As the Pressures of Health Warnings, Economic turmoil, and partisan politics continue to rise, the influence of gospel-focused Christians seems to be waning. In the public square and popular opinion, we appear to be losing our voice right when it's needed most for Christ's glory and the common good. But there's another story unfolding too-if you know where to look. In Gospelbound, respected Christian thought leaders Collin Hansen and Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra counter these growing concerns with a robust message of resolute hope for anyone hungry for good news. Join them in exploring profound stories of Christians who are quietly changing the world in the name of Jesus-from the wild world of digital media to the stories of ancient saints and unsung contemporary activists on the frontiers of justice and mercy. Discover how, in these dark times, the light of Jesus shines even brighter. You haven't heard the whole story. And that's good news.
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|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra is senior writer for The Gospel Coalition, where she oversees coverage of faith and work. Readers often rate her features on cutting-edge trends in religion and church leadership as TGC's most popular and valuable content. She earned her master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Before TGC she reported news for Christianity Today for more than a decade.
Read an Excerpt
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.—Romans 5:3–5
It’s the humidity I (Collin) remember most. After a long day of intern work, I reluctantly left behind the air-conditioned Cannon House Office Building for my second shift, the one that actually paid. It was the first summer after the 9/11 attacks, and I had sought work in Washington, DC, in a burst of patriotic zeal.
I wanted to serve my country. I ended up in the basement of party headquarters, dialing for dollars.
Four nights a week and all day Saturday, I called up devoted party members across the country to ask for another donation. I wasn’t very good at it. I’d get on the phone with an elderly business owner in South Dakota and talk for thirty minutes about the congressional campaign and education policy. In the end, he’d politely tell me he’d already donated to his representative in the House.
My colleagues who made the most money never stayed on the line longer than three minutes. Their strategy was simple and effective: scare Grandma with a story about how the other party wants to destroy the country, then ask her to read those sixteen digits on her credit card. I never discerned any patriotic zeal in my most successful colleagues. I never observed any particular devotion to the party that employed them.
On long, sweat-soaked walks home after California had gone to bed, I had a lot of time to think about the hope I invested in politics. I never stopped caring about the issues. But I realized I could never play the game to get ahead.
From those conversations in the basement of party headquarters, I understand when Christians are tempted to trust in politicians to protect the church, our perceived interests, or our loved ones. Politicians have real influence. Government leaders, elected or appointed, decide vital moral and ethical issues, such as whether killing unborn babies should be allowed, whether gender is fluid in the eyes of the law, and whether Christian organizations can set their own hiring standards. They decide whether justice will be done for unarmed victims of police brutality and whether young soldiers will be sent into war on the other side of the world. Elections have consequences. Politics matters.
Understandably, Christians want to win every seeming fight for righteousness. We want to be safe. We want to be in charge. We want election victories and righteous judges and religious freedom and growing churches and friendly neighbors and safe schools and everything else. In other words, we want “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), and we’d rather not have to wait until Jesus returns.
It’s a good instinct—we’re meant to be cultivating our world, bringing renewal to whatever corners we occupy. But sometimes Christians chase power the Bible doesn’t tell us to expect (1 Corinthians 1:28). And it’s not as if Christians in power always wield it for justice. Sadly, it’s often quite the opposite—for example, during what some perceive as the golden age of the 1950s, powerful white church members were segregating, threatening, and discriminating against African Americans.
Power isn’t going to save us. Even Jesus, the only human who could have wielded it perfectly, “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6–7). Jesus built his church to withstand—even to be corrected by and thrive in—opposition. The church was born into a regime that would hunt and hurt her, and she spread by running for her life. Over and over, Christianity seeped into cultures after being scattered by persecution. What was supposed to destroy her made her stronger.
If we start with a more realistic expectation—that the default should be marginalization or even suffering for Christ—then the church in America still looks privileged and even protected. The #blessings tagged on social media—rapid career promotions, happy and matching families, and a stream of Amazon Prime boxes—seem more like the prosperity gospel (believing that following Jesus will make life more pleasant or comfortable) than the vision of discipleship we see in the Bible.
From that perspective, sliding out of a privileged position may not be a bad thing for the American church. What if our proximity to power of all kinds is not making us stronger but is sapping our potential for genuine Christlike faith and action?
In 2020, just before the World Health Organization declaredp a public health emergency, I (Sarah) flew to a conference of Asian Christians in Kuala Lumpur.
Many of the church leaders I met came from China (minus those quarantined in Wuhan). I don’t know when or if I’ll ever see them again this side of heaven. But I’ll never forget sitting across from them and asking about their stories. In their demeanor I saw calm grace under the relentless pressure of government restrictions.
“Hardship reveals a reality of earthly life—we are bound for another home,” said S. E. Wang,1 who works with house church pastors (his name has been changed to protect his identity). The biggest threat to Chinese Christians isn’t having their churches closed or pastors imprisoned, he said.
“We are sojourners on earth, and things like the worship of money and secularism are trying to persuade us that we are permanent residents,” he told me. “When the tension eases between your earthly identity and your heavenly identity—that’s the biggest threat.”
Because if we feel comfortable here, in a world we know is broken and sinful, what does that say about us?
“Persecution helps with that,” Wang said. “Even cancer tells you that earth is not your home. Hardship reveals reality—that we are bound for another home, another life.”
God doesn’t want us to settle in here. And as we see over and over in the Old Testament, discipline is the way God gets the attention of his people, reclaims their love for him, and purifies them from sinful practices that would wreck them.
“Discipline is God’s love,” Wang said. “He disciplines those he loves. He’s training and refining his church and will bring her up in full maturity. We don’t see discipline as negative. It shows God’s grace and favor.”
Wang didn’t make that up—he got it straight from Scripture. “It is for discipline that you have to endure,” the author of Hebrews wrote. “God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (12:7).
What does this say, then, about the American church? In all our concern about persecution, have we neglected the goodness of our heavenly Father’s discipline?
Maybe we don’t need to worry so much about losing privilege and power we were never meant to have. Because we have received “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (verse 28), there is always hope.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Why You're Anxious and Afraid xi
1 Resolute Hope 3
2 Gospelbound Christians Embrace the Future 10
3 Gospelbound Christians Live with Honor 30
4 Gospelbound Christians Suffer with Joy 55
5 Gospelbound Christians Care for the Weak 73
6 Gospelbound Christians Set Another Seat at the Table 98
7 Gospelbound Christians Love Their Enemies 123
8 Gospelbound Christians Give Away Their Freedom 143
Conclusion: No Apology Needed 164
Questions for Reflection 175