This is the age of the Internet podcast. About four years ago, I published a review of some of the most thoughtful and engaging Internet podcasts available at the time. Now is a good time to update the review.
What I like about podcasts is that I can download the MP3 material right to my phone, or even stream them directly from the Internet, even fire up a YouTube app in the background and just listen, either while I am driving around town in the car, or out pulling weeds in the yard. There has never been any other time in world history where someone can have such excellent access to the Bible and great Christian theological content.
What I do not like about podcasts is that there are too many of them, and the quality varies greatly, not just in terms of style, but more importantly, in terms of theological quality. The sheer volume and variety of options, with “Christian” themes, creates a crisis: Is the podcast done by some random person with a microphone, an Internet connection, and pages missing from their Bible? Or is it done by someone who actually knows what they are talking about, having a love for God, with Scripturally informed scholarship backing them up? Who can I trust?
My time is important, and probably, so is yours, so I have narrowed down to some of the better podcasts you can get. Depending on the category, I would recommend finding one or two podcasts you like, and subscribe to them, or otherwise, download select, archived material. So here is the update on the best Christian podcasts around…
Where to Start?
If your local church has a podcast, or if it simply has an Internet storage place for sermons, you should start with that (better yet, be in church as many Sunday mornings as you possibly can). Getting podcasts from popular Christian websites or iTunes can be great, but they are no substitute for engaging the teaching of your local pastor. Sure, your pastor may not be as gifted as a Rick Warren, a Chuck Swindoll, an Andy Stanley, a Tim Keller, a Greg Laurie, or a David Jeremiah. But unlike the big names, you can get to know your pastor and interact on a more personal level. If your church is too big for one-on-one, you can probably find an elder who does interact with the pastor. The main point is that there is something about the intimacy of getting to know your local church leadership, and bouncing things off of fellow Christians in your fellowship, in something like a small group Bible study session, or over lunch, that simply can not be replicated by listening to a podcast on your iPhone.
To Get an Overview of the Bible
Now that we have that clear, here is where I would start if you are completely new to the Bible:
- Dick Woodward’s Mini-Bible College: Dick Woodward was my pastor for many years, and his special gift was the ability to take advanced Bible concepts and put them down on the bottom shelf for the average person. The most valuable part of Dick’s teaching was his Old Testament and New Testament surveys, giving an overview of each book of the Bible. Dick’s mentors were great Bible teachers like J. Vernon McGee and Ray Stedman. Dick died a few years ago, so some of the delivery style might sound “old school” to some, but International Cooperating Ministries (ICM) is carrying forward Dick’s teaching to people all over the world. ICM now has an iPhone app, and also puts the Mini Bible College up on iTunes.
- The Bible Project. For younger generations, the folks at the Bible Project have released an excellent set of YouTube videos geared at using cool, animated graphics to tell the story of each book of the Bible. They even do topical studies, and in recent years, they now have a companion podcast on iTunes, for more advanced topics.
To Go In-Depth Into the Bible
So, you think you have a decent grasp of the overall content of the Bible, but is your understanding of Scripture rather shallow? Unfortunately, a lot of evangelical churches these days just skim over the Bible text in their teaching ministries, and so you really never dive in deep. Where do you go if you want to study the Bible verse-by-verse (or what some of my friends call, “line-by-line”)? Just know that everyone has a particular theological slant when it comes to doing in-depth Bible study, but that you can still learn something. The point is that these podcasts will help you to get to know your Bible better:
- John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries. Pastor emeritus John Piper, a Reformed Baptist Bible teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota is known for his passionate, verse-by-verse, expository teaching style. Piper has not covered all of the books of the Bible in his 40+ years of ministry, but he has preached extensively on the most important texts in Scripture. John Piper describes himself as a “Christian Hedonist,” he will deeply challenge you, and he engages really well with young people. What I appreciate the most about John Piper is that he simply is not a big name preacher. For me, Piper exemplifies the scholar/pastor type we need more of in our evangelical pulpits today. Unlike a lot of popular preachers out there in the podcast world, John Piper knows his Bible, grounded in excellent scholarship, even you do not chime in with all of his conclusions. Theologically, John Piper is a big “R” Reformed Calvinist. Also, if you prefer Q&A style podcasts, Ask Pastor John is in short, 5-minute segments. Though not technically a charismatic, John Piper is nevertheless open to the Charismatic Movement. I got my wife hooked onto Piper a few years ago, and there is not a day that goes by that she is not listening to John Piper.
- Martyn-Lloyd Jones Trust. Martyn-Lloyd Jones was one of the two premier British Bible teachers/pastors in the mid-to-late 20th century (John R. W. Stott is the other). Remarkably, some 1,600 of his sermons starting around the 1950s have been recorded, though not all of the books of the Bible have been covered. Martyn-Lloyd Jones is totally “old-school,” but he is truly “The Doctor:” Clear, logical, concise, and impassioned, a refreshing break from today’s “touchy-feely” popular style. Plus, he has a great Welsh accent. His “Great Biblical Doctrines” series is classic, Puritan-inspired, confessional evangelicalism at its most profound and articulate. MLJ is hard to get on iTunes, but there is an iPhone app.
- The Narrow Path. If I had to pick one Bible teacher as my only podcast companion, it would be Steve Gregg’s, the Narrow Path. Steve actually runs a radio show out of Los Angeles, but probably his best contribution to the church is his collection of verse-by-verse teachings that cover every single book of the Bible, through his Great Commission School, an intensive study program which is geared to equip Christians for ministry. Here is what I really like about Steve: He is technically not a pastor of a church, so he is not constrained in how he teaches, unlike how so many pastors are today, beholden to congregational expectations. He accurately and fairly addresses views other than his own, but he is not afraid to share his own opinion. It really bothers me when I hear a number of high-profile evangelical preachers today who continually misrepresent the views of others from the pulpit. Thankfully, Steve Gregg does not do that sort of pedagogical malpractice, even when I do not agree with him on his particular views. Steve has a background in the Calvary Chapel movement, complete with the long hair in ponytail and a large goatee. He is a decidedly non-Calvinist Arminian, a non-dispensationalist, a partial preterist when it comes to the EndTimes, and a moderate charismatic. That might sound quirky to some, but frankly, having someone who treats others fairly, thoroughly, and truthfully, while being anchored to the Scriptural text, is more important to me than always finding agreement.
To Tackle Systematic or Biblical Theology, to Have an Integrated View of the Bible
What if your study of the Bible has caused you to wrestle with how the entire Bible fits together? You might need to dig into the disciplines of either systematic theology or Biblical theology. That might sound scary, but where do you go try to fit the details of the Bible into the bigger picture?
- Ligonier Ministries. The late R.C. Sproul, and his teaching fellows, have been helping Christians for years to integrate the disciplines of theology, philosophy, church history, and Bible study in a way that normal Christians, who have a lot on their plate, while possessing the basics of the faith, can readily understand. Ligonier offers daily podcasts and great conference material, coming from a classic Reformed/Calvinist systematic theology perspective.
- The Naked Bible Podcast. Michael S. Heiser is a Bible scholar with Logos Software, an expert in semitic languages, but Michael is a pretty unique bird out there, doing a lot with reaching unbelievers drawn to occultic theories and practices. Unlike something like Ligonier, Michael Heiser really does not like systematic theology at all, or theological “systems” in general. Calvinism vs. Arminianism? Pre-millenialism vs. amillenialism? Michael Heiser announces “may there be a plague on all of your houses.” Michael is really interested in developing a Biblical theology grounded in the actual Biblical text, hence the “Naked” in the Naked Bible Podcast. Top notch.
- The Gospel Coalition. Founded by well-known Bible teachers Tim Keller and D. A. Carson, The Gospel Coalition is aimed primarily towards pastors, but I find that The Gospel Coalition has a great set of resources that can help everyday people wrestle with tough doctrinal issues and Bible passages, as they seek to build a comprehensive and Biblically-based worldview. The Gospel Coalition has excellent podcasts, from a variety of speaker/teachers, but much, much more.
- Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. If you like a well-thought out, orderly presentation of evangelical theological beliefs, Wayne Grudem, a well-respected theologian at Phoenix Seminary and general editor of the ESV Study Bible, had a Sunday school class that was converted to a podcast. Grudem is thorough, but very easy to listen to. Theologically, he is Reformed/Calvinist, an avid complementarian, when it comes to women’s roles in the church (no women elders), and he is friendly towards the Charismatic Movement. I go to Grudem if I want a thorough discussion on a topic of doctrine, even if I do not always land on the same place that Grudem does.
To Address Apologetics Issues in the Bible
So, you have spent some time studying the Bible, but you are not sure how you can relate what the Bible teaches with the problems and challenges encountered with unbelievers who cross your path. Where do you go to learn how to share and defend your faith?
- OneMinuteApologist. If you like short YouTube videos, as a podcast medium, Bobby Conway’s One Minute Apologist is a good place to start. While these videos do great job a wetting your appetite for apologetics, you will do better in long run by listening to some longer podcasts listed below.
- Stand to Reason. Greg Koukl has a general purpose apologetics podcast, to train believers in how to defend their faith. Conservative, without becoming brittle.
- Cold-Case Christianity. J. Warner Wallace, a former police detective, shares his analytical skills in helping folks investigate the Christian faith and process its truth claims.
- Cross-Examined. Frank Turek engages college students skeptics all across the country, presenting the claims for the Gospel in a thoughtful and winsome manner.
- Theology in the Raw. Idaho theologian Preston Sprinkle relates really well to those in the Millennial generation, with their questions about the Bible, particularly when it comes to issues regarding sexual and gender identity. Imagine a smiling, PhD guy in jeans, who loves Jesus, an orthodox alternative to Rob Bell, and then you have Preston Sprinkle. Preston adopts an annihilation perspective with respect to the doctrine of hell, that I am not entirely convinced about, but I am willing to listen.
- Reasonable Faith. Atlanta’s William Lane Craig demonstrates where philosophy, theology, and the man on the street meet in his apologetics teaching. Craig is crazy smart, and very articulate. Some say Craig is currently evangelical Christianity’s greatest living apologist, and I would tend to agree.
- Reasons to Believe. If you are interested with Bible and science issues from an Old Earth Creationist perspective, there is none better than astrophysicist Hugh Ross and Reasons to Believe. The newer 28:19 podcast is geared towards entry level questions about science and the Bible. However, I personally get more out of Hugh Ross’ Paradoxes Sunday School classes.
- Deeper Waters. Nick Peters is the son-in-law of apologist Michael Licona, and he reads all of the time. Nick and his young apologist colleague at Tekton Educational and Apologetics Ministries, J. P. Holding, are remarkably thorough, through blogging and ebooks, using non-technical language, in answering objections to Christianity being put forward by so-called “Internet atheists,” who create the most noise in cyberspace, against the Gospel. But they also take on the tomfoolery being advanced by otherwise sincere Christians, that invite the ridicule of such Internet atheists (such as failed End Times prophecies, ill-informed defenses of biblical inerrancy, and the “Easter is pagan” nonsense). What makes Nick a bit quirky in his podcast is that he has Aspergers, but that is actually an added strength. I do not know how he does it, but Nick manages to interview some of the top Christian scholars in the world on his podcast, on apologetics topics, and things get better the more I listen. Great job, Nick!
- Unbelievable? And now, for the NUMBER ONE apologetics podcast, go “across the pond” for Justin Brierley’s weekly podcast getting non-Christians and Christian to talk together is probably the best thing going. What Justin Brierley does best is that he models for the listener how to engage in apologetic conversations with your neighbors, family-members, and co-workers in an intelligent, kind and gentle manner. Justin will work your brain, but he does so with much gentleness and respect. Most excellent.
To Consider How the Bible Intersects Culture
You may have gained a good sense of what the Bible is all about, but you realize that what the Bible teaches is largely at odds with the surrounding culture around you. Where do you go to think through strategies on how to engage the culture?
- Breakpoint, a ministry started by Chuck Colson, has short 4-minute podcast episodes to get an informed Christian perspective on important cultural topics in the news. Hosted by John Stonestreet and Eric Metaxas, you can easily subscribe to get their emails. For a longer, interview-style podcast, consider the Eric Metaxas Show. Eric Metaxas is probably the closest thing to a popular, public intellectual in our day, who can articulate the ideas of Biblical Christianity, with non-believers in our culture.
- The Briefing. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary, is an extremely well-read, articulate speaker. He is like a walking “Google.” The Briefing is a daily, no-nonsense, fairly short podcast, and I respect how Mohler engages Christian thought and issues in culture, even when he comes across as too narrow at times in certain applications.
- The Table. Darrell Bock, a New Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, covers a wide variety of topics related to culture, without being goofy or chatty. The Table discusses Christian cultural engagement among scholars, but geared towards thoughtful Christians in the trenches.
- Phil Vischer Podcast. On the lighter side, as opposed to The Table, VeggieTales creator, Phil Vischer, with ukulele in hand, hosts an interesting and rather funny podcast discussion, with leading evangelical thinkers of our day. A bit silly at times, but this helps to balance out some of the deep, intellectual content they discuss, that attempts to help believers think about our place in God’s world today. The podcast has recently been renamed as The Holy Post.
- MereFidelity. A bunch of young American and British intellectual, evangelical thinkers, at the MereOrthodoxy blog, including one of my favorite Brits, Andrew Wilson, at the Think blog in the U.K., get together to talk Bible and culture issues, in-depth. Engaging and profound.
- Christianity Today’s Quick-to-Listen. A couple folks on the Christianity Today magazine’s staff do 30-50 minute interviews with scholars/pastors on important issues facing today’s evangelical church. A good podcast for young and old listeners.
Pushing the Envelope:
FOR EXTRA CREDIT: If you want your faith stretched in ways that will really get you thinking, like I do, there are some podcasts that are … shall we say… edgy. Edgy can be good in that it forces you to think out of the box. But edgy can also throw you over the edge, if you are not carefully well-grounded. In other words, LISTENER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
The first group is in the “progressive evangelical” category, of which there is a disproportionate plethora existing on the Internet, mainly because the purveyors of such content are primarily young, hip, and technologically savvy. The second group is in the “quite conservative” category, comparatively more stern and earnest, in their message.
This is a gross generalization, but if we think of some entity like Christianity Today magazine, or The Gospel Coalition, as representing the evangelical mainstream, the first group tends to think that The Gospel Coalition are a bunch of tightwads, whereas the second group tends to think that The Gospel Coalition is a little soft. I do not spend that much time with either group, as I find myself often pulling my hair out in frustration, when things get extreme. But at other times, it is good to know that these different voices exist, and I do run across a few wonderful gems. You can find podcasts that can be really good in certain areas, but horribly lousy in other areas. A quote sometimes attributed to Thomas Merton, means a lot to me, as someone who strives for unity in the church, grounded in the truth: “Division in the church leads to atheism in the world.” So, listening to perspectives, that I do not always agree with, helps me to engage in more meaningful conversation with others. With that in mind, I will just name a couple of podcasts, that are probably the best in each category (and list a few runner-ups):
- The Bible for Normal People. Peter Enns and Jared Byas host a provocative podcast, geared towards progressive-leaning evangelicals who are going through serious doubt about their faith, and giving them a breath of fresh air. In 2005, Peter Enns wrote a profoundly helpful book, Inspiration and Incarnation, about some serious problems in Christian apologetics. However, the book got him fired from teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary, an unpleasant experience for sure. Peter has been gradually backing away from his evangelical background ever since, having once done a lot of work with BioLogos, the evolutionary creationist “think tank” organization, but even leaving that behind as too conservative. So, I think he sometimes embraces the “messiness” about the Bible unnecessarily, rejecting more careful, nuanced approaches to evangelical apologetics. For example, while Peter Enns affirms the bodily resurrection of Christ, he largely rejects, or plays down, the historicity of some significant events of the Old Testament, such as Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. But Peter is an excellent scholar, trained at Harvard, so he is no dummy, and he keeps evangelicals honest. He interviews some of the top names in the progressive wing of Christianity, like Rachel Held Evans, Rob Bell, and Jen Hatmaker. Plus, he can be very funny, even when he addresses topics that I find to be quite disturbing. I still like Peter, but I want to help reel him back in. Other podcasts in the “progressive evangelical (maybe yes? but maybe really not?)” genre category include Homebrewed Christianity and The Liturgists. I might also put a plug in for a less-edgy (that is; more orthodox), but equally provocative podcast, ReKnew, by Minneapolis pastor (and rock drummer) Greg Boyd, trained in philosophy, who very much unlike John Piper, is an advocate of “Open Theism.”
- Alpha and Omega Ministries. Heading towards the opposite end of the theological spectrum, on the conservative side, is James White’s Dividing Line program, with Alpha and Omega Ministries. James White is kind of like the “anti-Peter-Enns,” in that he is about as classically Reformed as you can get, and that is “Reformed” with a big “R.” He has had dozens and dozens of public debates, defending the Christian Gospel, but he also gets embroiled in debates with fellow Christians who do not completely subscribe to his full-on, “take no quarter” Reformed Baptist theology. But James White has an impressive scholarly background, and he listens to audio conversions of Kindle books on his multi-hour bike rides around Arizona, in preparation for his public debates. He is top notch when he comes to handling texts, and his expertise is in debating Muslims, which has gained him respect in the Islamic world, much to the chagrin of some Christians on the ultra-far right, who think he is too cozy with Muslims. James White has the best critique of the King James Only movement, better than anyone else I know. If I ever got into a debate with James White, he would absolutely demolish me. So I prefer just to listen to him 🙂 Other podcasts that style themselves, to different degrees, as heresy watchdogs, in the “conservative, if not outright fundamentalist” genre category, but from quite different, and sometimes mutually exclusive angles, include: The very expositionally capable, Reformed/dispensationalist and non-charismatic pastor John MacArthur’s podcast, Grace to You; the charismatic Dr. Michael Brown, for the Line of Fire, who is actually quite good on messianic Jewish issues, and who is a scholar of James White’s caliber, though decidedly non-Calvinist; and the ultra-Lutheran Chris Rosebrough with his Fighting for the Faith podcast on Pirate Christian Radio, (here is a funny, self-deprecating look at Rosebrough’s heresy hunting). I find certain podcast episodes to be quite challenging and useful, except when these folks have a tendency towards engaging in either ad hominem type of attacks on other Christians (and, at times, each other), or needlessly advancing their own particular theological agendas.
… And Just For Fun
All of the above podcasts are meant to feed your mind and heart, but sometimes I need something just to feed my heart, or something lighter, or something that is just interesting to listen to. Here are some of my favorite other podcasts:
- All Of Bach. This is not a podcast, per se, but rather, it is the Netherlands Bach Society, that every week puts out a video/audio recording of one of Bach’s great works, such as the Passion of St. John.
- In Our Time. I love history, and I love good history podcasts. My top history podcast is Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time podcast, available from the BBC. Bragg does a lot of other things besides history, but my favorite material is the history stuff, as he usually interviews two or three other scholars, mostly British, to tell the stories of their subjects. I have several runner-up podcasts that I sometimes listen to, primarily the British history magazine History Extra. Then there is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Hardcore History only comes out infrequently, but it is well worth the wait.
- EconTalk. Russ Roberts is an economist, but even if you do not care for the economics-type stuff, I find Roberts to be a great interviewer, on just about any topic he covers.
- Blimey Cow. That’s right, Blimey Cow. It is a group of (now) grown-up homeschoolers, from a conservative Christian background, who have half a million followers on YouTube, with their Messy Mondays series. Satire mixed with adolescent angst. Better than anything on primetime TV. At times, slightly edgy, just a bit, but they often hit the nail on the head. They spoof just about everything. I think of Blimey Cow as the millennial version of Babylon Bee. Pretty funny.
What do you think?