Hi and welcome back! This past week, we’ve been talking about The Gospel Coalition (TGC). They’re an evangelical site online that caters to authoritarian, mostly-Calvinist right-wing Millennial-aged Christians. About a year ago, TGC started a podcast called Gospelbound. Gospelbound’s own marketing claims that it will give listeners ‘firm faith in an anxious age.’ We checked out their most recent episode, about a TGC-produced book called Before You Lose Your Faith, and we weren’t impressed. But hey, maybe they just forgot about their target audience because they were talking about their own book. So I wanted to check out what else they were telling potential doubters. Today, let’s evaluate another of their episodes — from the point of view of a Christian who desperately needs a jolt of ‘firm faith in an anxious age.’
Mission Statements, Generally.
Way back when, when I began to develop this blog right here (raht-CHEER), I thought long and hard about exactly who my target audience was. I didn’t expect everybody to like my blog — and still don’t.
No, I wanted a very particular kind of reader: someone who wanted deep dives, who liked longer essays, who wanted more intimate connections between writer and audience, who wanted to do way more than just point and laugh at awful Christians, and most of all wanted a give-and-take free-wheeling discussion about all sorts of topics. Their religion didn’t matter to me. Their hearts did.
Nor did I really care about weighing in on every single news item of the day or being a news-item type of blog. Others were (and are) doing that already, and doing a fine job of it.
What I’m talking about here is the underpinning of any blog-type venture. I think it’s absolutely essential to make a blog’s purpose and mission clear and to stick to it.
So when I see something like Gospelbound, questions immediately come to my mind about exactly who they’re making this thing for, and who really consumes its product.
Gospelbound: Who Exactly is Their Target Audience?
The introduction/advertisement episode of Gospelbound tells us that their central concern is to “navigate this post-Christian culture with the church in decline.” I’m assuming the speaker is Collin Hansen, the podcast’s host. He speaks very seriously of learning “new arguments… new tactics” to, I suppose, deal with all these new heathens around him. He also offers the usual blablah about how inspirational he thinks the Bible is and how totes true and real those myths are.
Then, we get a bunch of clips of other Christians. These speakers are all men except for one voice that sounds female that compares the promises in the Bible to “wedding vows” (lol yeah, about that). The voices all speak glowingly about Christianity’s myths. Finally, the host returns to reiterate the marketing tagline about Gospelbound offering “firm faith in an anxious age.”
But what kind of Christian needs “firm faith in an anxious age?” What does that cherished, well-polished catchphrase even mean? Who resonates with it?
Does it appeal to the Christian who’s slowly starting to realize that Christianity fulfills not one single promise it makes? Or one who’s starting to perceive dealbreaking holes in beliefs they once accepted without questions?
Or does Gospelbound aim more for those Christians who just want a quick jolt of rah-rah and blah-blah as they go about their daily errands, and who are likely to mistake such offerings for good and valid reasons to continue believing in stuff that just isn’t true?
Let’s Put Ourselves in the Right Gospelbound Target Mindset.
For today, I’m going to try to put myself in the mindset I was in for those last few months of my time as a Christian.
At the time, my faith pool was draining perilously quickly — but I still believed. I also still did all that Christian stuff as best I could. I’m sure my obnoxious behavior amped up to 11 too, as I tried my hardest to hang onto my tattering, disintegrating faith (really, it seems like fervent Christians act out the worst when they’re facing their biggest periods of doubt — definitely this happened in my case).
Despite all that flurry of activity, though, I never found a single source of “firm faith in an anxious age.”
Who knows? Maybe my younger self will unexpectedly find a valid reason to believe in that nonsensical, crazymaking twaddle again — in Gospelbound.
(For real though: I fully expect this thing to unfurl into a fustercluck of, ahem, biblical proportions.)
Yet Another ‘Third Way’ That Promises the Moon.
I reviewed all of the episodes available at Gospelbound. Every one of them looked like the dead opposite of offering “firm faith in an anxious age.” They feature speakers I already know entirely lack credibility (John Piper, Ross Douthat), or buzz approvingly of authoritarian Christian power-grabs (attacking “secularism” and “decadence,” or praising “discipleship”).
Of the rest, the episodes seem to address only topics that might interest those Christians who already have firm faith. These Christians are probably actually the causes of most of this age’s “anxiety.”
Largely, what I’m seeing looks like pearl-clutching, tribalism, and moral panicking at its finest. I’m certain that when I was struggling in my faith, I’d have seen this episode list and immediately recognized it as just more parroting of party lines.
Eventually, I chose an episode.
It seemed very faintly like it might fulfill Gospelbound’s stated marketing catchphrase:
“Follow This ‘Third Way’ for a Resilient Faith.”
Usually, people see “third way” and think it refers to bigotry. But here, it apparently refers to Jesus-ing very hard.
Gospelbound published this episode on March 31, 2020. It features Gerald L. Sittser, whose biography page at TGC says is a professor of theology at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Whitworth is a well-rated private college affiliated with the PC(USA) denomination, which we usually get along with around here. But Sittser himself reveals later in the podcast that he’s actually Reformed, another word for Calvinism, which makes much more sense. He also just published a book called Resilient Faith, so I’m guessing this podcast will
be an advertisement for discuss it.
I laughed early and often through the podcast.
Nothing I heard even hinted at a faith that relates at all to reality. In fact, these two guys went me one better by describing a religion full of people who don’t exist in today’s evangelical church and a mythology of early persecution and rapid expansion that only happened in Christians’ most-beloved fantasies.
So, the beliefs and folklore described here aren’t objectively true. That’s normal, for Christians — and evangelicals in particular. But the Christians described here aren’t real, either, and the tactics suggested are guaranteed to fail.
To summarize this podcast episode, Gerald Sittser thinks that if Christians will only start Jesus-ing their little hearts out, their Jesus Auras will ensorcel new recruits. Churches, meanwhile, need to start making huge demands of their recruits and get them ultra-indoctrinated so they stop drifting away.
Gospelbound and Its Promise.
The big problem they’re having is fulfilling their stated promises.
How does Jesus-ing harder make for ‘resilient faith?’
(Or even ‘firm faith in an anxious age?’)
We’ll talk more tomorrow about Jesus Auras and churn. But for now, I want to focus on the promise that this episode made: that it would totally teach Christians a way to have “resilient faith.”
Gerald Sittser even titled his book, Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian “Third Way” Changed the World.
Now, resilience, as a quality, suggests something that can handle a lot of twisting and turning without breaking. Resilient faith, in turn, suggests a faith that can survive multiple challenges.
Sittser thinks the earliest Christians achieved that resilience. And he thinks they did it by Jesus-ing really hard. He thinks this level of Jesus-ing captivated the ancient world. (LOL no.)
However, not once do the guys in the podcast discuss exactly how someone goes from Jesus-ing super hard to yay we’ve achieved resilience!
As I discovered myself, Jesus-ing super-duper-hard doesn’t stop someone from discovering that Christianity’s claims are just flat-out false.
The Myth of Original Christianity in Gospelbound.
What’s most disturbing here is that these guys are rhapsodizing about their erroneous vision of Original Christianity, and trying to push their listeners to adopt this form of Christianity in today’s age. They promise implicitly that if Christians do that, they’ll have the same success in growth that those first Christians had.
Fake history that didn’t even happen in its proper provenance won’t translate very gracefully to the modern age.
And even as a bright-eyed college student, I knew that my tribe made a lot of claims about its earliest history that couldn’t be supported by any contemporary sources. Such antics were already becoming what we called a stumbling block for me.
So far, I have to say: this podcast, had I heard it in college, would have absolutely dismayed me. It gives nobody any real reason to consider Christianity as a religion, but if any Christians listen to it knowing what I knew then, it’ll disturb them doubly that their thought leaders are getting so much wrong.
The best we can hope for here is that maybe Gospelbound will inspire some Christians to lay off their culture wars and start doing all that boring charity stuff Jesus told them to do.
NEXT UP: How these Christians are handling their impending irrelevance in the worst possible ways. See you tomorrow!
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