whistle as you work
Reading Time: 9 minutes (Florien Rieder.) They're whistling past the graveyard.
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Recently, we covered a post by Brett McCracken on The Gospel Coalition (TGC) (archive link). In it, he slammed deconversion and ex-Christians in the most hateful and contemptuous ways imaginable. But at least he demonstrated nicely that evangelicals have finally begun to notice the process of deconstruction and the vast number of people walking away from their religion. On the heels of that extended discussion, someone noticed that there’s a whole podcast out now, Gospelbound, aiming to give Christians what they call ‘firm faith in an anxious age.’ Today, we’re gonna check out one of these podcasts to see how it lives up to its own hype. 

whistle as you work
(Florien Rieder.) They’re whistling past the graveyard.

(Previous posts about Brett McCracken’s post: Getting Deconversion Totally Wrong; Demanding We Try HIS Flavor; Last Ideology Standing; The Worst Reason to Slam Bespoke Spirituality.)

Everyone, Meet Gospelbound.

Gospelbound is a podcast from The Gospel Coalition (TGC). Hosted by TGC guy Collin Hansen, it seeks to offer its Christian listeners “firm faith in an anxious age.” You can find their episodes here. They’ve been around for about a year now.

In their first episode, a 2-minute advertisement for the podcast, Collin Hansen deploys Somber Pious Troubled Voice as he tries hard to make overcoming deconversions sound doable. He pushes hard on the whole #WINNING mindset that has doomed evangelicals to irrelevance. Then, he offers up a bunch of recorded sentences from other Christians that are just blahblah about how Jesus is totes real and the Bible is totes relevant. Finally, he promises his podcast’s tagline about firm faith.

Looking across their episodes, I can tell you right off the bat that this stated goal will be impossible for Gospelbound to achieve. Their guests are almost all toxic Christians of the authoritarian, literalist, largely-Calvinist variety. A sampling: Russell Moore, Mark Regnerus, Tim Keller, Ross Douthat, and of course Brett McCracken!

If Gospelbound’s creators can’t recognize just how bad these folks are and how their work backfires to decrease evangelical churn, they can’t possibly understand the actual reasons why people are leaving their religion — much less deal meaningfully and respectfully with those reasons.

Yep, this is going to be hilariously tedious. 

My Expectations of Before You Lose Your Faith.

The latest episode of Gospelbound covers a new book of essays by various TRUE CHRISTIAN™ approved authors, Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church. (Amazon link. No free shipping? Pffft.)

I recognize only two names on the book cover’s list of contributors: Trevin Wax and Brett McCracken. Both men write for TGC. On a hunch, I looked up the rest. Every one of them has a bio blurb and a long list of articles published on TGC.

So, TGC published this book of essays by TGC writers and is now covering it on its in-house podcast Gospelbound. It’s like apologetics inception!

As a result of the intensely in-house nature of the book and podcast’s production, I expect them to have exactly the same objectivity and truth value as an in-house commercial for a specific make of car airing on the closed-circuit customer TVs at that make’s own dealership. They’ll exist for fervent Christians, who will purchase and consume them thinking that ah yes, they have fully dealt with the heathenry at their gates this day.

But they probably won’t resonate much with the heathens themselves. Let’s find out!

Gospelbound Is Trying Very Hard to Defang Deconstruction.

Right off the bat, the podcast brings up how common it is to encounter people “deconstructing.” That’s basically the process of deconversion: people deconstruct, or critically examine, their beliefs to see what’s worth keeping and what should be discarded as untrue and irrelevant. It often culminates in actual deconversion, which is the loss of belief in Christianity’s claims. At the episode’s beginning, Gospelbound’s podcaster, Collin Hansen, laments:

The cause [of deconstruction] could be sex, race, politics, social justice, science, hell, or all of the above. For many, Christianity is becoming implausible, even impossible to believe.

Say it ain’t so! But don’t worry! Hansen assures us that the TGC-written and TGC-published book being discussed on TGC’s podcast will absolutely fix this problem.

Then, he tries to shift the entire situation around to say that gosh, y’all, deconstruction can lead to reconstruction, which is a much stronger faith than ever before. To accomplish reconstruction, the book tries to separate out the cultural aspects of modern evangelicalism from what the writers view as their tribe’s core beliefs.

Unfortunately, their core beliefs are actually the problem here — not so much the culture that springs from those beliefs. And spoiler: they will never address why Christianity is impossible to believe.

The Message Remains Perfect, in Broken Systems.

By pushing this made-up alternative of disenculturation, the podcast speakers seek to set certain of their ideas up as sacrosanct. Those set-aside ideas cannot be questioned, much less discarded — ever. Other beliefs might be permissible for questioning and rejection, however, mostly culture-war stuff and all the cruel -isms that modern evangelicals enjoy so much.

(Gospelbound, of course, assumes that the tribe will not stomp on anyone who dares to disentangle from their beloved culture-war issues — or speak against causes they cherish, like unlimited guns for everyone, torture, or fighting against human rights.)

Authoritarian groups often set aside a set of core beliefs as perfect and unassailable. When they do, we need to ask double the questions about it.

There’s a reason it’s set aside like that and guarded so ferociously against critical inquiry. Usually, that reason is that those beliefs are not actually true.

Rather, this insisted-upon deference reflects how the tribe thinks of itself and what they consider mandatory for members to do and believe. In other words, that demand for deference indicates the presence of a marker belief.

Gospelbound Contains Such a Set-Aside Belief.

In this case, the Gospelbound folks desperately need for there to be a Jesus at the middle of their religion, making their religious claims work with his magic pixie dust. So nobody is allowed to question whether or not he’s really there. That part’s just true. Nobody’s allowed to put this claim to the test — or find it lacking in veracity.

Gospelbound’s speakers certainly fall into this mental trap. They ask:

At the end of deconstruction is a question: Who is Jesus?

“Jesus is my bet, Jesus is my gambit, Jesus is good,” Derek Rishmawy said. “He’s better, he’s holier, he’s more beautiful, he’s kinder, he’s more gracious, he’s more gentle, he’s wiser than any of the select answers I might come up with.”

He is our ultimate hope, even when it feels like we’re falling away from faith.

But if someone discovers that no gods are doing anything in their religion, then TGC turns into an upside-down wedgebot in a corner of their arena: struggling in vain to get upright again. They’ve got nothin’.

A lot of Christians who deconstruct will still end up Christian, just not evangelical. I somehow doubt TGC is happy with that result, though this podcast tries very hard to sound like they’ll take that if they can’t get anything else.

Alas for them, I’ve actually seen how their tribe actually treats people who reject evangelicalism (or even just its culture wars) but remain Christian. TGC doesn’t set the agenda for all evangelicals, no matter how much they want that power.

Gospelbound: Revoking Permissions They Don’t Actually Have to Grant.

If TRUE CHRISTIANS™ can’t even understand what deconstruction is, they won’t be able to address it meaningfully. But that’s not actually their goal. They’re trying to make it seem like something that evangelicals can overcome and control somehow. It’s like they’re trying to force doubters to tame, bridle, and ride their doubts toward only one tribe-approved barn.

Indeed, in this podcast Christians keep trying to negate people’s struggles to find real answers in their eons-old conjob of a religion — like they even have the power to grant permission to people to seek those answers only in approved ways. Check out this bit:

It might be tempting to leave the church in order to find answers, but the new book, Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church, published by the Gospel Coalition argues that church should be the best place to deal with doubts because deconstructing need not end in unbelief.

Alas for these Christians, this “should” explodes on impact with anyone actually asking their hard questions in churches. The questioners can expect only barely-concealed impatience as endless talking points and homework assignments get trotted out. If our questioners have the nerve to debunk these apologetics attempts, that impatience will, I guarantee, turn into condemnation.

Also alas for these Christians, one of their speakers, Karen Swallow Prior (one of the book’s contributors) even debunks this entire talking point by saying that evangelicals’ streak of anti-intellectualism has led to doubters feeling they can’t address their doubts around their tribemates.

I guess churches haven’t figured out yet that TGC has appointed them to be “the best place to deal with doubts.”

Gospelbound: Jeez, If Doubters Find ONE THING Contradictory to Their Beliefs, That’s It For Them!

Also Gospelbound: Here Are Bunches of False Claims to Believe.

Karen Swallow Prior tsk-tsks over her students leaving Christianity entirely once they find “one thing that contradicts what they’ve been taught.”

She does not address the fact that these students do indeed discover that something they believed was actually untrue. Nor does she address the fact that church leaders in her end of Christianity tell their congregations that their beliefs are all literally and completely true in every way, and that if something they claim turns out to be UNtrue, then Christians might as well reject all of their beliefs.

Without realizing it, she invokes the cruel dilemma.

Christians get indoctrinated to believe a whole set of beliefs that are unsupported by reality. But they are not allowed to meaningfully engage with reality’s contradictions, much less discover their beliefs are untrue. Worse, they are taught that disobeying their rules will result in eternal torture. (Rejecting the beliefs certainly counts here.)

As a result of this struggle between beliefs and reality, many believers develop a whole series of mental defenses aimed at keeping them from coming face to face with their untrue beliefs. They buy and consume apologetics products, compartmentalize their minds, and utilize endless thought-stoppers to try to avoid anything reality has to say about their beliefs.

And yet the truth dangles before her students:

This one thing turned out to be untrue. Hmm. What else do I believe that might also be untrue?

(All of it.)

Gospelbound: Social Media Is BAD.

This podcast also takes a steaming dump on smartphones and always-on internet. I find that interesting because the internet has been instrumental in helping Christians work through their doubts for years now. The speakers in the podcast universally insist that Christians should seriously limit how much they use their smartphones and internet connections, and be extremely careful about what they consume while they’re online.

Amusingly, they think that all these deconversion/deconstruction announcements are just a big ol’ trend. One of them says:

So the more people are opposing these, to go back to online, you see one Instagram story that looks a certain way, it creates an intensive effect where more and more people start to interpret their experiences, their painful experiences and discomfort along that same grid and then it just has a multiplier effect [. . .]

And I’m not saying that you’re just following some cultural trend necessarily, if you’re experiencing these things. But we have to wrestle with the fact that other people stories shape our own understandings around sometimes for good, sometimes for ill, sometimes it can be distorting.

It comes off as very sour-grapes-ish. What authoritarians cannot control, they simply trample. If these deconversion/deconstruction posts didn’t speak to other people who are also doubting their beliefs, then nobody’d pay attention to them. People don’t just embark on these inquiries on a whim. Their Dear Leaders deliberately set impossibly-high stakes on maintaining belief. Their tribemates and families both could retaliate viciously against improperly-conducted doubt.

These risks are real. And they’re entirely the product of Christian culture. Social media eases the risks, and so these Christians want doubters to consider them invalid sources of information.


“Look at Jesus, Right?”

The cringiest moment in the podcast comes near the end, from the excitable Derek Rishmawy. He contributes a ponderous rah-rah sermon about his imaginary friend being “the center,” “the point” of Christianity. It’s absolutely nothing but talking points, like this especially-egregious one about how “wrestling with Jesus” leaves Christians with “a little bit of a limp” but always results in “a blessing because Jesus is the blessing.” None of this ever happens in reality. It’s all imaginary, just like spiritual warfare. But Rishmawy advises that people “look at him [Jesus]” instead of, presumably, reality or anything else.

But how?

For all these tactile-sounding words being used, people cannot sense Jesus in any tangible way whatsoever. So Christians cannot do anything Rishmawy suggests, because Jesus is completely incorporeal and indistinguishable from their own thoughts. They cannot “hang on to Jesus” because he is simply the claim of an idea — and not even a true claim at that.

What’s most aggravating here is that he’s implying very strongly that those leaving his religion haven’t done all this stuff somehow. Like we somehow failed to correctly “wrestle with” or “look at” Jesus.

In truth, most ex-Christians know very well what it’s like to pray super-hard and cry out and do all that devotional stuff trying to put Rishmawy’s talking points into action — only to get cold nothing from our ceilings. All the usual stuff Christians suggest, ex-Christians usually try extensively before we realize that it’s just not working.

If Christians ever realize that there’s no Jesus doing anything for anyone, then their entire ideology, their entire worldview, gets revealed as completely hollow.

Gospelbound: The Takeaway.

From the beginning of this blog, I’ve been fascinated with how toxic Christians address and respond to their ongoing decline. Gospelbound (and the book it discussed in this episode) falls into that category for me.

The brand of Christianity these book writers push absolutely cannot stand against real questions and critical inquiry. These Christians use words like “orthodox” unironically to describe their flavor of the religion, like it’s the real deal totes officially most-Jesus-y flavor ever. And they are solidly hooked on talking points with no substance.

And what’s so funny to me is that Collin Hansen himself even knows that very, very few doubting Christians will bother buying or reading TGC’s new book. Check out this slip of the tongue:

I expect this book will be picked up especially by people who are trying to … They aren’t deconstructing themselves necessarily, but they’re trying to help somebody else who is, either just to read it to understand for themselves or to share it with that person at whatever stage they might be in.

I laughed. He literally positioned this book as yet another homework assignment that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ should buy and shove at the doubters in their lives. That, or he hopes Christians will get all of their information from TGC instead of actually talking to their doubt-expressing loved ones.

This book won’t actually help Christians understand those leaving, much less to reverse or even slow down their decline. It promotes the same old bad ideas that we’ve seen a million times before. And I suspect Gospelbound itself runs along similar lines.

NEXT UP: The strangest suggestion made in this podcast was one that neither doubters nor their loved ones can actually put into motion. But it’s very common — and perfectly safe to make. See you tomorrow!

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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