Saturday, January 10, 2015

Some Podcast Recommendations

As a seminarian, one of the most important things I currently do is itinerant preaching. Nearly every Sunday morning I walk out to my old Toyota, kick the tires, adjust the mirror, and drive four hours round-trip to some distant part of Mississippi to minister in churches on the preaching circuit. It's a wonderful privilege, but as those who do long commutes know, your long road trips can be complete time wasters if you aren't purposeful about how you're going to use your traveling time. What I'm trying to say is that if all you do is sing Taylor Swift songs while driving to your destination, you may very well be doing what John Piper calls "Wasting Your Life."

While I like to listen to the Bible and audiobooks, one of my favorite things to do when I travel is to listen to podcasts. Anymore, I rarely listen to music. If I'm not praying or talking out loud to myself about the sermon that I'm preparing to preach, I'm listening to others talk. I also like to turn on my bluetooth speaker in the kitchen while making a meal and listen to something while I'm preparing food.

I think this is a worthwhile blog post because I know many of my classmates who don't listen to podcasts at all, and it got me thinking that there must be a lot of people out there who have never even thought of listening to podcasts before.

Since I spend so much time listening to them I figured I'm moderately qualified to make some recommendations of my favorite podcasts for others to get some ideas from. I'll list the podcast and then comment a bit about it, explaining why I like it.

Podcast App: Instacast
First of all, if you have an Apple product, I recommend you run as far away from the pre-installed, default app for podcasts, (simply titled "Podcasts"). It's horrible, it's slow, it has a bad interface. Just run for the hills. Instead, pony up $5 and get Instacast. I love it, it's easy to use, and there just is no program I'd rather use to manage my podcasts. I can't praise it highly enough.

My favorite feature isn't unique to Instacast, but I pretty much listen to every podcast that I listen to at double speed. I'm so used to hearing everyone talk quickly that I lose my mind if I hear them talk at normal speed. Because of this feature I can listen to nearly 8 hours of material every Sunday while driving to preach, which I think is a great use of my time.

Theology Podcasts:
Albert Mohler -- The Briefing
I listen to The Briefing every day. Now, I'm no transformationalist or Kuyperian. I grow frustrated with Mohler's constant hammering on worldview, and he seems to only talk about homosexuality and abortion. When I met him at RTS this past Fall I told him (half-joking) that he is the reason I had to explain what homosexuality is to my 9 year old daughter. Why do I still listen to every episode? Frankly, he's still interesting, and I don't read a ton of news or watch TV news, so he gives his take on what's the most important thing going on that day, and to me that's valuable.

James White -- The Dividing Line
Sometimes White talks about issues I'm interested in (Islam, Roman Catholicism, Calvinism), the rest of the time he talks about stuff that I've heard him hammer on a thousand times before. Nevertheless, I always find it interesting to see the sorts of theological debates that pop up around White and listening to how he deals with them.

Reformed Forum -- Christ the Center
Here at RTS we have great professors, many of whom were student at Westminster Theological Seminary. But even so, frankly, there just isn't enough Vos and Van Til in my life. Enter Christ the Center, where the crew get together usually to interview a seminary professor on a new book or on an interesting theological subject. Think of it as your weekly dose of meaty Reformed discussion. I highly, highly recommend this podcast to my fellow seminarians. These are advanced discussions going on at Christ the Center and can help you to become well informed on current topics that are worth thinking about.

Tom Rainer -- Rainer on Leadership
I graduate from seminary in a little over a year (Lord willing). This podcast gives seminarians a taste of the real life, boots on the ground struggles that pastors face. When I first got here, all I wanted to do was talk theology, but the closer I get to actually going out into the world and dealing with real people in real churches, the more I crave the practical discussions from old warhorses who have seen some stuff... the kind of stuff that turned their hair gray. Listening to this podcast will convince you that being a pastor is hard, and in ministry you will meet people who think you have the easiest job ever and will make tremendous demands on you. Rainer helps you to think through what you will say yes to, what you will say no to, how you will lead others, and how you can look after your own family in the midst of it all.

Justin Brierly (Premier Christian Radio) -- Unbelievable
I only listen to this podcast when I'm interested in the people he has on. But usually he has very interesting people in to debate both sides of the issues. This past week he has Al Mohler on to debate Chris Date on the subject of hell. A few weeks ago, Pete Enns debated David Intone-Brewer to talk about inerrancy. This is a diverse show that almost always has subjects for debate that interest me. This is another show that's highly recommended (I usually skip the last half hour after the debate is finished).

Dave Harvey -- Am I Called?
This is another one that I only listen to when I'm interested in the subject or the person he interviews. But I recommend keeping up with this one.

Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals -- The Mortification of Spin
I like listening to Carl, Todd, and Aimee do their round-table thing. It seems like they've finally stopped doing the thing where they'd insert random music clips in the middle of the show, which I'm grateful for, and they seem to be maturing into something they're comfortable with as time goes on. I am usually very interested in their discussions, though I almost listen more for the camaraderie than anything else.

News and Arts Podcasts
I don't watch TV news. Aside from the fact that I'm one of those cord-cutters who does everything online and truly has no television subscription at all, TV news can make you feel constantly panicked and send your anxiety through the roof. If you feel that way at all, try doing it like me. Get your news in bite-sized chunks, throughout the day, and let someone else filter through it for you.

NPR -- Hourly News Summary
A new episode goes up every hour, so make sure your app isn't downloading every new episode. But this is a good one just to check in on the news throughout the day without going to news websites or switching on the television. I usually listen to one in the morning and one in the mid-afternoon. If you listen at 2x, each episode only takes 2 minutes to listen to, so it's a good use of your time.

NPR -- NPR Topics: Story of the Day
These are hit or miss. Don't set them to automatically download, but check in to see if you're interested in the episodes as they go up each day.

WNYC -- Radiolab
This is very interesting, modern storytelling. If I could figure out a way to do a theology-related podcast and do it in a way that was as interesting as Radiolab, I would be on it in a heartbeat. Whenever I listen to this show, I always find myself thinking, "You know, somebody could explain the hypostatic union in a way that's as interesting as the way these guys are explaining talking to whales in today's episode."

Alec Baldwin -- Here's the Thing
Listen. Whatever you might think about Alec Baldwin, the man is a masterful interviewer. If you're the kind of person who writes blog posts littered with personal pronouns and you struggle with valuing the views of others in personal conversation, this is a great show for you. The man just knows how to get others to open up and talk about their lives. I (that dreaded personal pronoun!) once heard a great conversationalist say that there is nothing people like more than hearing the sound of their own name. Alec Baldwin completely tickles his interviewees' need to be valued and heard and models wonderfully how to take a real, (seemingly) genuine interest in others.

This American Life
The most popular podcast on the internet. Seriously, if you like storytelling, this is for you. It's also for you if you want to learn to be a storyteller (or at least somebody who wants to see clear communication done well). Ira Glass has spent 20 years learning to tell stories in a way that is gripping and now he could do it in his sleep.

It was probably Jay, okay? I'm one of the guys who thinks it was probably Jay somehow. I mean, he knew where the car was, but he couldn't keep the rest of his story square!  What's up with that? If you don't know what I'm talking about but you'd like to, start listening to Serial. It's a podcast that tells one story in detail from the first episode all the way to the last. This past season just ended.

When Alex Bloomberg left This American Life, he left with the intention of starting his own podcasting company. This show is basically him chronicling the creation of his podcast company, from his first embarrassing pitch to an investor to the struggle to find a name for his company, he brings his listeners along every step of the way as he starts up his business.

Reply All
In connection with the previous podcast mentioned above, Reply All is the first podcast launched by Bloomberg's podcast company. It's a show where they basically explore interesting things about the internet. They've done eight episodes now, and I find it very enlightening.

NPR -- Planet Money
This podcast is way more interesting than the name lets on. It basically is a show about the invisible forces that keep our society running. It's not just about money, it's about human motivations, decisions, and how to understand the stuff that connects everyone who lives in our world today. Way more interesting than I'm making it sound. And the episodes are only 20 minutes long, which is a great selling-point.

Dork Podcasts
I am a dork. I am a geek. I have a serious theologian side to me that loves to preach and loves to write, but I have another side to me that doesn't come out here at Bring the Books, and that is my video gamer/sci-fi lover side. Nearly everyone I know is into sports. They go to sporting events, they spend six hours or more a weekend watching college teams battle it out. But homie don't play that. I want to make Mario jump on bad-guys' heads and I want to listen to people talk about how much they like doing that. As such, when I want to unwind and forget about the pain of the world, I listen to these kinds of podcasts. I do think there is restorative value in entertainment and having hobbies, and frankly video games is my hobby. Here are my favorite podcasts in this area:

IGN -- Nintendo Voice Chat
Jose Otero, Brian Altano, and Peer Schneider love Nintendo as much as I do, and so I love to listen to them talk about what's going on in the world of Nintendo. They are pathetically obsessed with collecting every Amiibo (which I have no interest in doing), but hearing these guys get so OCD about collecting makes me feel better (I grade myself on the curve) about virtually every other feature of my own personality.

WIRED -- GameLife Podcast
This show is short, sweet, to the point, and is what I listen to when my other favorite shows have already been listened to. This show is interesting because it isn't specific to any one gaming system, and so listening to this show can give you an idea what's going on in the larger gaming culture.

Chris Hardwick -- The Nerdist
These guys basically interview famous people and ask them questions that people usually wonder about but are afraid to ask. I loved listening to Sam Raimi admit that Spider-Man 3 was "awful" and learning that his favorite pastime is gardening avocados. Honestly, it made me want to start growing avocados too, even though I don't eat them.

WIRED -- Geek's Guide to the Galaxy
I just mentioned this in my last blog post. Even when I disagree with the people they interview, the show is undeniably interesting. Christians can often be a cloistered people who usually only have conversations with themselves. Listening to shows like this can often give you an idea how people outside your own circles think and talk to one another. When I listen as a Christian I usually listen for the things that they take for granted in their discussions.


  1. I seem to think that someone on here was a Reformed Baptist... in that case, this podcast may be of interest:

  2. I have no standing here, but Mohler's commentaries are often erroneous. He demonstrates a lack of understanding when it comes to politics and sociology but especially geopolitics and history. Just because someone throws 'Biblical' in front of their statements does not make it so. I was encouraged to see that despite what you said in the post, you do seem to harvest some news from other sources.

    Like you, I'm a podcast junkie and we enjoy not a few of the same options.

    I think you're right... Jay probably did it. (smile)

  3. And This American Life is usually interesting... but can't listen to that with the kids in the car!


Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!