Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

In January of 2013, we launched a little podcast into the world. We called it Ask Pastor John. We slapped a jingle on the front end and hit publish on a temporary podcast meant to last us fifteen months or so to fill a short need we had here at Desiring God. And Pastor John, here we are, two thousand episodes later.

I can’t even remember those days.

I know. It seems like a distant memory. And I think I used to call you up on your phone. You used a landline phone for those early years. Do you remember that?

Yep. Down in Tennessee.

Two thousand episodes later, we’re now into our twelfth year. And today we look back. We look back at what God has done in the past years of APJ. And we look forward, with prayers for the future and prayers for what God might do in a new APJ book. That book releases today. More on that in a moment. As we start off, Pastor John, tell us how this podcast fits within your ministry legacy. How do you think of it now, twelve years in?

Bible-Saturated Legacy

My parents built into me from the time I could read — that’s about six years old, when we moved into the house I’m thinking about — a passion for legacy. And I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t know what legacy was, but that’s what it was, because hanging on the wall in our kitchen — and it hangs behind me right now where I’m standing in my study — was this motto: “Only one life, ’twill soon be passed. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” That’s legacy talk.

So I believe, Tony, that you and I have produced Ask Pastor John for Christ. “Only what’s done for Christ will last.” And we didn’t do it for ourselves. We did it for Christ. We’re doing it for Christ. Your book will be, I believe, part of the fulfillment of the second half of the motto: “What’s done for Christ will last.”

“Almost every episode is a careful expression of about an hour and a half of study and thought and prayer.”

You know well, Tony, that I have my favorite hyphenated phrases: God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated. And I think that’s what Ask Pastor John is; that’s the legacy: God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated counsel for people who are in need. And I would underline Bible-saturated, because many podcasts are enjoyable conversations that people have online. That’s not what we’ve done for ten years. Almost every episode is a careful expression — well-prepared and a lot of thought gone into it — of about an hour and a half of study and thought and prayer, saturated with the Bible.

So I think, Tony, our legacy will be this: “They were God-centered; they were Christ-exalting; they were Bible guys — with a strange twist called Christian Hedonism because they believed that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” I think that’s the way I would express the legacy.

Distilling the Archive

Amen. May it be! That has certainly been our prayer from the very start of this podcast. And if you want the full backstory of where it came from and how it’s tied to the unique ways that Pastor John is gifted to answer questions, I tell that backstory in the introduction to my brand new book, just mentioned. It’s titled Ask Pastor John: 750 Bible Answers to Life’s Most Important Questions. That new book launches today. It’s the point of this special episode to announce the new book, Ask Pastor John: 750 Bible Answers to Life’s Most Important Questions.

People hearing about it for the first time ask me, “What is it, Tony? Why did you write a book about a podcast, especially when the whole archive is transcribed; it’s online; it’s just a Google search away for anyone who wants it?”

Really the genesis of this new book came years ago when friends of ours, ministry partners (donors), would email me, asking about some pressing question that has come up in their life, their family, their church — asking me for one APJ episode that could answer a dilemma. And I think the archive is intimidating for a lot of people. I think we’re up to about 250 hours of content now. And that grows by the week. That’s a lot of content to sift through.

So, what I would do is I would take the question from the donor, dive into the archive, and always find multiple episodes on a topic, and respond with an email that was basically a digest of all those episodes that I found — or even just parts of an episode that I found — that I thought could help answer a given challenge from different angles, explaining why each episode I found was uniquely valuable in answering the question.

And over time, those little digests just seemed to prove useful. As they did, I collected them into one document on my computer, and at some point I realized I could do this with the broader archive. So, I set aside two years of my book-research-and-writing time. I identified our most popular episodes from our first decade. That was the easy part. This type of podcast really offers us a feedback loop like no other — the audience asks the questions, and then the audience responds to the episodes we record. It’s very easy to see what topics most resonate with our audience.

So, I isolated our 28 most popular topics, and basically just created 28 huge digests of 750 episodes, in one comprehensive guide, to help find the episodes that you need when you need them. It was a huge project. There were times early on when I wondered if this was a good idea or not.

Book for Every Home

But now it’s done. And I have high hopes that this book will prove useful. Sinclair Ferguson, in his kind endorsement, likened it to Richard Baxter’s classic, massive book, A Christian Directory. It’s an amazing comparison for those of you in the Reformed world who know what that huge book is like. And then Dr. Ferguson called the APJ book “one of those rare contemporary books that can be described as ‘should be in every Christian home.’” My jaw dropped when I read that. I mean, that is an amazing endorsement of the book, but even of your deep labors in this podcast too, Pastor John, each episode being that careful expression of about an hour and a half of your study and thought and prayer, saturated with the Bible. That’s a huge investment. A ringing endorsement of your labors.

And then Kevin DeYoung, another friend of ours, said, “I can’t imagine any Christian who wouldn’t be helped by and fascinated by the hundreds of topics covered in this amazing resource.” Again, that highlights the value of having a printed guide you can easily thumb through and browse. It’s a unique way, I think, to appreciate such a long-running podcast like APJ.

So, if these kind words are accurate — and I have high hopes that this book is going to serve listeners to help them benefit from the archive in the years ahead — I can’t wait to see what the Lord does with this. Pastor John, as you consider what this new book will offer the podcast in the near future and in the distant future, what would you add to this conversation?

Trembling and Rejoicing

When people say nice things about our teaching, we could easily overlook what makes us tremble in this project — namely, James 3:1: “Not many of you should become teachers . . . for you know that we who teach will be judged [that means judged by God] with greater strictness.” Wow. But you and I involved in this constant teaching ministry take heart from God’s word to Isaiah: “This is the one to whom I will look [declares the Lord]: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). So, we believe God will look to us — he will smile upon us because of Jesus and because we don’t play fast and loose with his word. We tremble at the very privilege of knowing his word and speaking his word.

Teaching is what we do. It’s our calling. It’s a dangerous work. It’s a trembling work. But oh, what a happy work! It’s a happy work because we get to spend untold hours immersed in God’s word for the sake of God’s people. And Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you . . . that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). And then he told us to go share what we’ve heard and added, “It is more blessed [more happy] to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). So, it’s been a happy work.

Tony, you can bear your own witness to the joys of facing, amazingly, two thousand episodes of APJ, and selecting and distilling them into a usable manual of Christian counsel. But I want to bear witness to the joy of watching that happen. It really has been astonishing to watch. For ten years, I have watched you evaluate questions by the thousands, record answers, edit recordings, record or host a podcast, and schedule the episodes.

Now, that’s one source of joy (and it’s big and solid), just watching those competencies that God has given you put into action for his glory. But the skill that our readers are going to see in this book — this synthesizing skill — is of another order. Weaving hundreds of thousand-word answers into topical, coherent, readable chapters has inspired — still inspires — my happy admiration and thankfulness to God.

So thank you, Tony, for the investment of ten years of your life on the podcast and two years of your life on the book. It has been a precious partnership. Clearly you and I both believe in the value of the written word and the spoken word. You’ve reminded me of that over and over again — about the peculiar nature of this audible conversation that we have. We’ve seen lives captivated for Christ through both writing and speaking. We pray for that to continue to happen through both.

You and I both love to write. We are writers. We get our thoughts out on paper with joy. It is in our God-designed bones. But neither you nor I will surrender the living voice, because the living voice carries the affections of the heart more effectively than the written word. And we believe that new Christ-exalting affections of the heart are the goal of this ministry, the goal of books, the goal of speaking, the goal of Desiring God. I believe it’s the goal of the Bible — new Christ-exalting affections.

So, Ask Pastor John — the book and the podcast — aim to impart new affections. That’s what we want to happen. We aim at a miracle. We hope that you, our listeners, will hear and read our hearts. There is a happy melody there in our hearts — a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, happy melody — and we hope that you hear it, and that it becomes the melody of your life.

Two Prayers for Listeners and Readers

Well put! Thank you, Pastor John. I appreciate that. We want the living voice captured in this podcast to bless people around the world for years and decades to come. To that end we have two prayers with this book.

First, we pray this book helps you who are listening to us right now. We want you to better navigate our over two hundred hours of audio, to find episodes you need when you need them, and the episodes your friends need when they need them. I think we can help you better serve others if we can help you find your way around the archive better. That’s prayer one.

“The book and the podcast aim to impart new affections. That’s what we want to happen. We aim at a miracle.”

Prayer two is for future listeners to this podcast, those who are not listening right now. They can’t hear me right now; they’re not listening to me; they haven’t even started listening. Imagine an audience of people who have never listened to APJ that will come online and listen to our content in future years and decades. Millions of people right now — that’s not an overstatement — don’t know that this podcast exists: people in our churches, people in our neighborhoods, people at work, people wrestling with suffering, people asking the most important questions in life. And I want them to see quickly the ground we’ve covered in the first ten years of the podcast so that they can benefit from the archive immediately.

So, those are our two prayers. And I put them in the introduction to my new book when I wrote this: “As we build this podcast into a single content library, our first decade lays the groundwork for everything else to come. For current listeners, the book rehearses key highlights from the past. For future listeners, the book is an on-ramp to summarize the ground we’ve already covered. The book will immediately serve thousands of current listeners who found their way from the podcast to the book.” That’s you if you’re listening, hearing about the book for the first time; you’re moving from the podcast to the book.

“But perhaps, if the Lord is gracious, the current will reverse in due time, and thousands of readers will find their way from this new book to the podcast. That’s our prayer. As you gift this book to not-yet-listeners, you’re helping us fulfill this dream in answer to that prayer. Think of this book as a podcast promo made of paper and ink that you can physically hand to others” (xxviii).

That thought thrills me. I can’t wait to hand out copies of this book to introduce new listeners to the podcast, to share with others this happy melody — this God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, happy melody of what this podcast is. What a joy! What an honor to be able to do that.

Okay, so where can you get copies? To launch this new, big, red Ask Pastor John book, we are again partnering with our friends at Westminster Books. Support a wonderful Christian bookstore, and get discounted copies of Ask Pastor John: 750 Bible Answers to Life’s Most Important Questions right now at

I have been honored to be your podcast host for over a decade from behind a microphone. And now to be your podcast host in a new book format is a new joy for me. Whether by microphone or by book, I am your host, Tony Reinke. See you next time.