My Favourite Podcasts

I really love podcasts. I listen to a bunch, some more often than others. Here are some of the ones I especially appreciate:

Christianity and Hard Questions

Unbelievable: One of the best apologetics podcasts out of the UK. Usually involves debates between a believer and atheist /skeptic or between believers who hold different positions on various theological issues.

Apologetics Canada: A homegrown podcast on various ethical and theological issues and how we respond to our culture. One of the only podcasts that deals with these things from a Canadian perspective.

Christians and Culture

The Holy Post: Hosted by Veggie Tales creator, Phil Vischer, writer/speaker Skye Jethani, and others. Tackles cultural issues from a Christian perspective in a humorous, winsome, and thoughtful way.

The Movie Proposal: Skye Jethani and Josh Lindsey review movies and TV stories from a faith perspective.

Christianity and Struggles

Mid-Faith Crisis: Two Christians out of the UK with two points of view chatting about how to live as a person of faith when you are questioning your faith. Funny, thoughtful, and a good example of how to have a conversation when you disagree. Even I disagree with these guys about some stuff, but I still enjoy them!

Surprised By Grief: The two hosts, having experienced profound loss themselves, reflect on how to deal with grief as people of faith.

Christian Theology

The Bible Project: These guys have also done a ton of fantastic videos that are free on YouTube. Lots of deep dives into the books of the Bible and themes and topics in the Bible.

Mere Fidelity: Deeper conversations on various theological topics between 3 or 4 theologians. Very well done.

Ask NT Wright Anything: NT Wright is one of the premier New Testament scholars in the world today. Here he answers questions sent in by listeners. Hosted by Justin Brierly, host also of Unbelievable.

Theology in the Raw: Hosted by Preston Sprinkle, who interviews various Christian leaders and teachers on a variety of topics. Sprinkle has written a great deal on LGBTQ issues from a traditional Christian view on sexuality and personhood.

Obviously, these podcasts reveal my tastes. There are others I also listen to occasionally. I’m sure you could suggest others. But perhaps one or two of these might bless you and encourage you. If you want to share your favs with me, put the link in a comment.

Lenten TV Fast Update Part 2

On recent Saturday mornings, my son Eli and I have been watching The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon on Netflix. Most recently we watched a bunch of episodes of the Marvel show WandaVision on Disney+. After that I would sometimes watch an episode or two of Law & Order.

But now I won’t be doing any of that until after Easter.

Now, I confess that I know exactly what it’s like to spend a few—maybe even several?—hours watching TV, and then afterwards having this feeling of, well, waste.

More specifically, it’s the feeling that my time spent passively enjoying a show didn’t really add anything to my life. I might very well have enjoyed it, but I don’t take anything away of value. At least most of the time.

But when I use that same time to read or perhaps work on a blog post, my mind and my heart are more actively engaged. I get something from it. It adds something to my life, to my day, to my imagination, to my sense of accomplishment. It has value beyond the time spent doing it.

Don’t get me wrong. I probably will return to watching superhero cartoons with Eli once Lent is over. Indeed, I love doing that with him. I will probably also watch other kinds of TV again.

At the same time, I hope and pray that my experience of Lent—and of fasting from TV—will change my attitude and my habits.

In the meantime, I will take full advantage of not watching TV to do other things that are both enjoyable and life-giving.

Religion and Politics Part 3: Living By a Different Narrative

“But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Luke 6:27–28

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay,” says the Lord.  But “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.” Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

Romans 12:14–21

If only our political leaders or, perhaps more importantly, those who demonize or canonize them, would take the above words from Scripture seriously. Knowing a perverted form of Christianity (in the form of “Christian nationalism”) had a role in last week’s attack on Capitol Hill is no less than sickening. And if the sight of “Jesus Saves” banners alongside “Trump” banners carried by people storming the Capitol building–which led to five deaths!–doesn’t lead to serious self-examination, I can’t imagine what would.

Political leaders, obviously, are also culpable. Whatever anyone makes of the alleged voter fraud in the 2020 US presidential election, it’s clear to me at least that since election day President Trump as conducted himself in an entirely egotistical, narcissistic way. No humility. No grace. No dignity. The last few months alone taint any semblance–however small–of his accomplishments while in office. He’s done himself no favours, and to that end has done a disservice to his country.

It doesn’t end there, though. Now having impeached President Trump for the second time, the Democratic Party shows itself to be no less prone to pride, division, and to be more interested in power than the interests of the nation. Really? With less than a week to go in his presidency? And now the possibility of a senate trial after Trump has left office? What an auspicious way for Biden’s first term to begin. So much for healing the division.

So much of what really motivates politicians is behind the curtain. Media interviews, tweets, soundbites, carefully crafted statements–none of this gets to the truth in an honest and truthful way. Yet the curtain is, to my reckoning, transparent, if not by design than certainly through the rhetoric we hear from the left and the right.

What happens to a nation, to a community, when those who hold polar opposite views are unable to see one another as genuine human beings? What happens when rhetoric completely overtakes dialogue? What happens when all each side of the political divide seems capable of is attacking their opponents and self-righteously defending themselves?

Let’s face it, the emperor has no clothes.

But those of us who are concerned about the welfare of our neighbourhoods, communities, and our countries don’t have to subscribe to the narrative of political opportunism, vitriol, and sensationalism. Especially those of us in the church of Jesus. In fact, if we take our Savior seriously, we absolutely cannot. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. There are no caveats here. No exceptions. No footnotes or small print.

The words of both Paul and Jesus invite us into a different, more life-giving narrative. Think of the apostle’s words from the passage above from Romans: Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. Those supposed followers of Jesus who stormed the Capitol or who sought revenge by impeaching a president whose term is basically over reveals hearts that have indeed been conquered by evil. One of the worst kinds of evil is that which is thoroughly convinced of its righteousness. It’s the kind of evil that seeks potentially good ends but by whatever means available.

Eugene H. Peterson, in his book The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way, says this: “The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus way with the American way.” In this book he talks about how means and ends need to be congruent when we talk about following Jesus. He says it better: “To follow Jesus implies that we enter into a way of life that is given character and shape and direction by the one who calls us.”

Living by a different narrative, one shaped by life in the kingdom and following Jesus, means unsubscribing to the idea that politics–the ways of conducting ourselves as a community and seeking the common good–necessarily involves hating our enemies and doing whatever we can to defeat them. More than that, if succeeding in politics and having our way–even if we think it’s the best way–means we have to plunge our souls into this abyss, we’re actually better off losing the political fight. Jesus, after all, did say something about losing our lives in order to save them. In his kingdom victory may well look like defeat, but perhaps recognizing this is the start of not only saving our souls but loving our enemies.

Religion and Politics Part 2 (Or How to Have Perspective When the Whole World Seems Crazy)

(Note: This is a reflection on American politics from the perspective of one Baptist pastor living in Nova Scotia, Canada. So take my thoughts however you like.)

So for several days I’ve been trying to process what recently happened in the US Capitol last week. In many ways, it seemed both unreal and unsurprising. On the one hand, it felt like the culmination of four years (but especially the last year) of political chaos and partisan in-fighting; on the other hand, who would have believed that a riotious mob would invade the Capitol Building, causing not only injury but the deaths of five people, in an attempt to protest and perhaps overthrow the results of a presidential election?

I began another, altogether different blog post in an attempt to work through my thoughts on the matter. While writing it, I ended up more frustrated, and feeling like I was both saying too much and not enough. Because the events of last week and the whole process of the 2020 US election leading up to it is profoundly complicated.

And now to see the Democrat Party moving towards impeaching President Trump once again, nine days before he leaves office, it’s clear that political partisanship and privilege are going to “trump” reason and humility. So much for moving forward in a manner that might bring healing to a hurting, crippled nation. All this will do is further incite those who remain angry and disenranchised with respect to government.

Enough is enough, isn’t it?

One of the most concerning aspects of the current turmoil overwhelming the American body politic is the alignment of much of so-called evangelicalism with the political right. For many Christians, there is no significant distinction between being a Bible-believing follower of Jesus and being a Republican. Indeed, given that roughly 80% of evangelicals reportedly supported the election of Trump both in 2016 and 2020, this alignment appears to have reached its nadir.

Without having to recap the long, complex history of US politics and religion, I feel compelled to make the following observation: American evangelical Christians have for too long put an unwarranted amount of hope in politics and political leaders.

We live in a climate where, apparently, every election is the election or the most important and consequential election in American history. Make the wrong choice, vote in the wrong president, and it could spell the end of the Republic. Certainly this is the impression we’re given by political pundits in the media.

Don’t buy what they’re selling. Not only because it’s likely wrong and is obviously a script drafted to procure ratings and profits, but because it’s extremely unhealthy for your soul.

This is what really concerns me in all this. If we as Christians get so drawn into politics that we find ourselves simply parroting the political rhetoric of our choice and demonizing those who don’t share it, we will end up dehumanizing ourselves and those with whom we disagree.

I’ve felt this pull. Over the last couple of years as I’ve followed and been frustrated by both Canadian and American politics, I’ve found it temptingly easy to reduce this or that politician to labels. Yes, it’s convenient to be able to summarize quickly someone with a word–“liberal,” “conservative,” “right-wing,” “conspiracy-theorist,” leftist radical,” etc.–but what does this do to us? Not only does it make us more dismissive of others, but it can also make us much less patient and compassionate towards other people. Including those who are different.

In my last post, I mentioned how politics is one of those taboo conversation subjects because it always ends up in arguments. I think this happens especially when we have found ourselves so invested in politics that it ends up, perhaps unconsciously or unintentionally, as our ultimate horizon of meaning. In other words, politics can become someone’s ultimate source of meaning. Only through the political process can we improve the human situation. Politics done rightly is the answer to life’s problems. Partisan politics emerges when, at the very least, there are competing views on how we should solve those problems through the political process. Varying political systems also reflect this: democratic, republican, tyrannical, autocratic, fascist, socialist, monarchist. All are political systems with profoundly different beliefs about how to deal with civic life and the problems we face as a human community.

That leads to the crux of the issue: when any given political system becomes–unconsciously or otherwise–our ultimate horizon of meaning, unrest, division, and turmoil are the likely result. Because no political system, no matter how well-executed and no matter how just, can ever serve as the solution to the human predicament. This is true whether we’re talking about racism, sexism, poverty, exploitation, crime and violence, environmental abuse, or anything else.

Given this, is it any wonder that we are where we are? Aren’t riots, protests, contested election results, and political polarization simple confirmation of what happens when politics becomes the only means by which we believe genuine human transformation–both individual and corporate–can occur?

Why? Because the very people trying to solve the human predicament through politics are themselves the source of the predicament. That means any system we try and set up to solve human problems will inevitably at some level be caught up in and participate in the predicament.

Put more simply, politics can’t save us. Political leaders can’t save us. The next election can’t save us. Loyalty to a particular party or cause can’t save us. The next piece of legislation can’t save us.

And even though most Christians understand this, I don’t think most Christians live this way, act this way, or even talk this way. Not when, as I said, up to 80% of evangelicals voted for Trump in two presidential elections.

Don’t get me wrong. I know it’s complicated. I understand why there are Christians who voted for Trump. I also get why many didn’t.

And I’m not saying we shouldn’t follow or engage in politics. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use the political process to effect positive change. Nor am I saying that we should ignore cries for justice and the need to stand up for truth and for what is right, to live by our convictions.

But like I said, my real concern as Christians engage in politics is that we do so with a sober and humble perspective not only on what we can achieve through this process but on what we think we should try and achieve. The political process is as flawed as the human beings engaging in it.

Let’s not put all of our apples in the political applecart.

We will be disappointed in our politicians. We will see policies we agree with and disagree with come to pass.

Let’s not so invest ourselves in the politics of our time that we end up angry, cynical, and insensitive. Like any other human endeavour, politics comes with profound limitations.

Unlike the Israelites, let’s not demand a human ruler in place of God.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have.” When they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” Samuel considered their demand wrong, so he prayed to the Lord. But the Lord told him, “Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected me as their king. They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning me and worshiping other gods. 

1 Samuel 8:4–8

And let’s not trade our eternal inheritance for immediate satisfaction or results like Esau.

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field exhausted. He said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, because I’m exhausted.” That is why he was also named Edom. Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die, so what good is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to Jacob and sold his birthright to him. Then Jacob gave bread and lentil stew to Esau; he ate, drank, got up, and went away. So Esau despised his birthright.

Genesis 25:29–34

When human beings lose (forfeit?) the perspective of eternity and transcendence, and we’re left with only the here and now, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that not only do we more earnestly invest in political answers to the human problem but that we also find ourselves profoundly discouraged and even dismayed when these answers fail us. Many people, it seems, will take to the streets with rage when that happens.

As a follower of Jesus, I have to remind myself, and conduct myself according to the fact, that I live within a much different horizon of meaning, one bracketed by the humble coming of Christ in the manger and the glorious return of Christ at the sound of the archangel’s trumpet blast. Such an ultimate horizon of meaning–based as it is on the kingdom of God–relativizes all earthly rulers and authorities. Bearing this in mind, even while engaging in politics in one way or another, is what not only will give us perspective as followers of Jesus but protect the well-being of our souls in the process.

Religion and Politics? Am I Crazy?

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.

Colossians 4:6

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:1-4

Religion and politics—two subjects that we shouldn’t discuss in polite company. Allegedly.

And why? Presumably because all such discussion leads to heated, even divisive arguments.

And why does that happen? Again, presumably because each of us can have very strong opinions which we feel passionate about and are invested in—intellectually and emotionally.

To probe a little bit deeper still, this is, I think, because religion and politics concern some of the fundamental questions about who we are as human beings and what it means to be a community.

For example, when I think about politics and political parties, there are questions that come to mind. What is the role of government? How should power be divided between the federal government, provincial or state government, or local government? Why is that important? Where’s the balance between individual freedom and community responsibility? Different political parties can have profoundly distinct answers to these questions.

And all this without even broaching the subject of the relationship between religion and politics!

I raise these questions primarily because of what I’ve been watching unfold amongst our neighbours to the south. But not only because of that. Over the last few years I’ve also paid a little more attention to Canadian politics. We’ve got our own shenanigans, certainly. Very little of it has given me confidence in our political institutions.

But what really concerns me is the seemingly unbridgeable divide between political opponents. Yes, politics has always been a dirty game in many respects. Many people have long been cynical about the prospects for political unity. There’s always been mudslinging. Political attack ads are nothing new.

However, what I think is new is the extent of the division and partisanship, the degree to which the political culture has reached an almost thoroughly distrustful and angry tone. There is virtually no overlap between people on the left and right, no willingness to have honest, more nuanced conversation about fundamental issues. Can you imagine, for example, Justin Trudeau and Erin O’Toole going for coffee? To be honest, much of what has been going on lately in politics–in our country and south of the border–has felt like self-parody.

A significant part of the problem is the media, because in the fight for ratings and profit in a highly competitive industry political pundits, newscasters, and reporters have all become—admittedly or not—thoroughly biased in their approach. Networks and news organizations play to particular audiences, skewing certain stories deliberately, focusing on or even ignoring specific stories altogether. It feels disingenuous and all it seems to do is feed the fires of discontent and disunity. News no longer only covers politics; news is political.

Ok. So say I’m right about all this. What’s to be done? Surely our political systems are too large, too unwieldy, and too deeply entrenched for any real change to occur.

Maybe that’s where religion comes in.

But won’t that further division and deepen the antagonism? After all, that’s subject number two that we should avoid discussing.

Here’s where I address my own so-called tribe specifically: Christians, followers of Jesus, those who claim to believe the Bible, rely on its promises, and adhere and live by its teachings and principles.

Now, I get there is no one Christian tribe. We are sub-divided beyond reason in some respects. Hopefully, though, I’ll be saying something most followers of Jesus can affirm.

Here’s what I think: we need to cultivate and therefore model what it means to have meaningful, winsome, respectful conversation with people who profoundly disagree with us.

In other words, to talk without yelling, getting angry, and listening only to know how we can refute someone else’s point of view.

It means learning to see even people with whom we have deep disagreements as individuals made in the imago Dei, worthy of dignity and respect, as people we can’t reduce to labels and group affiliations.

It means wanting to win a person more than the argument. Who cares if you’re right if you’re being a jerk about it? What did the apostle Paul say about love in 1 Corinthians 13 again?

It means being able to understand those who differ from us on their terms rather than resorting to simplified caricatures or, worse, misrepresentations of their positions and ideas. To this end, we do have to have a willingness to have our ideas corrected or at least amended.

And it also means walking away from a conversation rather than allowing yourself to be caught in a toxic social media comments section or an escalating argument that’s generating more heat than light.

It also means, unfortunately, that there are going to be times when such conversation is impossible with some people. We may have to resign ourselves to the reality that there will be people who refuse to be civil in their tone and humble in their posture. No matter our best efforts, some conversations will not go or end the way we want.

Certainly it means that however important politics is, Christian eschatology doesn’t begin and end with another election cycle or political debate. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, not Trump, Trudeau, or anyone else.

All of this means wanting to exhibit the qualities—indeed, the fruit—of the Spirit in our lives, our attitudes, our words, our conversations, our relationships, and our public engagement of important issues.

Is there more to be said on this? I have no doubt. But no less.

Honestly, don’t we want to be people who, through abiding in Christ, know the difference between God and Caesar? Each has their place, to be sure, but one is temporal and one is eternal. Best not to get the two mixed up and find ourselves investing too dogmatically and vehemently in the one that cannot bring us ultimate peace.

In the meantime, if we do it right, with civility and humility, I think religion and politics are precisely the things we should be talking about.