Editor’s note: I received an advance copy of this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review. Gospelbound was released earlier this week.
In a former life, I was, for a brief period, a reporter. I hated it: hard news was, essentially, a roundup of all the worst and most bizarre things currently happening in my local sphere. Searching for things that satisfied that criteria corroded my soul, leaving me angry and depressed even as I continued to believe that the light and truth brought by good journalism are essential to a healthy and functioning society. Gospelbound: Living with Resolute Hope in an Anxious Age, a new book by Collin Hansen and Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, is the antidote to our modern obsession with bad news. (Funnily enough, early in the book Zylstra confessed her initial, journalistic skepticism for anything that focused too much on so-called fluff.) In line with Paul’s Phil. 4:8 admonition to think on that which is excellent and worthy of praise, Gospelbound disciples us to turn our eyes from the anxieties of the age to things that are true, honorable, just, and commendable.
The book’s opening salvo is that the anxiety and fear that dominates American lives and phone screens is understandable, especially for Christians. Faith is declining, everyone is angry, even children are stressed, and our society’s moral compass seems completely up for debate. Yet, despite all the uncertainty, God is still accomplishing his good purposes.
At China Partnership, we are continually begging the global church to remember and pray for our Chinese brothers and sisters. I was pleased, therefore, to see Gospelbound open by turning our eyes to the hopeful experience of Chinese Christians. “Sliding out of a privileged position may not be a bad thing for the American church,” Zylstra and Hansen write. “What if our proximity to power of all kinds is not making us stronger but is sapping our potential for genuine Christ-like faith and action?”
Western Christians are accustomed to feeling at ease in a world that has been in large part built on the assumptions and foundations of Christianity. Yet current societal changes may actually help believers develop a healthier relationship with this world. Zylstra spoke with a believer who works regularly with house church Christians. He reminded her that earth is not our home, and said persecution is not the biggest hazard Chinese Christians face: “When the tension eases between your earthly identity and your heavenly identity—that’s the biggest threat.”
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A few chapters later, Zylstra and Hansen revisit the experience of Chinese Christians, talking of how they suffer with joy and embrace the cross. They contrast this with the prosperity gospel often endemic to American churches—although I would note that the prosperity gospel is also a temptation and an allure for Chinese Christians, who are no less susceptible to its siren call than any other people group around the world. Still, the lived experience of faith in a country that is determined to stamp out any who give their allegiance to God above their government does indeed remind Chinese believers that following God comes at a cost. Thus, they embrace the cross, proclaiming that “suffering leads to glory”—not because suffering itself is glorious, but because it leads to greater intimacy with the God of glory.
While my interest was particularly piqued by the China-centric sections, the rest of the book offered much of value. One chapter focused on Christian care for the weak and vulnerable, drawing from the experiences of a young woman who started an outreach in strip clubs in Kentucky. Another centered on the Christian imperative to love one’s enemies, sharing the story of a woman whose husband and two young sons were killed by Hindu extremists in India, where they were serving as missionaries. John Piper’s radical call to not waste your life by focusing on money or comfort, but instead to live with the kingdom and glory of God as our lodestar, was also featured—and is always a welcome and needed perspective for any Western Christian surrounded by material comforts and pleasures. They also talk of the example of Black American Christians, who have long been accustomed to following Jesus in a world that is not welcoming or comfortable.
As a parent of three young children, I was particularly encouraged and challenged by a chapter on radical hospitality—especially a section that spoke of education as “an act of inclusion, extending the hospitality of knowledge to another generation.” I was reminded of the solemn responsibility I have as a mother to safeguard and protect the religious and moral formation of my children’s minds, and my imagination was fired by the story of a high quality classical Christian school just a few blocks from the neighborhood where George Floyd was killed last summer. Hospitality, the way it is presented in Gospelbound, can and should include even education, driving Christians to open doors for their neighbors’ children as well as their own, welcoming little ones from every neighborhood into a lifetime of following and knowing their Creator and the world he made.
I would heartily recommend Gospelbound. I found myself reading certain sections aloud to my husband, a church planting pastor, as I thought about the challenges and opportunities of our day and age, and how to live godly lives in this time. If there was a weakness in the book, it was that the foibles and failings of the believers featured—whether they be Southern Baptist disaster response teams or Chinese house church Christians—are merely touched upon, not examined. While the book did attempt to avoid this pitfall, Gospelbound’s very premise makes this hard to avoid.
Overall, the book is a much-needed and helpful lens change for Christians caught up in the negative and despondent discourse of our day. Zylstra and Hansen joyfully turn the spotlight to how God is working, examining Christians who continue to joyfully follow Christ in difficult circumstances. They write: “[These Christians are] still showing us the way of resolute hope in hostile cultures. They expect to fight for faith amid this world that put Christ to death on the cross.” I believe this book will help Christians to remember that God is still the King and is always in charge. With that in mind, perhaps we can follow these “gospelbound Christians” and live that way as well.