Occasionally on this podcast we talk about podcasting. Particularly, we have talked about how dangerous this podcast can be to you if you use it unwisely. A pair of episodes come to mind on this point: “Seven Ways This Podcast Will Kill Your Joy,” and we followed that with an episode titled “When to Stop Listening to This Podcast.”
But today we talk about podcasting more generally in a question that comes to us from a listener named Joel. “Pastor John, thank you for this podcast. It seems that podcasting is more and more prevalent these days. Specifically, as a Christian, I see podcasts hosted by other professing Christians. The same information is often rehashed and recycled over and over again. And much of the information focuses on the demise of another Christian personality or denomination or school. This grieves me and I’m concerned. What dangers do you see in Christians pursuing Christian podcasts for information, learning, ‘discernment,’ or simply for ‘entertainment’?”
I see dangers everywhere, but that’s not unique to podcasting. I see dangers everywhere because sin is everywhere, the devil is everywhere, the spirit of this world is everywhere. So, when I point out the dangers of podcasting, it’s not because I’m blind to dangers elsewhere or to the potential good in podcasting; after all, Ask Pastor John is a podcast, so woe to me if I presumed to be hypocritical in throwing stones.
I think the list of dangers could go on for pages because, really, all you have to do is read the New Testament and realize that wherever human beings are speaking, there is a great potential for good and for evil. And we do well from time to time to ponder what some of those potential evils are. So, of my many pages of dangers that we could list, let me just mention six in response to Joel’s question.
First Corinthians 1:12: “‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’” To which Paul says, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?” (1 Corinthians 1:13). What an amazing question: “Was Paul crucified for you?” Where did that come from? In other words, it is possible to think and speak of human teachers, or podcasters, in such a way that you actually give the impression that they hold a place for you, a place in your heart or mind or mouth, comparable to the one who was crucified for you — crucified. Podcasts offer a voice, a teacher, a commentator, a critic, an analyst, a scholar, a satirist, a comic, a curmudgeon.
And so, the danger exists that we will be so fascinated by what they say, or how they say it, that their voice is elevated in our consciousness, our affections, our focus, our conversation, to the level where Jesus Christ himself is suddenly backgrounded. And we wake up realizing Jesus has been displaced as the supreme teacher, the pacesetter, the opinion-shaper, the thought-controller, the value-creator, and the joy-giver in my life. And when Jesus slips into the background of our conversation and our thinking and our feeling, and podcasters form the foreground, we will almost certainly give way to factionalism by staking out our favorite over and against another’s favorite, while Jesus is marginalized.
2. Deprioritizing the Bible
I don’t just have in mind podcasts that make no claim to speak under the authority of Scripture. I also have in mind Christian podcasts that (amazingly) pay scant attention to specific biblical texts. I have heard an entire half-hour podcast on biblical doctrine that never quoted a single verse from the Bible, which means that you can saturate your mind with ethical, theological, cultural, or political discussions that never refer to the Bible while claiming to be biblical, and thus form the habit of deprioritizing the Bible in your life.
This is one of my biggest concerns with contemporary Christianity, both in the pulpit and in podcasting: giving lip service to biblical authority while rarely citing actual, specific texts and showing that what you believe is really rooted in those specific texts. The longer this goes on, the less practical authority the Bible will have, and the easier it will be for the next generation to just wave it off. So, ask yourself how your podcasting habits are affecting the seriousness and care with which you deal with biblical passages.
3. Succumbing to the Tyranny of the Urgent
One survey that I read said that three-fourths of those who regularly listen to podcasts do so in order to learn new things. Now, that might not be a bad thing if it means gaining new insight into ancient truth. But if it means a sense of restless desire not to miss out on the latest news or the latest fashion or the latest gossip, then it signifies that we are succumbing to the tyranny of the urgent. Of course, there are podcasts devoted to careful, thoughtful, patient treatment of historically rooted, time-proven, perennially relevant truth, but they are few and far between.
“This restless mental need for something new is a sign that the soul is losing its center and becoming fragmented.”
The danger I have in mind is a kind of mental disquiet that craves something new, some new stimulation, some new awareness of what’s happening now, some new juicy tidbit of gossip or opinion or controversy, or some new wave of discussion that’s passing through that you don’t want to miss out on. All this restless mental need for something new is a sign that the soul is losing its center and becoming fragmented and thus ever more vulnerable to being tyrannized by the new and the urgent.
4. Being Infected with a Lopsided Tone of Life
By “tone of life,” I mean that your mind and attitude and mouth can take on a certain spirit or mood or style or emotional quality that may have a foothold in the Bible but is out of proportion when compared with other attitudes and moods and tones in the Bible. This happens most often when we have a favorite voice or authority or entertainer who is lopsided in his demeanor, and thus represents, for example, a pervasively cynical or crass or satirical or sarcastic or cocky or flippant tone. Or it may be lopsided in the other direction of tenderness and delicateness and cautiousness and ambiguity and noncommittal nuance and squishy, middle-of-the-road open-endedness.
The point is that we can lock in on a certain kind of disproportionate tone or mood or dealing with the world and fail to realize that the vast array of emotional depth and diversity represented in biblical maturity and biblical wisdom has been lost — it’s gone. So, test your podcast voices: Are your favorites glaringly narrow? Are they missing the kinds of biblical moods and tones and feelings and emotions that make for a mature and healthy soul?
5. Elevating Public Issues Above Personal Holiness
There is, of course, no doubt that the implications of biblical teaching have a bearing on public life and political issues. But when you read the New Testament, what you find is an overwhelming emphasis on personal holiness. “You shall be holy, for I am holy,” says the Lord (1 Peter 1:16, quoting Leviticus 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:7). That is how we use our tongues toward each other, how we handle personal relations in love, how we endure sorrows, how we make war on sexual temptation, how we remain faithful and loving in our marriages and other commitments, how we deal in integrity and keep our word and do everything in the name of Jesus and for the glory of Jesus at the most practical levels of life. That’s the overwhelming focus of the New Testament.
“Presumed public virtue and public position-stating can conceal much private corruption and unholiness.”
I’ve seen, over my fifty years of adult life, how presumed public virtue and public position-stating can conceal much private corruption and unholiness. People like to think that they have seized the moral high ground in public, but, in fact, the foundations are crumbling. So, beware that in your use of podcasts you don’t find yourself endlessly pondering public issues while losing battle after battle at the level of personal holiness and integrity.
6. Replacing Face to Face with Digital
I’ll just mention briefly in closing the danger of replacing face-to-face discussions with digital input. It is easy to slip into a world of digital information and fascination that is so compelling, we wake up and realize we’re not making any effort to get together with any real people for face-to-face discussions and real intellectual and emotional give-and-take. It’s gone. That’s a great loss.
So, thank you, Joel, for the question. Those are six of my front-burner concerns. There are many more. May the Lord give you discernment. It may be that even this podcast, Ask Pastor John, should be replaced in your life with some face-to-face meeting of the minds with flesh-and-blood people around the Bible.