I love podcasts (not just Serial). I got started on tech podcasts after Steve Jobs announced the iPad in January of 2010. My brother, Seth, encouraged me to watch the keynote, and it immediately plunged me into the world of Apple, design, and tech geekery. Since I listen to a few tech podcasts religiously, I thought it was time also to survey the landscape of religious podcasts. I started at the beginning of the year and have found a handful that I really like.
You’ll notice that I don’t include any solo podcasts in this list. There are a lot of great sermons out there, I’m sure, but I’m more interested in conversations than I am sermons (one exception: I listen to my friend Steven Hovater who preaches at the church at Cedar Lane in Tullahoma, TN). This even rules out a popular podcast like Rob Bell’s (sorry Rob, I still don’t like that name), except for when he’s interviewing folks like Charity Water’s Scott Harrison or Oprah Winfrey.
I’m sure there are gaping holes in this list. I haven’t gone to iTunes and explored the top podcasts in the Religion and Spirituality category. I never searched the top lists in tech either, so I wanted to try without in the Christian podcast world too. My exposure to these has been more organic (or just spurred on by searching for another N. T. Wright podcast guest appearance).
Here are my three favorite shows, three honorable mentions, and a few that I just couldn’t get into. If there are some podcasts you really like, I’d love to hear from you.
A quick glance at the backlog of Luke Norsworthy’s podcast and you can see he’s scored some amazing guests on his show. He’s also been doing this for a long time, so the audio quality, his interview skills, and the overall product have gotten consistently better. His sarcasm takes some getting used to, but he knows what he’s talking about, asks great questions, and really sets up his guests consistently to shine. I also like that he does a wrap-up episode at the end of every month, so that there can be some reflection on the month’s episodes.
At first I was only listening to episodes with guests I had heard of. Now I listen to all of them. Luke exposes me to theologians, pastors, and practitioners both academic and popular outside my realm of exposure within my church tradition (the churches of Christ) and my seminary studies (Harding School of Theology). I like that I share a similar background with Luke because he asks his guests the same questions I’m asking.
Some favorite episodes:
Exploring reality through the lenses of science, art, and faith.
The science, art, and faith trifecta makes for some great conversations. Mike Gungor (of Gungor Music) and Mike McHargue (better known as Science Mike) are your hosts. Most of the episodes consist of both Mikes taking on a specific topic, like creativity, or, the multiverse. Lisa Paino is a semi-regular co-host, and they’ve interviewed other guests such as Peter Enns, Rachel Held Evans, and Kristen and Rob Bell. They’ve put together one knockout special episode, featuring a range of guests in a conversation about LGBTQ.
The show has had a run of just over a year, and it’s been good. I’ve listened to the whole backlog. Their background in evangelical circles leads them to address issues and perspectives that I think are interesting. They mix an interview style with a topical approach. The episodes are artfully crafted and the audio quality is great. They have a progressive bent, but use a healthy, open approach in each conversation. While they don’t represent the full spectrum of atheism, both Mikes have been atheists at one point in their lives, which translates into extra sensitivity and openness to doubt.
Some favorite episodes:
Christian community, mission, and the future of the church.
The Nomad Podcast is the longest running of the three (since early 2009), so it has a tremendous backlog. They hit the pause button in mid-2011 but rebooted just a few months later and have been publishing new episodes once or twice a month since. The hosts, Tim and Dave, are disenfranchised Christians looking for signs of hope. They have a phenomenal host dynamic and seem really to care about people. They’re from the UK, which means they offer a great, European perspective, and have accents that automatically make them both funny and intellectual (to my US-American ears at least). These guys are really fun to listen to.
Each episode starts with a pre-interview, shares the actual interview, and ends with a followup conversation. The introductions and conclusions might be laborious for some of you, but again, the accents keep me coming back. Since they’re based in the U.K., they have a guest list that differs quite a bit from Luke Norsworthy’s. They’ve had Tom Wright on several times (including for their pilot episode), which is awesome. They always ask good questions, going with their general attitude of wanting exposure to a wide set of voices and perspectives (including both women and men). Most of the episodes are interviews, but they also publish some “Nomad Extras” (shorter, solo-reflections on specific topics like the refugee crisis), and seasonal series like “12 Days of Christmas” and “An Interfaith Easter.” There’s something about the premise of the podcast, “looking for signs of hope,” that I like more than “you just came out with a book so I’m going to interview you.”
Some favorite episodes:
I’m subscribed to the aforementioned three shows, and will likely listen to a new episode soon after it’s published. The following three I listen to occasionally. I’m not subscribed, but I keep them in my podcast app and check back when I need something new to listen to.
Podcasts I couldn’t get into:
Here are a few podcasts I thought I would like, but for some reason or another I couldn’t quite stick with (read: they’re probably due another listen). Either something about the style, the hosts, or the audio quality rubbed me the wrong way.
Two Cents on Longevity
I worry that these podcasts aren’t sponsored enough. Everything I listen to in the tech world is sponsored and a good business for those who host the podcast. It ensures it’s worth their time to keep making a great podcast. Luke Norsworthy has had a monthly sponsor most months this year. The Liturgists have just launched a Patreon campaign to fund more episodes like the one they put together on LGBTQ. Of all the episodes I’ve listened to of Nomad, they’ve never hinted at trying to make some money, except joking about raising money to interview Christian thinkers and practitioners in the U.S. of A.
I hope that some of these folks can find a sponsorship model that works for them and is sustainable, so they can continue to produce great content. It takes a lot of work to produce a really good show. Their work deserves to be compensated.
Podcast App Pick: Overcast
If you use Apple’s built in podcast app, give Overcast a try. I love its Smart Speed feature (shortens silences), which has saved me 35 hours of listening time so far. I also love the way you can see which podcast episodes people you follow on Twitter recommend.
It’s free, so why not try it?
Favorite non-Religious Podcasts: