Gospelbound, hosted by Collin Hansen for The Gospel Coalition, is a podcast for those searching for firm faith in an anxious age. Each week, Collin talks with insightful guests about books, ideas, and how to navigate life by the gospel of Jesus Christ in a post-Christian culture.
Baptized in Fire and Blood
42:40“Our cause is sacred. How can we doubt it, when we know it has been consecrated by a holy baptism of fire and blood?”So said a North Carolina minister about the Confederacy in the aftermath of the South’s defeat at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. This arresting quote contributes to the title of James P. Byrd’s new book, A Holy Baptism of Fire and Blood: The Bible and the American Civil War, published by Oxford. He writes, “This is a book about how Americans enlisted the Bible in the nation’s most bloody and arguably most biblically infused war.”Byrd is chair of the graduate department of religion and associate professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. And if you’re interested in this book you need to also pick up his book Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution.Just at the Battle of Antietam, four-times as many American soldiers as died as 80 years later on the beaches of Normandy in World War II. Twice as many Americans died that one horrible day outside Sharpsburg, Maryland, as in the War of 1812, Mexican War, and Spanish American War combined. Americans should have known from the Bible that civil wars are the worst wars, and even God’s chosen nations could self-destruct, Byrd argues. They may not have expected such a tragedy at the outset of the war. But by the end they had draped the whole conflict in Scripture, culminating with Father Abraham killed on Good Friday after setting the captives free. Byrd writes, “Americans were never in more disagreement over the Bible, and yet never more in agreement that the Bible proved the sacredness of war.”Byrd joins me on Gospelbound to discuss the jeremiad, Achan, Exodus, camp revivals, Frederick Douglass, and abolitionist views of inerrancy.
Get Over Yourself
39:16“Do I exist for God or does God exist for me?” That’s the question that I think animates Dean Inserra’s new book, Getting Over Yourself: Trading Believe-in-Yourself Religion for Christ-Centered Christianity, published by Moody. Or, maybe it’s this line: “We can’t make Christianity cooler.”He explains his argument this way: “The entire premise of this book is that spiritual victory and earthly victory are not synonymous.” He identifies a new kind of prosperity gospel that promises earthly success along with spiritual abundance. But he can find no such Christianity in the Bible.Dean serves as founding pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida. And I thought this description explains what I appreciate about his book. Dean writes, “In a therapeutic society, the achievement of self-fulfillment with God’s apparent stamp of approval is the perfect recipe for Christians to desire the things of this world while still feeling as if they are close to Jesus and He is very pleased. It appeases our need to know God isn’t mad at us while giving us license to continue on making much of ourselves.”So what’s his alternative? Dean says, “I want to win people with a message that would still apply if my church was in a third world country, meeting in secret with nothing more than a single, shared Bible: the message of Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and ascended.”Dean joins me now on Gospelbound to discuss the divide between seminary classrooms and popular Christianity, Instagram as instigator in crisis counseling, and why he doesn’t think God wants us to be happy.
Belonging to God in an Inhuman World
44:02It’s the fundamental lie of modern life, says Alan Noble: that we are our own. Compared to our ancestors, we’re less worried about war. We’re less worried about starvation and famine. But by believing that we are our own, we tend to struggle with new problems: the loss of meaning, identity, and purpose.Noble says this in his new book, You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World, published by InterVarsity:Everyone is on their own private journey of self-discovery and self-expression so that at times, modern life feels like billions of people in the same room shouting their name so that everyone else knows they exist and who they are—which is a fairly accurate description of social media.Noble’s book feels like a douse of cold water that wakes us from our delusion. His book builds off the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism. And he helps us find our way back to this well-worn path of divine wisdom. He writes, “Our selves belong to God, and we are joyfully limited and restrained by the obligations, virtues, and love that naturally come from this belonging.”Noble is assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University and co-founder and editor in chief of Christ and Pop Culture. You may know his previous work, Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age.
Why the Gospel of Self-Improvement Isn't Good News
32:35If you want to sell millions of books, tell readers they can be their own hero. Tell them if they don’t have what they want, they need to demand it. Tell them that they can have everything if they work hard enough: the beautiful family, the booming business, the world-changing nonprofit venture.For Ruth Chou Simons, being her own hero doesn’t seem all that freeing. It looks exhausting.She has one overarching message in her new book, When Strivings Cease: Replacing the Gospel of Self-Improvement with the Gospel of Life-Transforming Grace, published by Nelson Books.“The one thing I want you to know, more than anything else,” she writes, “is that if you are truly in Christ, you can stop trying so hard to be who you already are in Jesus.”Simons is an artist, entrepreneur, and speaker. She and her husband, Troy, have six boys. Her previous works include GraceLaced. Simons goes on to explain in When Strivings Cease, “We’re working so hard to bloom, to bend, to please that we’ve neglected the soil from which we flourish.” And she concludes with a question: “What if our striving is really worship of ourselves as god?”Simons will be leading three breakout sessions at The Gospel Coalition’s 2022 Women’s Conference, June 16 to 18, including one on her new book. Given the prevalence of what she calls the self-improvement gospel, I’m grateful for this work that focuses on the grace of God. Self-acceptance, she reminds us from God’s Word, doesn’t come from self-love but from the redemption of Jesus Christ, where God demonstrates his love for us as sinners. That’s why she can write, “[S]elf-righteous striving is more hopeless than you want to believe, but grace is more life-transforming than you realize.”
Faith Is a Habit
34:49What is faith? Is it a feeling? Is it hope against hope? Belief without evidence?Jen Michel says faith is a habit. It’s not against evidence but careful consideration of evidence. It’s trust in the story that makes sense of the world. It’s curiosity. It’s where the habits of humility take us.“Try practicing your way into faith,” Michel writes in her new book, A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus, published by Baker. “Go to church, follow the liturgy, act the part. Let habit take you by the hand and lead you to God.”Michel says that faith pushes back against the technological advances that convey the illusion that exertion is our enemy. In this book designed to help introduce the Bible to anyone curious about faith, Michel guides readers on a 40-day journey through the wilderness of doubts to the promised land of hope in the promises of God. She writes:We can feel small in this world and frightened by our smallness. The invitation of faith isn’t to pretend that there aren’t big, bad scary wolves; that life can’t wreck with a sudden change of weather; that we don’t feel angry or sad or disappointed—even occasionally abandoned. But it is to say that we keep at the habit of believing the improbable; we’re not left or forsaken; God is with us.
Does the News Help You Love Your Neighbor?
44:54Breaking news! (Insert dramatic gong sound here.) Find out if you’re on the right side of history. Learn about the latest celebrity you should cancel for the wrong view on oat milk. After this commercial break. Not so fast says Jeffrey Bilbro, editor in chief of Front Porch Republic and the author of the new book Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News, published by IVP Academic. Bilbro warns that “objects on screen are more distant than they appear,” and that “the public sphere is simply not conducive to the formation of loving, sustaining communities.” He writes this: When the news sets itself up as the light of the world, it is usurping the role that rightly belongs only to the Word proclaimed in the gospel. But when the news helps us attend together to the ongoing work of this Word, it plays a vital role in enabling us to love our neighbors. So take a walk! Carve some wood. Spend time in embodied communities. And don’t worry too much about that next election, he says:Epistemic humility, particularly regarding the workings of Providence, requires us to acknowledge that even when our candidate loses, or when a court case is decided in a way that seems wrong, or when tragedy strikes, God is still working out his will—and he cannot be defeated. The reverse holds true as well: it may be that just when we think we are winning, we are going astray from God’s kingdom. A high view of Providence and a chastened sense of our ability to recognize God’s methods of victory frees us from worrying about whether a given event is good or bad. Bilbro joins me on Gospelbound to discuss the perverse incentives of our media ecosystem, holy apathy, and whether anything good can come from TV news.
5 Hidden Themes Our Culture Can't Stop Talking About
38:59In his day job for the last 15 years, Daniel Strange has taught church leaders about culture, worldview, and apologetics. He’s studied worldviews and philosophy. He talks about “plausibility structures” and “social imaginaries” and “cultural liturgies.” But it’s not some kind of vain philosophical exercise. He’s trying to help people grow in how they present the person and work of Jesus to their skeptical neighbors.After years as director of Oak Hill Theological College in London, he now directs Crosslands Forum, a center for cultural engagement for mission. And he’s the author of the new book Making Faith Magnetic: Five Hidden Themes Our Culture Can’t Stop Talking About and How to Connect Them to Christ, published by The Good Book Company. In this book, he tries to help non-Christians find their way to God through the darkness of a skeptical age. He writes:In the 21st-century West, in our version of this history, God is the one who has done the hiding and we are the seekers. And God must have found a great place to hide because we’ve looked for him everywhere but he’s nowhere to be seen.Strange features five magnetic points that he thinks can help non-Christians connect to Jesus. His book explores totality, norm, deliverance, destiny, and higher power. In this episode, we’ll talk about J. H. Bavinck, the totality, Goth culture, disenchantment, and more.
Faith and Our Fathers
32:20Blair Linne’s mother planned to abort her before a Baptist minister’s words changed her mother’s mind. Linne moved 25 times before she set out on her own as an adult. She did not grow up with a father. I won’t spoil her new book, Finding My Father: How the Gospel Heals the Pain of Fatherlessness, published by The Good Book Company. But it’s a raw, sometimes shocking memoir with a surprise ending.Blair Linne describes fathers as a covering, a shield from danger. But where do you go when your dad needs a place to hide, too? Linne points all of us, no matter how good or bad our dad, to the hope of the gospel. We’re not defined by the consequences of fatherlessness, Blair writes:We are not bound to repeat those mistakes and pass on the consequences to another generation. The cross can break any consequences of the sin of the generation before, so that it is not felt by the generation to come.And she points us to the church, where we find our family after God becomes our Father. Linne writes, “[A]ll it takes is a Christian village to break the one-parent-absent-father stranglehold that can burden a child.”Blair Linne joins me on Gospelbound to discuss systemic injustice and personal responsibility, victims and rebels, diverse churches, and family trees.
Good News for Our Bodies
42:14For as long as I’ve been paying attention, some 20 years, I’ve heard Christians complain that we need more attention on the body. I’ve heard that Catholics have much deeper, more comprehensive theology of the body. I’ve seen Protestant evangelicals try to make the case, but for some reason or another their arguments don’t land. I don’t know how to explain the disconnect. We worship the God who became flesh in the incarnation of Jesus. When Paul talks about the body, he’s referencing all of life. That’s how far our views have diverged from his. We live in a time that esteems self-expression, mind over matter, not self-sacrifice of the type that engages the body. But Sam Allberry aims to help us in his new book, *[What God Has to Say about Our Bodies: How the Gospel Is Good News for Our Physical Selves](https://www.amazon.com/What-God-Has-about-Bodies/dp/1433570157/?tag=thegospcoal-20)*, published by Crossway. Allberry is a world-traveled speaker and apologist and serves on the leadership team at Immanuel Nashville. In this book he encourages Christians to look forward, but not to a time when we’ll have a full head of hair and flat stomachs. Instead, we anticipate resurrected bodies that glorify and serve Jesus perfectly. And what good news that is for our broken bodies. Sam writes: The problems we experience *with* our body were never ultimately going to be solved *by* our body. We may be able to ameliorate some aspects of our bodily brokenness—we can cure some ills and ease some pains. But we cannot fix what has been broken. The only hope for us is the body of Jesus, broken fully and finally for us. And by looking to his broken body we find true hope for our own. Sam joins me on Gospelbound to discuss intimacy, technology, *Avatar*, color blindness, masculinity and femininity, and much more.
Why the Body of Christ Is Essential
37:40We’re long past the time when we could assume even that dedicated believers in Jesus Christ understood why they should bother with church. The number who identify as Christians is far larger than the number who attend a weekly meeting. Even then, the bulk of the serving and giving in our churches tends to be done by only a few. So it’s not as if COVID-19 suddenly convinced Christians they didn’t need church. Millions had already made that decision even before gathering involved online registration, social distancing, and masks. Last year church membership fell to less than 50 percent for the first time since Gallup started recording the data 80 years ago.COVID-19 accelerated a long-trending separation between personal faith and organized religion. The shutdowns caught all of us by surprise in their sudden onset and ongoing duration. And it’s hard to get back in the habit once it’s been broken for months—now, even years, without a clear end in sight.Even so, the body of Christ is essential to our faith. A Christian without a church is a Christian in trouble. That’s why Jonathan Leeman and I wrote Rediscover Church: Why the Body of Christ Is Essential, published by Crossway in partnership with 9Marks and The Gospel Coalition. Leeman serves as editorial director of 9Marks and joins me on Gospelbound to discuss virtual churches, biblical authority after Mars Hill, and fellowship across difference, among other topics. Welcome, Jonathan.