Hi and welcome back! For a bit now, we’ve been looking at an evangelical podcast called Gospelbound. In the specific episode we listened to, two Christians outlined their strategies for reversing their religion’s decline. Interestingly, both strategies reveal the speakers’ distinct lack of faith in their own religious claims. Today, let’s marvel at their accidental reveal — and ask what their strategies might look like if they actually believed that anything they said about their god was true.
(Previous posts about this podcast thing: Gospelbound Talks Ineptly About Deconversion; Evaluating an Episode of Gospelbound; Why Jesus Aura Evangelism Still Fails; More Control = Less Churn; Reducing Churn Through More Indoctrination.)
Strategies and Stated vs. Unstated Goals.
Over this past month, we’ve been talking about a hard-right, Calvinist evangelical podcast called Gospelbound. It’s produced by The Gospel Coalition, which is likewise a hard-right, largely-Calvinist evangelical blog platform.
Interestingly, Gospelbound’s tag line states that their goal is providing listeners with “firm faith in an anxious age.”
Alas for them, I heard nothing whatsoever in that podcast that would have given me, when I was a fervent Christian myself, any valid reason to believe that anything in Christianity’s mythology was real. Instead, I’d have been quite troubled to hear long-debunked talking points being parroted nonstop as truth.
Thus, I suspect this podcast is more aimed at firmly-believing hard-right Calvinists who just want to know that someone in the tribe has some idea of how to reverse their religion’s decline — and who want to hear how wonderful, special, and most of all correct this particular flavor of Christianity is. I think I’d have noticed that, too.
Most disturbingly of all, though, I hope I would have noticed — even at that young age and at that stage of fervor and belief — that the strategies these guys came up with actually firmly contradicted their own stated beliefs.
It is absolutely striking!
Gospelbound: (Not) Answering an Important Question.
The episode we’re talking about is “Follow This Third Way for Resilient Faith.” The host of the podcast, Collin Hansen, is a die-hard Calvinist who’s written at least one book to praise Calvinism’s slow takeover of evangelicalism. His guest for this episode is Gerald Sittser, a Calvinist professor at a private Christian college. I don’t think these two have ever encountered a single culture-war talking point they didn’t immediately embrace. They both take as an absolute given every single self-serving myth and legend about their tribe ever devised by their leaders.
So imagine my surprise when Sittser complained about a question from his students that he apparently cannot answer:
There’s a drip, drip, drip of indifference that takes over them and they eventually just look at Christianity as entirely irrelevant to their lives. “Why should I be Christian?” I’ve had former students say that to me. “Why should I be Christian? I don’t know a reason anymore.”
To be fair, I really think the “I don’t know” thing at the end is part of their question to him, not him saying he doesn’t know a reason anymore. That’s why I set it off in quotes like I did (there are no quote marks in the transcript). But he doesn’t offer an answer to this question, which I find very interesting.
Instead, Sittser opines that evangelism must change to be more “highly relational” than old methods, which sounds to me like he wants it to become more manipulative.
So much for offering “firm faith in an anxious age!”
Gospelbound: “You Stop and You Want to Think…”
Later, Collin Hansen touches back on evangelicals’ hemorrhage of young-adult believers:
What you said earlier that you’re talking with millennials and they say, former students, and they say, I don’t have any reason to believe, and you stop and you want to think, well yeah you do because Jesus has risen from the dead. It’s the resurrection. But that’s not really what they’re getting at there. They might even acknowledge that. There just doesn’t seem to be a desire to live it.
So why don’t they demonstrate to these doubters, with objective and credible supporting evidence, that this resurrection really happened? Wouldn’t that snap ’em back to the faith?
Well, first and foremost: they can’t, because no such evidence actually exists. None. All these guys have is mythology that they officially believe as true and factual history.
(See also: The Four Facts of the Resurrection (Aren’t); Sean McDowell’s First Big Resurrection Answer is Hilariously Inept; The Problem With Resurrection Claims; I Bet You Didn’t Know Jesus Was Buried in Japan.)
Interestingly, they both have had students tell them the same thing. And neither authority figure brings up any of that mythology in answer. Instead, they just “stop and want to think” about this bit of mythology. But they don’t offer it as a reason to believe.
I bet they’ve tried that before. Maybe some students even shrugged and said they do kinda still believe that myth — but don’t consider it a valid reason to continue affiliating with the tribe. At any rate, these two know better now.
The Power of Prayer..?
Interestingly, neither podcast guy talks about praying really hard to reverse their decline. That usually figures into Christians’ plans at least somewhere, like at the beginning to get it out of the way or the end after they’ve laid out the real plan. They all know they’re supposed to lay great store by prayer, and that it’s supposed to be their second-most important tool in changing reality.
BTW: Usually, evangelicals reckon fasting to be even more powerful than prayer, magically speaking. But evangelicals ain’t about to fast. Oh honey, don’t ask them to give up their all-you-can-eat buffets! And now I’m laughing as I remember that weird “Steak and Cake” buffet from Christian Mingle: The Movie. Nope, fasting gets no mention here at all!
In fact, Gerald Sittser warps and redefines the word prayer in this podcast in quite an innovative way. Check it out:
I think the best rule here is from 1 Timothy 2 when Paul says, “just pray for peace” and what he really means by that is that pray that we are allowed to go about our business being Christian.
Well, that’s different — and very self-serving. I mean, sure, I know he’s only defined prayer this way to excuse his tribe’s constant overreach, culture-warring, and political grabbiness. I expected that.
However, it is just striking that this one sentence represents the only mention of prayer in the entire podcast. Prayer itself forms no part whatsoever of their strategies.
(And don’t you love the dogwhistle of “go about our business being Christian?” Sittser alludes here to evangelicals’ bastardized redefinition of “religious liberty.” For reference, the phrase actually best resembles the Republic of Gilead.)
The Strategies They Craft Instead.
Instead, their strategies involve only manipulation, peer pressure, behavior modification, mental programming, and overreach: the blunt force instruments of authoritarian coercion.
There’s nothing supernatural about their stated strategies to rescue evangelicalism. They might as well be programming their new recruits into a really awful paramilitary organization, or, well, a really controlling religious cult.
And they are 100% okay with that fact.
It doesn’t bother them in the slightest that they’re pursuing dominance in the most obviously non-divine way imaginable. They’re so certain their strategies will work that they’re willing to leave all the supernatural oogly-boogly stuff at the door.
In a way, it’s refreshing to see Christians not wasting time on all that fake stuff. But in another, it’s quite chilling. They’re getting down to the wire as a tribe, and it’s clear that they know it. They’ve dropped any pretense that they believe their own claims about their god.
They know none of that’s true, so they’re focusing on strategies that they think really will work.
What If Christians “1000% Believed?”
A while ago, Patton Oswalt told this funny story about Christian hypocrisy:
What if I 1000% believed that there was a Giant Invisible Anus hovering over me? And if I wasn’t nice and helpful and courteous and charitable to everyone I met, the Anus would appear, suck me up into it, and I would be devoured by shit-piranhas. And I mean, I believed this a thousand percent.
I would be the nicest guy you ever met!
Here, Oswalt describes how he’d behave if he really believed that something preposterous was actually true. He’d live in a way that was congruent with his beliefs.
By contrast, Christians almost never live like they really believe their own religious claims. In a lot of ways, that’s a huge relief. For the most part, Christians buy insurance for themselves, put lightning rods on their church steeples, visit the doctor when they’re sick, and plan for the future even if they may hope very much that Jesus returns tomorrow. That’s all fine — a relief, even!
However, Christian hypocrisy also runs along malevolent lines. Many of them disobey the rules that would make them good people to be around — and, coincidentally, make their religion look much more appealing to potential recruits.
We’ve covered that hypocrisy many times, most recently here. So I’ll just say that yes, these two Gospelbound speakers certainly understand that there is, indeed, a distinct problem with hypocrisy in their flavor of Christianity. They’re aware of how serious the problem is, too, even if they try their best to put it as mildly as they can.
However, their strategies address this problem in the most secular ways possible.
What Would These Guys’ Strategies Look Like if They Believed Their Own Claims?
Now let’s sit back and gaze into the middle distance. Let’s let our minds wander a bit.
Let’s imagine that these two 1000% believed in their own religious claims. A wonder-working god who really does meddle in the real world. The power of prayer, full stop. And they had real evidence to support it all.
First off, I’d expect them to rely much more on prayer. They wouldn’t need to tell their future marks they were praying, of course. The results would speak for themselves! They’d fully expect to see miracles happening as a result of their prayers. Heck, maybe that’d be all they needed to do.
Second, I wouldn’t expect them to demand super-duper-long indoctrinations of recruits. What do recruits really need to know? What more would they need to do to make recruits feel the religion was relevant, when those recruits already had a wonder-working god in control of their lives and hearts? I mean, Gerald Sittser is already advocating here for simplified, brief, confrontational evangelism:
I believe in evangelism entirely, so I’m not at all hedging on that. People need to know Jesus and they need to submit to his Lordship, but maybe that’s it.
And really, what else would new recruits even need, once they buy that idea — if it’s based in factual reality? All a lengthy indoctrination says to me is that recruits tend to realize very quickly that the religion’s a load of bollocks otherwise.
And third, I wouldn’t expect them to demand absolute, unlimited power over their recruits to force them to follow the tribe’s rules. This strategy in particular tells me they know perfectly well that scare-quotes “Jesus” isn’t doing anything to change recruits’ hearts. Thus, they need the power to force and punish recruits — to accomplish what “Jesus” neglects.
Do They Know They Know Better?
This whole situation reminds me of when I finally realized, as a Christian, that my prayers had changed dramatically in nature since my conversion.
When I first converted to Pentecostalism, oh man, I was — as the Christianese goes — on fire and sold out for Jesus. And my prayers reflected my absolute belief in the power of prayer. I prayed for an end to cancer everywhere. For true and lasting peace in the Middle East (meaning “peace” as most people understand it, not like how Gerald Sittser redefined it). For my whole family to join my flavor of Christianity. Everything and anything. No cause was too great for my god to handle effortlessly, and no request too small for him to care about.
That lasted for a while. But gradually, I began to live in reality. My prayers took on that weird aspect you only encounter in seasoned evangelicals. Instead of an end to cancer everywhere, now it was for my god to work his will on cancer patients. Instead of divine intervention, I asked for comfort and blessings.
And I didn’t even notice this change while it was happening.
I only noticed afterward — and probably long afterward. My prayers had become impossible to prove — or disprove, to make true or untrue. Meanwhile, I lived and made plans like someone who knew perfectly well that prayers didn’t do anything in reality.
The strategies created by these two Gospelbound podcast guys look the same.
They may claim they believe whatever they like about their god and his attributes, traits, desires, demands, and powers. But their stated strategies look exactly like they were made by two completely secular authoritarian despots seeking absolute power over unwitting recruits.
I just wonder if they realize any of this. It sure sounds like their targeted marks mostly see them coming from a mile away. And now, so do we.
NEXT UP: How these two podcast guys regurgitate the long-debunked myths of ancient persecution and martyrdom to try to regain their lost dominance and coercive power. It is a doozy. See you tomorrow!
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Last thoughts: If anyone’s curious, here’s what “the third way” means. The “first way” is Roman paganism of the 1st century, all syncretistic, accepting, and civic. The “second way” was 1st-century Judaism, all separate from the main body of the citizens of the Empire and practicing odd specific unchanging customs. So the “third way” is TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ in Original Christianity form: totally ambitious politically, but in a more Jesus-y way that incorporates the separation and customs of a religious group. It’s power-grabby, but with a piously-fraudulent, Jesus-y veneer. And the Christians practicing it all 1000% totally follow all of their tribe’s rules, thanks to the power Gerald Sittser will hold over them that they’ll be totally okay with handing him. Ohh, my.