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As 2020 finally ends, it feels appropriate to look back on what we’ve learned and ultimately celebrate what God has done, even in the midst of one of the most difficult years ever collectively experienced.
In this special bonus episode of Gospelbound, host Collin Hansen is joined by TGC colleague Melissa Kruger, who co-hosts the Let’s Talk podcast. They discuss big trends and stories from 2020, share their hopes for 2021, and reflect on God’s faithfulness displayed through TGC and many other areas of life.
Books, articles, and other resources referenced in this episode:
- “Why Is It So Hard to Read My Bible These Days?” by Megan Hill (article)
- “George Floyd and Me” by Shai Linne (article)
- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
- Caste: A Brief History of Racism, Sexism, Classism, Ageism, Homophobia, Religious Intolerance, Xenophobia, and Reasons for Hope by Isabel Wilkerson
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
- The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
- How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice by Jemar Tisby
- Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
- Mother to Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope by Jasmine Holmes
- Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry
- Knowing God by J. I. Packer
- Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer
- The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
- Through the Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot
- Wherever You Go, I Want You to Know by Melissa Kruger
- Growing Together: Taking Mentoring beyond Small Talk and Prayer Requests by Melissa Kruger
- Gospelbound: Living with Resolute Hope in an Anxious Age by Collin Hansen and Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra
- Keeping the Heart by John Flavel
- The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by Joseph Henrich
- 12 Faithful Men edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson
- 12 Faithful Women edited by Melissa Kruger and Kristen Wetherell
- Let’s Talk: Building Friendships with People Unlike Yourself (podcast episode)
- Gospelbound: From Mother to Son on Race, Religion, and Relevance (podcast episode)
- The Social Dilemma (documentary film)
- TGC 2020 Book Awards (article)
- TGCW21: Steadfast (national women’s conference)
- TGC21: Jesus Is Greater (national conference)
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hansen: Welcome to a special edition of Gospelbound and Let’s Talk. I’m Collin Hansen, I’m the host of Gospelbound, and I’m joined by my good friend and colleague, Melissa Kruger, one of the hosts of Let’s Talk. Melissa, it’s great to be talking with you.
Melissa Kruger: It’s so fun to be here with you.
Collin Hansen: We’re going to take you behind-the-scenes, look back on the big stories and trends of 2020, and thank all of you, our listeners, for encouraging us in this work. It’s just been a tremendous year, even amid all of the chaos none of which we anticipated when we launched both of these podcasts, so it’s been pretty wild but again I think a very rewarding experience.
Melissa Kruger: Absolutely. Before we begin, actually Collin, a lot of people may know you as the host of Gospelbound, but anyone who works with you knows that you actually do a ton more work at TGC. In fact, you’ve been at TGC longer than anyone other than Don Carson, who basically helped found TGC, and so can you tell us a little about what you do for TGC?
Collin Hansen: Yeah. I’ve been here for more than a decade now, celebrated that 10-year mark back in July, which you and my colleagues were very kind to send me encouraging notes and a gift and things, that was really a highlight for 2020 for me.
Melissa Kruger: For his birthday we sang for him and that was not a kindness to you when we sang to you.
Collin Hansen: Everybody knows you can’t sing together over Zoom. You cannot sing over FaceTime. If you tried to call your grandmother and wish her a happy birthday and you tried to do it with other different people, you know you cannot get in sync. It just doesn’t work. The things we’ve learned in 2020.
Since 2010, I’ve been responsible for all of the content development since then, so that would be the books that we publish, the articles, the podcast content that we come up with, a vision for multimedia and social media, just helping on the ideas side of things. Also, hiring new editors and I hired you, of course, one of my best moves if I might say.
Melissa Kruger: I’m thankful.
Collin Hansen: We could talk about that. Yeah, and that also includes the events. I know we want to talk about what we’re looking forward to in 2021 with the events here as well, and not all the logistical details that’s not my thing mainly, thankfully, but choosing the speakers and the topics and things, working especially with the president at TGC, who is Julius Kim, on developing that. Now Melissa, I’m trying to remember, I don’t do a good job, usually I say something like, “Melissa, so you’ve been working with TGC now for two years,” and you’re like, “Yeah, six years, Collin. Thank you very much.” How long has it been at TGC for you? I’m also wondering just how many different jobs have you held in that time?
Melissa Kruger: I know, that’s a good question. I’m terrible at dates too. I really judge most dates by how old was my kid when I started doing this and that helps me to count back. I initially came on, I wasn’t working for TGC, I think in around 2016 you asked me to come on as a blogger, so that was really the first thing I started doing, TGC started hosting my blog. Then a year later, you asked me to come on as an editor and I’m so glad that you did because I’ve loved being a part of that team. Then, I worked as an editor, I think, about a year and a half, I can’t really remember. Or maybe, last summer, I came on full time with TGC in our women’s content and women’s initiatives, and so that’s what I do now. I really love it.
I do just want to say on Collin’s job, if you don’t know this, if there’s any content that you’ve enjoyed across the board, podcast, articles, books, he’s got a hand in it somewhere. I’m so thankful for your vision in that and how it has grown through the years. We’re not just a website anymore. We have all these different areas in which it’s grown. I’m just thankful for the ways the Lord has gifted you to serve this organization in such a broad way. It’s a real gift.
Collin Hansen: Thank you, Melissa. Now, you’ve also notified everybody to whom to send all of their hate mail.
Melissa Kruger: I’ll send you his email.
Collin Hansen: Yeah, stick with the podcast till the end and then you’ll get the email address.
Melissa Kruger: Exactly. One thing we want to talk about today, we want to really recap 2020. It’s been a year. There’s a lot-
Collin Hansen: It’s been a year, that’s true. It’s been a year.
Melissa Kruger: There’s a ton that’s gone on and we can’t really talk about theological stories without talking about words like COVID-19 and pandemic and mask. When I found myself shopping online for a cute mask, I thought the world has really changed in dramatic ways, and the fact that every store I like had cute masks to shop from. It’s been a year that I think none of us could have predicted in any way, and it’s had huge impact on our conversations about the church and our relationships in the church. Can you speak a little bit into how you’ve seen those conversations develop throughout 2020?
Collin Hansen: You and I, Melissa, were together with the rest of TGC senior leadership team just the week before the shut down, right? I remember back in those crazy days it seemed like forever ago and also yesterday somehow at the same time. I’d flown on a Sunday night out to San Diego, we’ve been together for a few days, I got up and had like 4 a.m. or something, crazy flight all the way across to Greenville, South Carolina, to speak there, came back to Birmingham and once I, and you, of course, going back to Charlotte, since then it’s been nothing.
Collin Hansen: We’ve shifted from a moment of almost of initial panic of sorts of imagining all kinds of worst-case scenarios. We switched from that into almost a kind of, “Well this is different and almost in some ways a little bit relieving because I had all these things that I had to do and now I have some extra time.” Here in Alabama at least, we had the most beautiful spring.
Melissa Kruger: Yes.
Collin Hansen: All kinds of time spent outdoors with family, and then all of a sudden it gets into, “Oh! Things are going to get better. Oh no!” They actually are not really getting better. One of the key moments, and this is related to one of the other stories that we want to talk about, was George Floyd’s death and the protests that followed there. Then from there things got in deeper into the presidential election. When you tie those three things together, in my top 10 theology stories of 2020, I’ve written that the top three stories of this year, COVID-19, George Floyd’s death, and President Trump’s loss. All of them would’ve been number one in any other year, but all three of them happened in 2020, and all three of them are related to each other. They’re all connected. They would not have happened without the other at some level.
That’s what it’s done for us in terms of theology and culture and church, because it has put almost all of our churches under a kind of siege. It’s not only because of the pandemic, if that were just in it of itself, we would be mourning here about how we’re not going to be singing Christmas carols together and we’re not going to be having candlelight services and things, which is sad in of itself. But when you add on to that friendships that have been broken permanently, pastors who have left the ministry, which I’m hearing a lot of lately. Hearing about just groups of leaders within churches who share almost all of the same theology, and yet can’t even speak to each other anymore. It just seems as though of all years that we did not need to be spending more time by ourselves and online, it was 2020 and yet that’s exactly what was delivered up to us under the good providence of God.
I think just in retrospect it would be pretty foolish to look back on 2020 and think that we had a good sense of what was coming. I don’t think we have a real great sense right now of how this is all going to play out, except I will say that as it always does Advent comes at a good time.
Melissa Kruger: It does, it does. I think it is just hard to measure the impact it’s had on churches. We had just switched churches about five months before COVID happened. It’s always hard to get to know others in a new congregation, and then when you’re not meeting every week, it’s just been this loss, and I think people have a hard time even quantifying what that loss has been. We’ve had some great articles. I remember one from our co-editor, Megan Hill. It actually makes it harder to dig into the truth that we need from Scripture when we don’t have that regular meeting every week.
I know I’ve seen that in my own life. It’s one thing to go online and you get to have this church service in your den in your pajamas, but there is something about being together collectively and worshiping the Lord collectively and sitting there with others hearing the truth, that is a huge, huge blessing in our lives. I know we’re all mourning that loss, but hopefully, we will have those meetings soon, Lord-willing, as we’ve all learned to say about everything this year. Again, you also talked about the effects the tragic death of George Floyd on conversations that we’re having in the church and probably how it’s prompted conversations that definitely needed to happen. Can you speak to that a little more, and how the deaths of multiple African Americans in different communities have really spurred on some healthy discussions, some unhealthy acts of violence that maybe haven’t been helpful in ways? Can you discuss how in the church this is a conversation we really need to have about racial injustice and how these deaths have prompted that and how you’ve seen that going as people are having those conversations?
Collin Hansen: Yeah, we remember also Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, all of them different circumstances, and yet one of the things that I’ve seen reiterated in 2020 is the need for majority-culture Christians like you and me to be patient and to listen attentively to African Americans about their experiences and how they receive the news, how they watch the videos, how they process that. I would love to say that what we’ve seen in 2020 has been an outpouring of empathy and collaboration about tangible reforms that we might be able to bring and actually find consensus around, because thankfully I don’t see anybody saying that any of these things happening was good.
There were some times when people did think that doing these things was somehow a good thing. Okay, well at least nobody is arguing that. We disagree strongly, some of us, about exactly how to fix that, but at least we do recognize that these things should not be happening, that these are tragic. You’d think that there would be a starting point and then be able to connect that to minority experiences and how they see things through their particular perspective, and I do think there has been some of that. Certainly at TGC, I think about Shai Linne’s article, “George Floyd and Me”, was one of our most read and best appreciated articles of this year. I think that contributed a lot of helpful theological discourse in terms of how do we bring our faith to bear on these current events and on these experiences that some of us can’t relate to, but do want to address or want to at least at some level acknowledge.
The problem is that what we’ve mostly seen in 2020, and I think this is very closely related to the partisan dynamics of the presidential election, is how almost the entire discussion has been deviated away from these experiences and how minorities connect to them and how they experience them then to what we might be able to do collaborate. You can blame whoever you want on that, you could blame the Defund the Police movement for veering that off, you could blame public health officials for saying that mass protests are okay but meeting in schools is not, nonsensical public health advice in a pandemic like that. You can blame whatever you want, but it just seems like we’re called to a different higher standard in the church, and what’s been discouraging to me in 2020 is a trend that we’ve actually seen develop going all the way back to Ferguson in 2014, which is that there isn’t a lot of patience for being able to wrestle with very complicated history, very complicated sociology, complicated theology, complicated history, all of which or some of which may implicate some of us in our study.
There is not a lot of patience for that. Instead, it’s far easier to fall into familiar partisan patterns to label people who are different and ideas that are different and foreign to you, lump them all together under broad terms and then seek to condemn and to ostracize and to penalize people who hold to those opposed views even if those people don’t hold to those views. That’s where the theological discourse has gone. The only thing I’ll say in terms of context there is, if we are surprised that it’s gone that direction, then we do need to study our history more carefully, because that’s been a pattern. It’s been a pattern for many, many, many, many, many decades within the evangelical church.
I continue to believe that we can break the pattern. I see in Birmingham, where I live, a lot of people especially younger Christians who are motivated to learn more, and what they do with that information, I’m not really sure, but learning is at least a necessary place to start in this local context. There has been a good bit of learning but yeah, the nature of theological discourse is all too familiar with the way that shorthand labels and partisanship overwhelms any deep, critical reflection. But like I said, I think they’re all related. I mentioned it was related to the protest, I think it’s also related to a presidential election.
I think also, Melissa, I don’t know if you noticed this but if you’ve looked back on many of the major racial flareups in our country, they have tacked onto election years. Not in every case but a lot of them have been during election years. I don’t really know how to explain that. I just don’t think it’s probably a coincidence.
Melissa Kruger: That’s really, really helpful. I think that one takeaway I’ve had from this year reflecting on these issues is just the importance, and I know you’ll share this with me, of reading and the importance of history. It’s one thing to read a hot take online and we can have good articles, you and I, we work in a business that talks about articles online, but sitting in stories and really listening to them, I think, is profoundly important in this discussion. I know, for me, I’ve been shocked about stories that I never heard even, I love history, I love American history, and for the first time this year, I finally read The Warmth of Other Suns, it’s been sitting on my nightstand for about three years, and I have to admit that it was a little thick and it intimidated me before I jumped in.
I had never even heard of this Great Migration. I’ve heard of lots of other things, trail of tears, all these other stories that you’ve heard, [inaudible 00:19:11] studied in American history and I had never heard of this great migration that happened from the South to the North. You sit in the stories for a long time when you read a book instead of just reading an article with this opinion or that opinion. As the church continues these discussions, one things I’ve been encouraged by is how many books I saw, even on Amazon, that were being purchased about racial issues. That was usually encouraging to me as we looked at this conversation.
Collin Hansen:Wilkerson just came out with Caste this year, which I don’t recommend the same way that I would Warmth of Other Suns, but yeah. We are not lacking for resources. The academy has been turning to this, it’s been dealing with this topic at length for a very long time and there’s a lot of, I think, catch up that a lot of us have to do, which is one reason why Melissa I’ve just focused primarily on the Deep South and primarily on Birmingham of just trying to understand my own context there.
Now, I think I’d be remiss without mentioning on this topic the fact that “Let’s Talk”, which has been a wonderful podcast this year that we’re very proud of at TGC, and you’re joined in there by Jasmine Holmes and Jackie Hill Perry, I don’t think you guys talked about racial topics this year, did you? I don’t remember.
Melissa Kruger: No. We didn’t actually.
Collin Hansen: Okay. Now, are you guys going to be doing that in the next season? I can’t recall.
Melissa Kruger: We did have an episode on friendships with people who aren’t like you. That was where we touched on all sorts of things though, not just friends of different races but friends of different genders, friends of different seasons. We broadly talked about it there and how important it is actually to have people in our lives who are different than us. We talked about that a little bit, but not in depth.
Collin Hansen: Well, the reason I bring that up is because, like you said with Amazon, it’s such an overwhelming space. You don’t know what you’re going to get you. You might see, “Oh! Jamar Tisby’s book is doing really well. Okay, that’s interesting. Maybe I’ll pick that up also with White Fragility or I’ll pick those up with Stamped from the Beginning. It can be very confusing as to know how to discern. One of the things that’s guided me in this process has been African Americans who I have known for a very long time have had many opportunities to be able to get to know and to learn from over the years and have developed friendship and also trust there.
Jasmine and Jackie are two of the most impressive people I know in their demeanor, in their learning, in their godliness. I had the blessing, and I know many of you out there listening to Gospelbound, it was one of our best-listened-to episodes talking with Jasmine about Mother to Son, and her excellent book that came out this year. Interestingly, that interview came about because of “Let’s Talk”. We had decided, of course you know this working with our good friend and colleague, Betsy Howard, we had decided to invite and work with Jackie and Jasmine with you on that podcast, and I think the chemistry has just been great. I love to listen to you guys talk on whatever subject. But then our producer, Heather, who works on both of the podcasts, she was making recommendations to me about Gospelbound” and she said, “Collin, have you thought about having Jasmine on your show?”
I said, “Well, I mean, I love Jasmine’s work. She’s just incredibly impressive,” but for some reason it just had not occurred to me. She gave one of the best interviews, it was outstanding. I’ve got kids around the same age, but growing up in such a … both in the Deep South, but in very different environments in many different ways, and so just being able to see through her eyes as a parent and as a mother, and we’re talking about boys specifically, which is very illuminating, I would just commend more of us to take time like Melissa is saying, listen to the podcasts, read the books, exercise some discernment, offer a little bit of trust of other members of the body of Christ who are seeking the Lord and the Holy Spirit is working through them and they have something to offer that you don’t.
I’m painfully aware that there are certain things that if you want to come to me as an expert on, I am happy to do that. But generally, that’s what Gospelbound is all about, is being able to find those people and just being able to listen to them and defer to them. I think what Let’s Talk is a lot about is how you reach that spiritual discernment and growth within companionship and friendship within community. At least, that’s one of the things that I love seeing about Let’s Talk, and I think it has made it so popular for people to listen to.
Melissa Kruger: Yeah, I’ve enjoyed so much my time with Jackie and with Jasmine. I actually, in between our recording sessions, read both of their books this year, and I told them both they are both so wonderful with words and with writing, but it made me feel like I got to know them better even after I’ve been sitting at a table with them for days talking. I knew parts of their story from reading their books that I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and so I highly recommend Jasmine’s, Mother to Son and Jackie’s, Gay Girl, Good God. Both of those are just excellent resources to read and to listen and to learn just on many topics, but I think it’s just really helpful.
Another author that we want to talk about today, and is part of your top 10 theological stories is the death of J. .I Packer at age 93, who has had an impact on so many of us. Can you share a little bit about what his writings and his books have meant in your life an how you’ve seen them impact generations? Kids are still reading them today. It’s not like his words … he’s not the new author. They’re still reading these books and talking about these concepts today’s, but how were you first introduced? How have his words impacted you?
Collin Hansen: Melissa, you’re my go-to on what the kids these days are reading. You’re my inside source on that stuff.
Melissa Kruger: I’ve gotten really old because I have the college-age students or children. Ugh! It’s awful.
Collin Hansen: That’s right. I also should say, I had a funny aside here. Melissa’s talking about big books that intimidate her. You always got to be able to see through Melissa’s bluster. Melissa reads a lot of books and plenty of them are pretty big, but I do appreciate, when she took my recommendation on one book, and she just unthinkingly decided to click out on Amazon and then this 1,200-page book arrives on our doorstep. I think she may have said some inappropriate things under her breath about me in that moment.
Melissa Kruger: You got to give warnings, warnings about this book contains 1,200 pages before you recommend them.
Collin Hansen: It’s actually a trilogy that’s just been bound into one book, but you liked it.
Melissa Kruger: It was really good.
Collin Hansen: OK, so you can’t complain. Let’s talk about Packer. I have a blessing of actually having known him personally, even more so than through the books. I can jump in line and recommend Knowing God. I think my personal favorite of his is Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. I just find it to be an inescapably obvious argument, I suppose, for Calvinism and evangelism. Isgrew up in an environment that value both, evangelism and Sovereignty of God and Calvinistic theology, so all that came pretty naturally to me at an early stage, which is where Packer’s writings were especially important to me.
He was working still at that time as one of the advisory editors for Christianity Today when I started, so I got to see him on a regular basis. I would often go to dinner with him. Usually, my wife would come along. Usually, we’d bring one of our friends as well and I call up usually my friends from college and say, “Hey, do you want to drive out to the suburbs tonight? We’re going to some random … ” Usually, he loved Indian food and it could never be too spicy for him, but I’m not an Indian food fan, so we usually settle for some pan-Asian cuisine if we weren’t eating in the Holiday Inn Hotel restaurant or something, where he was staying in Carol Stream, Illinois.
I got to see him, I guess, behind-the-scenes in those environments. That’s what sticks with me and that’s what I take away with my top 10 theology stories of the year is how in our responses to him we see something in him that has been hard for us to emulate, which is holding together very strong theological convictions while holding optimistic views toward other people. I wrote in college about all of my disagreements with him about Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and I maintain all of those disagreements, and yet several of my closest mentors including him were heavily involved in that group. But in my experience with him, it was never about theological compromise, it was about a kind of optimism and hope about what the Lord could do to reform the church.
I think it’s interesting that a lot of those men are historians who are heavily invested in, especially the Reformation period, or in Packer’s case, the Puritan era where they were seeking to bring reform to the church. They held out more hope than I have of reform in Rome and through the papacy, and yet it didn’t come from a place of doctrinal compromise, but from a place of hope that through the Spirit’s work, that he would be pleased to answer and fulfill the prayers of John 17. Again, I’m too skeptical, I’m the journalist, so I’m too skeptical about that. That’s what we’ve seen in him, and so it’s it’s increasingly hard these days to be able to hold strong theological positions, but to have a hopeful attitude toward other people. Melissa, are there any Packer works that stood out to you in particular?
Melissa Kruger: Yeah.
Collin Hansen: You’re from that era of IVP university where Packer’s stuff was really spreading quickly.
Melissa Kruger: You’ll laugh about this. The first Christmas Mike and I, Mike’s my husband now, Mike and I were dating, which was about I think 28 Christmases ago. He gave me for Christmas three books and he always hates when I tell this story he’s like, “I sound so terrible. I gave you three books for Christmas.” I was like, “This is what made me know that you are the one. Are you kidding?” He gave me Pilgrim’s Progress, he gave me Through the Gates of Splendor, and he gave me Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.
Collin Hansen: Wow!
Melissa Kruger: Three books, yeah, isn’t that a winner? You look at that and you’re like, “He’s a winner.” But all of these books I still love today. They’ve all profoundly impacted me, but Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God was the first when I read by him and I still understand man’s responsibility, human responsibility and God’s sovereignty in different ways because of that book. It’s still what I go to when I want to refresh on how to explain that well to others. I’m so thankful. I never met him in person. I did not know that had worked for him or work with him, that’s really great. His clarity of thinking and willingness to say really hard things. Even in Knowing God where he talks about the wrath of God, it is hard to walk in that and read it, and he explains it so well and you walk away with a sense that even this is part of the beauty of Knowing God.
Even these hard doctrines, we can say that this is the God we serve and he is beautiful and lovely in all of these ways, and so he had a real passion that came through in his writing, which I appreciate so much. The last story I want to cover you, I actually have 10 stories you cover in your article, but the last one I really want to talk about for just a little bit is about social media in our lives. I think, as a mom, social media caught me a little bit off guard. My daughter was coming to this first teenage years right when things like Instagram were beginning. I’d looked at it like, “Oh! How cute. You share your little pictures on this little platform.” I didn’t really think about any of the negative effects, for instance, of what it does to a teenage girl when one friend gets a hundred likes and another friend gets 200 likes.
I maybe recognize, “Oh! Someone might share bad pictures,” I had those concerns when I looked at it. But one thing I hadn’t heard anything about until this year with this documentary that came out, I believe it was in Netflix-
Collin Hansen: Yeah, Social Dilemma. Yeah, Netflix.
Melissa Kruger: Called The Social Dilemma, was that they’re actually using an algorithmic formula to encourage us to constantly be on our fence. We might know the out front concerns we have about social media, like it really does affect where we get our news, it affects how we relate with other people, and even reflects our view or normalcy, like I did not know that as a family we were supposed to go apple picking every fall until start to see it on social media all the time I’m like, “Oh! Good families go apple picking in the fall. I need to be a good family.” It really does affect what we even think is normal. But what I was unaware was this algorithmic technology behind these apps and what they’re doing in our lives. Can you explain a little bit about what’s going on there and what that documentary really exposed for us?
Collin Hansen: Yeah, a lot of the … what we talk about on Gospelbound is the search for firm faith at an anxious age. In the book that I have coming out next year called, Gospelbound: Living with Resolute Hope in an Anxious Age, has really built off that basic concept. It is because, Melissa, we’re fighting an uphill battle in a worldly sense. Now, in the divine sense, we’re good to go. But in a worldly sense, we’re fighting an uphill battle because all of these technologies are working to make us angry and to make us afraid.
When they make us angry and they make us afraid, they keep our attention. They make us vigilant to then spread that information to other people, so that they can be similarly vigilant. This is powerful in many different kinds of communities, but it can be especially powerful within mom communities online, because you can valorize all of it under the banner of “I’m taking care of my kids, I’m doing my job to protect them,” not realizing that you are being assimilated into a culture of fear and loathing, and that whatever you might profess with your mouth about Jesus Christ and about what you believe theologically in your heart you believe that you can only accomplish and achieve these goals of protecting your family through this ever constant online vigilance against all of the people who are out there trying to destroy you, not realizing that the people who are actually trying to destroy you are the ones who are feeding you this material through the screen on your very phone, which you think is the tool that you are using to fight against.
The tool that you are using to fight against this problem is actually the tool that is destroying you. It is the conduit that is turning you into a person who is not trusting in God, not loving in other people, not able to see God for who he is in Scripture, but instead filtering all of it through a kind of lens that suggests that this is my only way to protect what I love from everything that is trying to destroy us. If that doesn’t have theological implications, I don’t know what does, and if we can’t see this year of all years of how that has happened, remember I mentioned how all the three top stories are all related to one another and how would we not see this as undergirding all of them.
The very technologies that allow us to see the injustice and bring justice, praise God for that, praise God for that I think especially about the case of Ahmaud Arbery, what a horrible situation and only because of that kind of spread through social media and smartphones and things, it’s the only way that we have that same justice there. Yet the same time, the very sense of panic and fear and hopelessness develops also through the same media, which shape our very perception of things. Whether or not these things are happening all the time or less often than we realize, it’s hard to be able to get perspective because of all things social media. Staring down at a phone in your hands is not designed to give you perspective, it’s designed to destroy your perspective and to focus you in on only yourself and all these other threats. We could talk forever about that and maybe that’s a good Let’s Talk episode you can cover in the future, but that’s how I see it connected with theology at least.
Melissa Kruger: Yeah. We often, I think one of the biggest takeaways I had from watching the documentary was we think we’re using social media and it’s really using us.
Collin Hansen: Yeah.
Melissa Kruger: There are advertisements that come up. I feel like I said I need a new purse, and then all the sudden on Instagram like five new purses show themselves.
Collin Hansen: I don’t even think, Melissa, I’m not saying it. I literally think it’s only in my head. Melissa, I will go to the refrigerator and I’ll grab orange juice and then there’s orange juice in my phone and my Facebook feed.
Melissa Kruger: Yeah. I relate about that.
Collin Hansen: This isn’t OK. If you had said this 5 or 10 years ago, this would have been like tech dystopia that you put in some sort of futuristic thing to explain how we’re all going to be ruined by big brother or something. Now it’s just like, “Yeah, I do need to order more orange juice because I just threw this in the trash.”
Melissa Kruger: Yes. It’s scary. It’s definitely scary. Well, I know that you did not spend the past year only on social media because you actually have three books coming out next year, so you took this COVID time and used it well in some level, because I know what … other people I not, it might seem like, “Oh! He’s doing all these books in January, February, March, and they’re coming out in April.” No, they all happen a year in advance, so you’ve been busy. You often talk to other people about their books, I would love to hear about these books, why you wrote them and maybe even just their titles, because I’m sure you can’t get into all the reasons that you wrote all of them, but I’d love to hear a little bit about them.
Collin Hansen: Melissa, how many books did you publish in 2020?
Melissa Kruger: Yeah, but publishing books is different than writing them.
Collin Hansen: I’ll just say now, how many books did you have come out in 2020, Melissa?
Melissa Kruger: I had three but only … one was a kid’s book. It only had 60 words, that’s totally easy. One was an edited book that I didn’t even write a chapter, so really just one real book.
Collin Hansen: Well. we’ll come back later and talk about Melissa’s edited book. Check out her children’s book. Also, check out her book on mentoring. I published the Crossway in TGC this year. I mentioned Gospelbound: Living with Resolute Hope At An Anxious Age is coming out in April, co-written with our good friend, our beloved friend, Sarah Zylstra, her first book. Very excited about that book. I think if you’re looking for encouragement, you’re looking for a morale boost learning about what the Scriptures tell us about this age, about what Christians are doing around the world, I think you get that morale boost in this book.
I think you will also get a way forward of things that you can do, things that you can tangibly put into practice to love your neighbors, to show hospitality, to care for the weak, to love your enemies even this book will be able to help you with that. There’s that book, that’s the one I’m super excited about. I have another book coming out in April with another one of our colleagues, Ivan Mesa, Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church, published by TGC. That’s an edited, multi-author book. You guys may have seen the huge phenomenon of deconstruction, about people with their perfect Instagram pictures, about how they’re living the faith with this pure script that you write out.
We’ve reached out to about 10, 12 of our best, most insightful friends to be able to write about this phenomenon from different angles. You guys are going to love that. You got Karen Prior, Rachel Gilson, Claude Atcho, Brett McCracken, Trevin Wax, some really great people in that book. Then, I have a co-writing a book with Jonathan Lehman I called (Re)discover Church: Why the Body of Christ Is Essential. That’s coming out in August with Crossway. The goal there is sometime Lord-willing, next year we’re going to be back in church together in person, and when we do so we may be surprised by all the people who are not there, either because of their jobs or because of their views on racial issues or political issues that we’ve been talking about on here or just because obviously a number of people have died as well with COVID. Then many other people have simply drifted off without that regular rhythm of church.
This book is to give to the other, everybody in your church to help remind them why the body of Christ is essential, and gives them a biblical roadmap for how they can rediscover the primacy of the gathering of the local church at a time of, at least in our lifetime, unprecedented upheaval with that. Very excited about that. I think it’s one of the things that we love most, Melissa, about TGC is just all the different things we’ve got going on. I know you were hoping this year to do a women’s conference, Lord-willing we’re going to be doing it next year. The conference that never ends or never starts, I’m not sure which one, but Lord-willing it will start next year. Yeah, those are the books that we’ve been working on. Yeah, we’re always working on different things at TGC.
Melissa Kruger: I’m really looking forward to all of them, but they’re all so necessary. To come off this hard year, to have a book that’s about Gospelbound, that’s about hope and looking at what we can do, I think it’s such a contrast to The Social Dilemma. We sometimes think activism is by going online and posting something and, “there that’s all I needed to do,” whereas I love what you and Sarah have done, you’re telling real stories of people who are living hopeful, gospel-centered lives and it changes the world in really small ways, really small ways in their area, but so encouraging to hear those stories. Then just-
Collin Hansen: But it’s a big effect. It’s a big effect, Melissa, when everybody’s small stories are happening at the same time and all of a sudden when you see them from a broader perspective, you realize God is at work.
Melissa Kruger: Absolutely.
Collin Hansen: I don’t even necessarily realize it, and that’s the morale boost, and again, hopefully also the model for what we can do ourselves.
Melissa Kruger: Yeah. That’s why we so need the church, because when you’re living with real people and real lives in real face-to-face, you see that. The more we go to this online church situation, I hope it’s made us hungry for the real thing. I hope we’ve seen how unsatisfying it is in the long term, but all of those are going to be, Lord-willing, used in great ways to support and encourage the church. Another thing that … two of them will come out in April just in time for the national conference which we just launched registration.
Collin Hansen: Just launched, just launched registration, now open.
Melissa Kruger: Please tell us about the theme and why this theme and what we’re going to be talking about.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. I want to keep things as simple as possible. The theme for 2021, which I can’t think of a better one, Jesus Is Greater. Jesus is greater than all these divisions we’ve been talking about, all of this turmoil, all of the hatreds, all of the fears, even the money, the stock, just politics on and on and on, Jesus is greater. That’s the theme of the book of Hebrews. Certainly, walks through the entire Old Testament. I know you love this book as well. Mike, your husband, he’s got a commentary coming out on Hebrews next year. This is the consistent theme, he is greater than Moses, he is greater than the angels, he is greater, on and on and on.
We’re going be looking at the book of Hebrews that way. We’ve got the typical lineup of all kinds of different breakout sessions and whatnot, but the theme for this year is one conference, but with an online version and also with an in-person version. In-person, if everything’s going great, you’re comfortable, you can join us in Indianapolis this April coming right on the heels of the women’s conference in there. You can join us for that. We’ll probably be doing limited capacity, probably with social distancing, probably with masks, that’s what I would expect that we don’t know exactly what’s going to be happening with the vaccine and things.
That’s the plan for the in-person version. There is also going to be an online version with special interviews, special features, some on-demand options for you to be able to access that material, such as the only way for you to be able to access all of the different material will be to sign up for the online version of the conference. Here’s the key, now through January 1, sign up for $139, which is one of the best rates we’ve ever given on any of our national events, and you’ll choose next year. Next year you can choose, do you want to come in person or you want to join us online?
The key is, I think, either way you get five free books. You get books by Tim Keller, you get a book by Trevin Wax, by Rebecca McLaughlin, you get the book that we were just talking about right there on deconstructing doubt in the church Before You Lose Your Faith, you to get a book by our friend Jeff Robinson on speech and the gospel from the book of James, which is the women’s conference theme. You get that whether you come in person or you can get that through our online store, but that’s the key. We’re going to be doing same rate and you sign up now for that best rate through January 1, and then later you get to choose whether or not your comfort level on joining us in person or staying at home online.
I’m pretty excited about this. I actually think that we’re going to maintain some of these different characteristics coming into next year. In future years, meaning some of the online version, some of the books that you get when you sign up for the conference. Melissa, you and I have been working forever on the women’s conference slated to be our biggest conference of all time. The Lord had different plans for 2020, somehow better plans, we’re waiting to see exactly how. How are you feeling about the women’s conference heading to next April? By the way, the week after Easter, in case people are wondering. Week after Easter is when our conferences kick in.
Melissa Kruger: My biggest lesson learned is never entitle a conference Steadfast, because that might become a living parable and it’s definitely been this year. It’s been amazing, I actually memorized the first chapter of James when we were working through and studying it, just preparing it, preparing my heart for this book that we’re going to study. The words of [inaudible 00:48:46] when you meet trials of various kind, before you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, unless steadfastness have a full effect that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.
But then the next verses if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God. I think, for us, in this conference, I hope our listeners know … we have lacked wisdom meaning we don’t know what to do. We have prayed and prayed and prayed and asked the Lord to show us what is best, and so we are really hopeful that providing an online option for both conferences that would be really robust and really hopefully encouraging, whether we’re in your living room or whether you’re in Indianapolis, Lord-willing, and that’s the other thing we keep saying from James 4, if the Lord wills, that’s been the new tagline for this year, if the Lord wills.
We just really hope to be able to encourage our hearts in that way that we all need through these conferences. I’m looking forward to them. I’m hopeful for what the Lord can do through them. Just thankful that he provides these ways for us to do it. I want to ask one other question, we’re getting down on time. I could talk to you … our normal conversations go at least an hour and a half.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. This is like we’re just warming up now for our normal conversations, Melissa.
Melissa Kruger: Exactly
Collin Hansen: People are just get to see what our lives are like off the podcast.
Melissa Kruger: I know. I want to jump and ask not only we work these jobs for TGC, but I think I can speak for you when we say this is that we love working for TGC. I love for this opportunity at the end of the year for you will share a little bit about why you choose this, or a ton of other jobs you could be doing in the world, why TGC? Why this organization? Why this mission? Do you spend to choose the life you’ve been given, really to spend your life working here? Why this organization?
Collin Hansen: I think, Melissa, when you just listen to all the things that you and I get to do, it’s a bit of a no-brainer just on that level. I think about the next season of Gospelbound and all the people that I want to talk to with that Russell Moore, Rebecca McLaughlin, Brett McCracken, Jen Wilkin, just these friends of mine whose writings I’ve benefited from so much, be able to brainstorm with you about another season of Let’s Talk. We could go on and on when it comes to the podcast, when it comes to the books, when it comes to the conferences. It is a privilege that we do not take lightly at all of being able to do these things in ways that will produce resources that we believe can fundamentally build up the local church and help all Christians to live in a gospel-centered way, applying the gospel to all of life.
When I go back to it though, Melissa, it just goes back to the foundation documents of TGC that Don Carson and Tim Keller took the lead with, that men like John Piper and John Yates and on and on and on, then shaped into these documents that we advance here at TGC going back to 2007. When you look at that vision for the church, a lot was different back in 2007, and yet still today, that’s what encourages my soul as the spirit works within me to say, “That’s a beautiful church, that it’s worthy of the blood of the Lamb that was shed to purchase these lives for eternity. This is a church that lives out our biblical callings that lives them in a way that is universal to time and place, meaning orthodox, but at the same time is contextualized to different places and different times. It’s not an American vision, it’s not a 21st-century vision, and yet at the same time, it works perfectly well for the 21st century in the United States. It’s flexible and yet it’s trusted and it’s true and it’s ancient.
That’s just what’s beautiful. The same things that we’ve been calling for in a different time in 2007 are the same things that we uphold today, the same beauty and the same hope that we’ll have a church that seeks prophetic wisdom and obedience as opposed to just partisanship, and on and on, it can go on forever on this, but in the interest of time, I’ll just say in addition to being able to do so many fun things with excellent, Godly colleagues like yourself, doing all of it together for a vision that transcends presbyterian and non-denominational and Baptist and Anglican churches around the country, around the world, because it’s all centered on the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s simply beautiful.
Melissa, likewise, you’ve had so many different jobs at TGC. You started out as a math teacher. You’ve been working at home with your kids over the years. There’s a lot of things that you could be doing, and you do the impossible in your work. You go above and beyond. Literally, people, the stories I could tell of projects that I’ve pitched to Melissa that are completely ludicrous in terms of timeline that she actually pulls off are pretty amazing. You could be doing a lot of things, Melissa, you are one the most capable people that I know, so why TGC?
Melissa Kruger: I have to say, the first introduction I really had to TGC, I can remember Mike years ago tell me, “You should read articles on this website,” and I was like, “Okay!” Yeah, that was when reading online was fairly new. The first real introduction I had was the TGC women’s conference in 2012. It’s the very first conference that was put on for women. It was so unique and different from any women’s conference I had been to. I can still remember John Piper describing the robe of God in the temple in Isaiah 6. I can still hear his voice talking about how it filled the temple, and I can still hear Paige Benton Brown saying, “After the battle comes the best,” and basically each passage was just another Scripture, and it was just teaching the storyline of Scripture.
Since then, we’ve done different books of the Bible like Nehemiah, and we’ve done 1 Peter. What I’ve appreciated so much was just this deep effort to put women teaching and teaching God’s Word, not a concept, not a new topic, but just teach God’s Word. I have to say, when I look at what TGC has done and seen so many wonderful things, but it’s just hard for me to share well what I think it’s done for women in the church.
What I see happening among our teams and just the people who we work together, it’s such a beautiful picture of complementarity. I wish people could be on our editorial cause, and hear how we really are brothers and sisters. Yeah, and like that, sometimes we get in squabbles.
Collin Hansen: Sometimes fight.
Melissa Kruger: We have these great conversations, and I’m so thankful to get to work in an organization where we can uphold the truth that we firmly believe, that men and women are created beautifully equal, but also distinct. Equal in their reflection of God but distinct in what we’re called to do as embodied males and females. However, what I love is that both voices are at the table, men and women, and we’re working through these things together, and we’re talking about these ideas together, and I really just love getting to serve with brothers in ministry, and that it’s not an organization that’s all females or all males. We’re doing this together.
I’ve been so thankful for that. It’s been just a great encouragement to my soul. When you look at our website, I think it reflects that. We have men and women. Women have this place to write that I don’t think was really available in the same way. There were a lot of mommy blogs, which are fine and we need those, but there wasn’t a place for really women to write about theological subjects and be heard by the church at large. I have to say, Collin, you opened that door for so many of us. I know I would not be writing for TGC. I went to a session in 2012 and Collin was up there interviewing someone and he said, “We really want female writers, so if you’d like to write for us,” and that’s when I met Matt.
I walked up and talk to Matt Smethurst, one of our editors, and I said, “I can write for you if you need writers.” I never in a million years would have sent an article into TGC, but the saying, when you said we need female authors, just the invitation to come and write for TGC was such a powerful thing, and you opened that door for so many female authors, and I’m so thankful. I’m so thankful for that.
Collin Hansen: I think, Melissa, the best way to show the truth of complementarity from God’s Word is to as we teach it to live it, and to show that it is what God has intended for human flourishing for men and women. You and I have both been in environments both complementarian and egalitarian that do not live out these values as well as they should. I think that’s both, it’s been motivating to both of us how to be able to show a better way, because God’s word is true and because he’s good to all of us men and women.
Yeah. You just talk about why is it a privilege to work here? It’s because we get to live out those values best as we can, praying for wisdom, repenting sometimes after those fights I love. I got an email on Saturday from one of our colleagues, who was a little miffed at me for some things that I’ve published, and had a good little back-and-forth with that colleague. I just appreciate that. I love that we can have that conversation. I love that we can disagree on things. I love we can sometimes even be a little sharp with each other and still come back in love, because there is a shared trust in Christ there.
We think about all this and typical for us, Melissa, we’ve talked longer than we expected and wanted to, but this is an opportunity to say thank you to literally tens and tens and tens of thousands of men and women this year who have listened to Gospelbound, who have listened to Let’s Talk, who have made those podcasts successful and make it possible for us to do this for you. We’d love to have your help here, especially as it comes to the end of the year. We’d love for you to partner with us to support this work that we’re doing here some ways that you can do it.
The first way that is, I think, the easiest is to become a monthly giver to TGC. Just go to TGC.org/give. We do want to be able to give you a tangible thank you. Not only the thank you from this podcast, but we have something we’d like to share with you. Everybody who signs up to give TGC at least $25 a month or more, we’re going to send you a copy of two books, two books we’re going to send them. Appropriately for what we’ve just been talking about here. We’re going to send the book that I edited a couple of years ago with Jeff Robinson called 12 Faithful Men and we’re to send everybody a copy of 12 Faithful Women, edited by Melissa and also our friend Kristin Wetherell. If you become a monthly giver to TGC at the end of the year TGC.org/give, you sign up $25 a month, we will send you a copy each of those two books.
You can also support us, if you don’t want to become a monthly giver or if you’d like to give more, feel free just give a on- time gift at the same place, TGC.org/give. There’s another way to support us beyond the prayers that we obviously covet from you as we deal with some difficult topics on these podcasts. Would also be simply to subscribe to them and to leave a rating and review, especially Apple podcasts, but other places that will help with as well. What this does is help others who are searching for hope find gospel-centered resources like Gospelound and Let’s Talk.
One of the things that we recognize often is that people stumble, the Internet, they stumble across TGC.org. They stumble across a podcast that maybe somebody recommended to them or maybe they simply searched and found, or maybe they saw a Jackie Hill Perry on Instagram and decided to somehow navigate over to TGC there. The way you can help us to do that if you love and appreciate the content that we produce here is simply by leaving a rating and review of this podcast. I know, Melissa, you guys typically end with a favorite thing. I don’t know if we have time, but I do want to ask about maybe a book that you enjoyed this year, in closing. That’s what I love to do. I always do a book, you always do your favorite thing. I would love, again, with a book whenever I can remember to do it, why don’t you give me one book? One book recommendation that people add to their Christmas list for themselves or give to somebody else.
Melissa Kruger: Yeah. The book I read this year that I love the most, I’m going to read it, I’m already re-reading it again. I’m sure, Collin, you can’t see it on the podcast, it’s Keeping the Heart by John Flavel. I think I’ve been … I started reading it because I’ve been so concerned as we look in the world around us for the deconstruction, the deconversions, the people who leave for more reasons who leave the faith, the people who leave for intellectual reasons who leave the faith, the people who leave because life is hard and they don’t understand the God who brought them into a hard situation. I ordered this book, and it is all about our role in Keeping the Heart. He says it is the most important work we do, is to, in some ways, inflame our love for God throughout the lives.
This does not, all our lives, this does not mean that we are responsible for our salvation or even our sanctification, but he just really walks you through what does it mean to fight this battle of keeping our heart centered on God through a long life of loving the Lord and ministry.
Collin Hansen: Give us the title again, Melissa.
Melissa Kruger: Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Your Love For God by John Flavel, probably written in the 1600s, still extremely relevant for today, and it’s not even very thick. I’m going to give you the right … it’s only got 117 pages. I’m a nice friend when I recommend books that are 117 pages not 1,200.
Collin Hansen: Not like me. Keeping the Heart, that’s a good one. That’s a good one.
Melissa Kruger: What about you? Do you have have a book from the year?
Collin Hansen: I will. It’s a little bit of a preview of next year. I got to talk with the most amazing … just some of the interviews that stood out this year, Paul Tripp, Jamie Smith, Carl Trueman, their books that came out this year were simply, simply spectacular. Jami’ss came out last year, I think, but anyway, those books, which both Paul and Carl both ended up in TGC’s annual book awards for their books. You can go check those out there.
The one I’m looking forward to with Gospelbound for next year, Joseph Heinrich, it’s called The WEIRDest People in the World. What this is about is he coined the term or helped to define the term weird, which is Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. Essentially, to describe the kind of makeup of what is the West and his thesis, he is the chair of the department of evolutionary biology, I think or something at Harvard, his entire thesis is that the West is created by Christianity and it’s created by Christianity because of the ban on marrying your cousin.
Because you could not marry your cousin, it destroyed clan structures around what became Christendom. When it did that, it freed up people to be able to associate with one another outside of their narrow clan responsibilities and to be able to organize together around ideas. As they organize around ideas, what did they do? They created trade guilds. What did they do? They created universities. They created science. All kinds they create that but they work to advance science. To this day, you can continue to see that the most Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic countries are those that were engaged, that were most Christian for the longest time where you have the fewest incidences today of cousins marrying each other, and especially where you have Protestantism. Then if you want to find the complete opposite, you’ll see the highest percentages correlate to places where the highest percentages of cousins who continued to marry each other.
A simple case is when somebody asks you what you think you have the space to be able to think about it yourself as an individual as opposed to simply saying, “I don’t think because that’s what some sort of person within my clan tells me I have to think.” It gives you a kind of independence of thought and independence of association that then ultimately radically transforms the world. People who listen to Gospelbound, they know this is the thing that I love, that I love to talk with people about, so hopefully we’ll have that author on next year. I haven’t asked him yet, a little technicality, but typically when people tell you you want to talk about their books, they like to do it.
Melissa Kruger: I can’t wait to listen to that one. That’s fascinating.
Collin Hansen: We’ll see. That’s one of my favorite things. I haven’t … I can’t remember if I’ve put that on any of my book lists for this year, but anyway, that’s a preview just for the podcast listeners. Speaking of which, thank you. Thank you for listening to this special mashup/crossover episode of Gospelbound and Let’s Talk. It’s a privilege throughout 2020 that we’ve been able to join you on your … while you’re washing dishes, while you’re commuting, while you’re working out, however you decide to listen to us, we’re very grateful.
We appreciate the comments over email, in person, the feedback that we get. One of my people out here at Beeson Divinity school, he is next door to me, he popped in the other day and said, “Collin, doing great with the podcast.” I had no idea he was even listening, so that is a huge encouragement. You can also encourage us, rate us and review the podcast. Sign up to become a monthly donor of $25 or more, we’ll send you those books as a thank you, just go to TGC.org/give. On behalf of Melissa Kruger, and I could probably say also Jasmine and Jackie, the hosts of Let’s Talk, I can also say as the host of Gospelbound, Merry Christmas everybody, Happy new year, thanks for listening.