Jonathan C. Augustine
Baker Academic, 160 pages | Published February 8, 2022
As a pastor, I love a fresh metaphor. Jay Augustine serves up good gumbo as a savory image for how our culture might imagine unity with diversity. In good gumbo, vegetables, seafood and chicken all hang together while never ceasing to be what they are. Though it is challenging to achieve the right roux and seasoning at its base, good gumbo is healthy, hearty and equally beloved by New Orleanians of different races and backgrounds. I liked the visual of gumbo as more cohesive than the eminent “mixing bowl” metaphor, where elements never truly integrate; more interesting than the “melting pot” where distinctions are lost to each other; and far more flavorful than the “bland broth” that Augustine equates with White supremacy.
Though Augustine sets the table with metaphor, he nourishes us with his content, first with theology. Christian readers move from a generic belief about oneness in Christ to a precise biblical framework of reconciliation that takes three forms in the Christian paradigm: salvific, social and civil reconciliation. Augustine’s theology of reconciliation is clearly distinct from the growing shelf of popular books about race centered in the individual experience.
Another key ingredient is authenticity, and Augustine pulls no punches. He addresses head-on the hesitance Black Christians often feel around the word “reconciliation,” especially when there hasn’t been an initial conciliation. There is a hard-hitting critique of Make America Great Again paired with his call to Make Church Great Again, a move that will deepen trust with some readers while making other readers label it “political.” However, Augustine’s pastoral voice never muddies the waters of reconciliation by taking cheap shots or demonizing others.
Finally, there is some beefy academic rigor in this book. A law school and divinity school professor, Augustine attempts a rare blend of biblical scholarship, history of the Civil Rights Movement and hot-off-the-press analysis of contemporary American politics. From Peter and Paul to MLK Jr. and Desmond Tutu to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, Augustine seats them all together within the call to reconciliation.
When division in our country feels insurmountable, I love that Augustine opens with Hebrews’ “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Churches in the U.S. have not seen the kind of reconciliation efforts at the same level we’ve seen in the South African church wrestling with apartheid, but Augustine has faith reconciliation can still happen and provides resources to push this effort along.
I commend this book to predominantly White congregations who have done some work in examining race and privilege and seek a trustworthy text to study with non-White Christians. I commend this book to pastors who have a hard time bridging the high call of scripture to be reconciled with our current bridge-burning cultural moment. And this book is near and dear to my heart because a Black pastor who is a close friend recommended it. We used it as a text for our congregations to study together; it nourished our conversations and brought us closer.
Maybe it should be labeled gumbo for the soul.
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