ERB, Vol 1 , #20

The Englewood Review of Books

Vol. 1, No. 20    23 May 2008

Diving for pearls in the endless stream of books (Eccles. 12:12B)

Chris Smith, editor



“A Better Hope”


A Review of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s

Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line.

By Chris Smith.


Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove has two books that are being released this spring.  The first of these books to hit the market is Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line.  One wouldn’t know it by catching a glimpse of the title, but this is no “how to” guide to racial reconciliation.  Rather, it is the story of Jonathan’s own wrestling with issues of race and faith, from his roots in rural North Carolina through his time at Eastern University in Philadelphia to the place today where he lives in Walltown – a mostly black section of Durham, NC – and worships and serves with a historically black church there.  To quote John Perkins’s foreword, this book is indeed a “testimony,” in the finest sense of the word.

            Jonathan guides us through the journey he has taken, which begins with the confession that he, as a child, was oblivious to the racism of his North Carolina hometown.  It is only as an adult that he discovers that the presence of the Ku Klux Klan in his home county was estimated by some to be as bad as that of Mississippi or Alabama.  Through his youthful political aspirations, Jonathan meets the eloquent Rev. Barber, a black preacher from another rural town in North Carolina.  Their friendship sparks a relationship between their two churches, and starts the long process of opening Jonathan’s eyes to the depths of the racial divide.  Jonathan continued to ponder and explore racial reconciliation, but ultimately it was the experience of a profound gift of hospitality extended to he, his wife and a few others while on a peacemaking mission to Iraq in which the Wilson-Hartgroves discerned a call to learn from “those who were supposed to be our enemies” (73-74).  Jonathan and Leah followed this call to the predominantly black Walltown neighborhood of Durham, settling first just outside the neighborhood and later moving into the heart of the neighborhood.

            The narrative that unfolds over the pages of Free to be Bound, suggests a direction toward the goal of racial reconciliation that is strikingly familiar.  The Apostle Paul in writing to the Philippian church, encourages his readers to follow in the way of Jesus:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  (2:5-8 NASB)

 In a similar way, one can read the Wilson-Hartgroves’ story as one of emptying themselves of the comforts of white privilege and immersing themselves in the black church.  Although Jonathan is quick to admit that they have a long way to go on this journey toward seeing the reconciliation of all people, the course that they have taken is particularly poignant because of its resemblance to the way of Jesus and because of its honesty in confronting the depths of our own racial sin (as well of that of those who have gone before us).  It seems that other possible trajectories – e.g., inviting blacks into a white church or trying to engineer a multi-racial church – are prone to what Jonathan calls the “tragedy of our public life in America” : i.e., “that we have tried to move beyond a history of racial injustice without accounting for how race made us who we are” (180).

            Although Jonathan’s narrative provides a solid backbone for the book, Free to be Bound should not be dismissed as merely memoir.  Jonathan fleshes out his own story by reflecting on writings from black history, black theology and black literature.   His honesty about the difficulties of crossing the racial divide is refreshing, and his examinations of his own experiences in light of the Scriptures raise perhaps more questions that they answer.  For instance, near the end of the book, Jonathan ponders the implications of churches’ adoption of the American, melting-pot variety of multiculturalism, in which diversity can be maintained by uniting under the prevailing narratives of patriotism and capitalism.  When churches embrace this sort of multiculturalism, Jonathan wonders, are they selling out to “the powers that would unite us in middle-class rationality against the global poor” (182)?

            Overall, Free to be Bound is a very readable and very challenging story of racial reconciliation in the church.  From his experiences, as recorded here, Jonathan knows the pains and struggles of pursuing God’s call to be ambassadors of racial reconciliation, and yet he hopes unwaveringly in God’s promise of reconciliation.  He concludes the book:


We do not have a blue print for what a new world of peaceful and just relationships with one another will look like.  We do not know for sure how we will survive in a world yet conditioned by the logic of race. But we know that the only place where we will have the power to figure these things out is in the resurrected body of Jesus.  And He is going ahead of us into Galilee.  So, we follow the lead of the women – Mary, Mary and Salome – and chase after God’s new world, assured that our identity as disciples offers us a better hope than the cultural identities that we are leaving behind (192).


May we truly hear the words of Jonathan’s story, and may God transform our hearts!



Free to Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.  Paperback.  NavPress.  2008.

              Buy now from:    [] 




[ A note on buying books: We offer you the opportunity to buy the books listed here, either directly from our little independent bookstore (Doulos Christou Books), or through  The prices listed for our bookstore do not include shipping or Indiana sales tax.  Local folks can arrange to pick up their books from either our Lockerbie or Englewood stores.  If you want to buy a book and are having trouble with the links in this email, drop us an email – – and we’ll see that you get the book(s) you want. ]




Used Book Finds


The bread-n-butter of our bookstore business is the sale of used books, and we do a fair amount of scouting around for used books each week.  In this section we will feature some of the interesting books that we have found in the past week.  Generally, we will only have a single copy of these books, so if you want one (or more) of them, you’ll need to respond quickly.



The Gentle Revolutionaries.

              Brennan Manning.  Paperback.  Dimension Books. 1976.

            Excellent  Condition.  Clean pages, very minimal wear.

            Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $7]


The Active Society.

Amitai Etzioni.  Paperback.  Free Press.  1971 printing.  

Good Condition. Mostly clean pages. Minimal wear.

            Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $7 ]


AIDS and the Church.

Earl Shelp / Ronald Sunderland.  Paperback.   1987.

Very Good Condition.  Minimal  wear.

            Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $5 ]





Reviewed Elsewhere


Greg Boyd reviews Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem.    

The other night I read Bart Ehrman’s new book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. Since it touches on the issue of violence in the Old Testament and since I’ve received so many e-mails asking me about it, I thought I’d post a review.

This book was better than I expected. I really disliked Ehrman’s earlier best-selling book Misquoting Jesus. Ehrman’s conclusions were very biased and went far beyond what the evidence warranted. Yet he presented his arguments in such a way that laypeople unfamiliar with the science of textual criticism could (and many did) find convincing. Consequently, I initially resisted reading God’s Problem. I figured if Ehrman’s work was poor in his area of expertise (Ehrman is a New Testament textual critic), it would probably be atrocious in an area where he isn’t a specialist (viz. dealing with the problem of evil). Nevertheless, a friend (Paul Eddy) compelled me to read it and, much to my surprise, I actually thought it was pretty good. It was certainly better argued and fairer than his Misquoting Jesus.

I’ll make six comments that roughly follow the outline of Erhman’s book…”

Read the full review:    

Bart Ehrman. 

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer

Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. 

            Hardback.  HarperCollins.  2008.

            Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ]        [ ]



Alan Hirsch is interviewed about his newest book

The Forgotten Ways.


[Interviewer ] In a general sense, how have you seen small groups fit into missional churches, or into communities with a more organic structure?

[Hirsch] It’s interesting, in a number of the situations I know of where you’ve got very large churches beginning to adopt the movement ethos laid out in The Forgotten Ways, almost inevitably they see their small groups as a leverage point for a number of things. Discipleship, for example, can be best facilitated in a small group—if it’s well done—as can the idea of mission. Also, missional capacity and missional reach are very much higher in a small group than in a large building that requires people to come to you.

But I think the big switch for us will be to stop thinking of small groups as prop-ups to the “real deal,” weekend-based church. In reality, small groups are major elements of the church. In fact, they are themselves churches. And that’s the big switch. When people are able to see small groups as churches in and of themselves, therefore fully capable of doing all the functions of an ecclesia, then the revolution is on.

But if we keep them as just back-ups to keep people associated with a large church, then I think all we will do there is facilitate community and Bible study and prayer, but there can never be a multiplication movement at that point, because mission isn’t featured. Discipleship doesn’t really cut in very deeply there.  … ”

Read the full interview:        

Alan Hirsch.  
        The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church

        Paperback.  Brazos Press. 2007.
       Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $16 ]      [ ]




The LA TIMES reviews Mikita Brottman’s ironic new book

The Solitary Vice: Against Reading.




“… Brottman [wants] us to rethink our relationship to reading, our blind acceptance that books come with built-in social value, that they improve us.

‘What’s wrong with reading?’ she asks. ‘ . . . Nothing, of course. But once you assign an intellectual value to the act, you not only overlook the nature of the text itself, you also make universal and one-dimensional what is essentially a private process of engagement.’ In other words, you dilute the emotional power of the word, of language, by framing reading as a moral virtue.


Read the full review:


Mikita Brottman.  The Solitary Vice.

            Paperback.  Counterpoint.  2008.

            Buy now from:  [ Doulos Christou Books $12 ]      [ ]

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Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

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-Karen Swallow Prior

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