, our compromised Christianity requires a spiritual reconstruction that undoes the injustices of the past. Wilson-Hartgrove traces his journey from the religion of the slaveholder to the Christianity of Christ. Reconstructing the gospel requires facing the pain of the past and present, from racial blindness to systemic abuses of power. Grappling seriously with troubling history and theology, Wilson-Hartgrove recovers the subversiveness of the gospel that sustained the church through centuries of slavery and oppression, from the civil rights era to the Black Lives Matter movement and beyond.

When the gospel is reconstructed, freedom rings both for individuals and for society as a whole. Discover how Jesus continues to save us from ourselves and each other, to repair the breach and heal our land.

"So what happened to Christianity in America? This is the question my brother Jonathan faces head-on in this book. He follows this question to the heart of America's original sin, and he invites all of us to join him there and face another question: Is our God greater than America's racism? This is a question we must answer, no matter the color of our skin. Slaveholder religion has infected every corner of the church in America—including the black church. We must never forget that there were enslaved people who accepted the theology fed to them on plantations."

From the foreword by Dr. William J. Barber II

"Reconstructing the Gospel is an honest reckoning with the mangled, slaveholding religion that continues to pass for the gospel in the United States. It is not self-righteous or accusatory. Instead, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove vulnerably grapples with his own ongoing repentance of white supremacy’s powerful grip. Ultimately, this book is an invitation into the river that has been flowing for centuries in this land, providing a past and present counterwitness to the vandalization of Jesus’ name. A necessary and timely gift to the church!"

Drew Hart, assistant professor of theology at Messiah College, author of Trouble I’ve Seen

"I hope every Christian in America will read this book. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove exorcizes the demons of racism and white supremacy that have plagued the body of Christ for far too long. He points the way toward a Christianity that looks like Jesus again."

Shane Claiborne, author, speaker, activist

"Racism in American religion, especially in its most subtle forms, isn’t something we’ve had language for describing helpfully—until now. This is a masterful work, invaluable for coming to terms with the hidden wounds of racism and the awful lie that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove calls, 'Christianity of the slaveholder.' Jonathan is a reflective soul, at home in his own skin, fully aware of the contradictions and struggles in his own heart. This transparency proves to be the perfect gift for the rest of us who have our own soul work to do in helping end whiteness as a religion."

Peter W. Marty, publisher of The Christian Century

"A poignant, compelling, and eye-opening journey that recognizes the racism in us, Christian churches today, and the implicit bias of the dominant culture. The blinders come off through stories, history, and creative biblical insight. We are left amazingly hopeful for ourselves and the church, with Jesus’ invitation to follow him to a whole new world."

Mary Nelson, Executive Director Emeritus, Parliament of the World’s Religions

"It has become obvious to any who seriously study our sources that much of what we call Christianity in the West today is in radical discontinuity with our faith in its early centuries. Our spiritual healing now depends on corporately facing our past with hope, just as any individual must do in our personal journey to wholeness. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is an honest, courageous, and compelling guide on this path of radical conversion."

Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico

"God has entrusted Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove with a message—the gospel of Jesus Christ has been tragically defaced by American white supremacy and must be reconstructed. In this passionate, fast-paced book, Jonathan gives us a distinctively Christological, hopeful path toward faithful reconstruction. God is able! Even though we, in our structures of sin, often feel powerless to exorcise the demon of white racism, know that God’s will shall be done, and God’s reign will come because God’s purposes shall not be defeated. What an empowering, hopeful word Jonathan has for Christians, white and black."

Will Willimon, professor of the practice of Christian ministry, author of Who Lynched Willie Earle? and Preaching to Confront Racism

"This powerful and prophetic book should come with a warning label. It’s full of stories of ordinary folks working for racial justice, making you want to pull up a chair on the porch for a closer listen. But the stories pack a wallop of conviction, and you will not leave that porch unchanged."

Jana Riess, author of Flunking Sainthood and coauthor of The Prayer Wheel

"Jonathan is a moral prophet and spiritual physician for our time. In this timely book, with the precision of a heart surgeon, he exposes the sickness that has long plagued American Christianity and infected our society and politics, revealing that none of us is untouched by the disease. With the credibility of his life lived in solidarity with systemically oppressed people, he resounds a clarion call to reform the way in which we live the gospel. This is a must-read for all Christians in America. You will be humbled, enlightened, and motivated to heal the ailing heart of our country and recover its soul."

Phileena Heuertz, founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

"The Bible is full of stories of God healing blindness. Reconstructing the Gospel is about how God heals a common form of blindness today—racial blindness. You may have it and not even know it, which is why you need this book. By helping you see life in full color, it can help you be saved from the shriveled-heart syndrome and set free from slaveholder religion and the religion of whiteness. This is a beautiful and challenging book for these times."

Brian D. McLaren, author of The Great Spiritual Migration

"In this insightful, accessible volume readers are introduced to the original sin of racism in the United States, which was first and foremost an economic system to benefit the few at the expense of the many. Racism is woven into the fabric of American institutions, and it will require systemic change to bring about true reconciliation. ‘A gospel that doesn't confront racism is no gospel at all,’ writes Wilson-Hartgrove, for the work of the gospel is to heal that which is divided and to reconcile that which has been torn apart. This book is a must-read for the church."

Elaine A. Heath, professor of Missional and Pastoral Theology, Duke Divinity School

"Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove gets it. In the rubble of evangelicalism’s white supremacist crisis, Reconstructing the Gospel unflinchingly confesses the ways Christians remain captive to slaveholder religion. Resisting paralysis, it charts a path of personal and political hope. Reconstruction is such an apt word to describe the work we all have to do in light of our nation’s history."

Daniel José Camacho, contributing opinion writer for the Guardian US

"For a long time the justice conversation in much of the evangelical church has centered on acts of compassion or engaging causes that emerge to fight global injustice. Along the way, we have neglected to ask tough questions like, What was the flaw in our gospel that allowed generations of Christians in America to perpetuate injustice in this country while at the same time being devoutly evangelical? For anyone who cares about true biblical justice and is not afraid to ask difficult questions, Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove’s masterfully written reflections on his journey of being challenged and mentored by black Christians in America is essential. Reconstructing the Gospel shows that such a journey can help us better learn what the gospel really means and why, without it, we are at risk of continuing to perpetuate insufficient justice pursuits informed by a flawed or incomplete gospel. This is a must-read for anyone looking for a more robust, nuanced, and mature faith in the face of America’s complicated ongoing history of race and religion."

Ken Wytsma, author of Pursuing Justice and The Myth of Equality

"This book contains the message I have been longing to hear for several years now. It is the book so many of us need to read."

D. L. Mayfield, author of Assimilate or Go Home

"This book offers a front row seat to Jonathan’s transformation out of a well-meaning religion marred by white supremacy to a faith that keeps him in the frontlines of the fight for racial justice. His journey will be an inspiration and a roadmap to Christians who desire to be faithful in our times."

Tony T. R. Lin, managing director, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia

"Those desiring salvation from slaveholder religion will find no blind optimism, easy antidotes, or sweeping appeals to racial reconciliation. Wilson-Hartgrove writes: 'The last thing any attempt to reconstruct the gospel in America needs is a white man to lead the charge.' Instead, Wilson-Hartgrove submits himself to the leadership of people of color. In the process, he extends his own vulnerability and provides gentle guidance for white folks on the journey to freedom. Because of this and more, Reconstructing the Gospel is an important book."

David F. Potter, Sojourners, September-October 2018

"Wilson-Hartgrove wades into the murkiness of these partisan waters not because he has traded the political conservatism of his youth for its progressive opposite. Rather, in submitting himself to those like Rev. Barber and others of his community's black elders, he has found himself a member of a community in which blind eyes are healed and justice pursued."

David Swanson, Englewood Review of Books, Eastertide 2018

"I highly recommend this book to white and nonwhite scholars, college students and seminarians, religious leaders and congregants. We all need help to recognize and unpack the slaveholder religion we have inherited."

Mitzi J. Smith, Reading Religion, October 5, 2018

"A must-read for Christians interested in how race-infused politics and religion undermine the American democratic dream."

Publishers Weekly starred review, January 8, 2018

Read an Excerpt


Foreword by the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II

Part I: Slaveholder Religion
1. Christmas on the Plantation
2. Immoral Majority
3. Racial Blindness
4. Living in Skin
5. This Is My Body, Broken
6. A Gilded Cross in the Public Square

Part II: The Christianity of Christ
7. The Other Half of History
8. Moral Revival
9. Having Church
10. Healing the Heart

Epilogue: A Letter to My Grandfather and Son


You May Also Like

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (MDiv, Duke Divinity School) is a writer, preacher, and moral activist. He and his wife, Leah, founded the Rutba House, a house of hospitality in Durham, North Carolina. Jonathan directs the School for Conversion, a popular education center in Durham committed to "making surprising friendships possible," and is an associate minister at St. John's Missionary Baptist Church.

Jonathan is the author or coauthor of more than a dozen books, including Reconstructing the Gospel, The Third Reconstruction, Strangers at My Door, Common Prayer, The Awakening of Hope, The Wisdom of Stability, The New Monasticism, and Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers.