By / May 9

I’m pretty sure my family was the last one in our neighborhood to get a color TV. It was around 1979. My parents shocked my two sisters and me when they brought home a Curtis Mathis color TV one afternoon. It was a 26-inch screen, enshrined in a built-in wooden stand. Gone were the days of tinfoil on the 19-inch black and white. My 9-year-old eyes dazzled with delight when I noticed that our new TV had 13 different channel buttons. 13! This gave me color access to all of the local channels in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex. “Diff’rent Strokes” on Friday night, “Gilligan’s Island” reruns after school, and I’m not too proud to admit that I watched a little bit of “Hey! Hey! We’re the Monkees.”

Life was wonderfully simple back then. If you fast-forward to most of our homes today, the scene is a bit different. If you have not “cut the cord” yet, you likely have a minimum of 150 channels on your 70-inch flat screen. It’s also quite easy to see that digital media players and streaming services are quickly winning the day, providing countless options for our viewing pleasure.

And of course, newer shows explore contemporary topics with almost no restraint. The sexual boundaries and standards of our day are different than when I was trying to avoid admiting that I actually liked watching “Little House on the Prairie” with my sisters. Words that used to only appear on certain cable shows are streaming loudly into the bedrooms of teenagers on their phones. This world’s appetite for pornography has become more accommodating since the days of people awkwardly asking a gas station attendant to purchase a covered magazine behind the counter. Disney and other networks see to it that one can rarely watch a show without a positive angle on a LGBTQ character. So, it’s not exactly a hot take to point out that modern media poses a great challenge to followers of Christ.

Christians and media consumption 

So how do we respond?

Years ago, I sat next to a young man on a plane that belonged to a very small, strict sect of Christianity. As we shared our different experiences of the Christian life, he said that no one in his church had a television (“Except for maybe a few people that weren’t truly saved,” he qualified.). While I didn’t share the conviction that true Christians don’t own televisions, I respected the radical measures he took to guard against worldliness. My wife and I actually had long periods early in our marriage where we seldomly consumed any media. It gave us a great foundation for our marriage and spiritual life. Even though we more regularly watch certain programs now, we live imperfectly in the balance of approaching the tricky world of media consumption.

Faithful Christians will have different convictions and land in various places regarding what to watch — or not. The advice is not one-size-fits-all. But we are all called to pursue holiness, and that encompasses every area of our lives. In light of this, I’d like to offer a few suggestions from my personal experience, individually and as a pastor, regarding how to wisely watch what you watch.

Don’t worry about feeling “left out of the loop.” This is not a temptation for all. But sometimes we may tire of being the only person we know that has not seen Game of Thrones or The Sopranos. Maybe you’re not so much jealous of missing the profane content, but you have always prided yourself on keeping up with cultural trends and inferences. That’s when the temptation to just “watch an episode or two to see what it’s all about” comes into play. Soon, the well-written plot and highly developed characters draw you in. Before long, you may be glad you know what everyone is talking about, but find yourself pledging to quit watching the show tomorrow. If that doesn’t work, you vow to never let anyone from church know what you’re watching. Slowly but surely, you are nurturing a genre of entertainment that makes it difficult to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 CSB). We must remember that being left out of the loop is sometimes a great way to stay spiritually alive.

Watch as if you’re watching with your mother or daughter. I remember listening to Pastor Alistair Begg on a panel at a conference years ago. The interviewer asked him a question about television. He was asked that because he was sitting next to John Piper. Piper had just been asked what helped him walk closely with God. He mentioned that not having a TV was beneficial to him. Begg was then asked about his television habits. He simply said, “I do watch it. But I try to watch something that I’d be comfortable with if my daughter or my mother were watching it with me.” I realize that how you apply this has a lot to do with the moral fortitude of one’s mother and daughter. But in general, if you asked yourself, “What would Mom or my baby girl think of this show?” I bet we would practice much wiser media scrutiny.

Be mindful of the softening of biblical convictions. The first gay character on television was a guest star on an episode of All in the Family in 1971. Over the next few decades, more shows boldly included occasional same-sex attraction story lines. Pressure from activist groups, especially since the turn of the century, pushed studios to insist on significant LGBTQ representation on the majority of scripted television. The stated goal of such activists has been to normalize gay relationships in every way possible. In that sense, one would have to credit this effort as a massive success. The result is that it no longer feels unusual to most people to watch two gay characters interact, even on a sexual level. 

Is there a connection between this phenomenon and the growing number of former evangelicals that are now gay affirming? It would be difficult to apply research to such a question, but it is certainly worth thinking about. As Christians who lovingly hold to a biblical understanding of sexuality and marriage, we must be mindful of the dangerous effects modern media saturation can bring about to our belief system. We must be vigilant to never let a show normalize the culture’s worldview and weaken our biblical convictions.

See the good and potentially bad effects of filtered streaming services. Personally, I am a huge fan of streaming services that allow viewers to skip profanity, nudity, and graphic violence. The main reason is that I want to see zero nudity in my media viewing. A cursory reading of Scripture makes it clear that believers are not to have a “hint” of sexual immorality in their life (Eph. 5:3). Streaming filters will greatly sanitize your movie nights. However, I would like to offer three cautions regarding these services: 1) While they can clean up the show, they cannot clean up the plot. Some plots are so vile, that cleaning them will literally wipe out the entire show; 2) A steady diet of inappropriate, filtered shows does not help kids and teens discern the course for their media future; and 3) You can’t filter a person’s heart. Ultimately, we can rightly use filter services all while our hearts remain unchanged. We must prioritize evaluating our hearts, and helping our children understand theirs, by constantly asking if our motivation and desire is to honor God with what we watch. 

Lastly, don’t forget about the joy of reading. This probably depends on how you are wired, but visual media tends to create a desire for more and more screen time. A gripping story or a hilarious character always seems like a great way to end a stressful day. Even if you enjoy reading, heavy media consumption tends to lead one to say, “Eh, I think I’d rather just zone out tonight. I’ll get back to that great book tomorrow.” When you see this habit forming, that’s when it’s time to make yourself read more. You may need to declare, “Tonight is a reading only night!” You also may learn to multitask and read while other things are going on. Regardless, make sure that you don’t push the importance of reading, especially the reading of good Christian books and the Word of God, out of your life. 

There are many more things that could be said. As with everything, we must call out to God for wisdom. We must be determined to watch what we watch with godly discernment, for the sake of pursuing holiness. While we will make different choices regarding our media consumption, we must spur one another on to walk in a manner that is worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27) in the midst of what feels like an anything-goes culture. As we seek to live in the world but not of it, may God make us more like our Savior and use us to point to the better, more satisfying way that he offers. 

By / Feb 4

Editor’s Note: On Jan. 20, 2022, the ERLC sent a letter to the CEO of NBC Universal, Jeff Shell, calling for accurate coverage during the Beijing Olympics of the Chinese Communist Party’s gross and ongoing human rights violations, particularly the genocide of the Uyghur people. In light of the opening ceremonies and coverage that has already been problematic, we urge NBC and other media outlets to tell the truth about the CCP and to help inform the wider public of these ongoing travesties. The CCP cannot be allowed to use the world stage to showcase a false version of itself and to cover up a genocide.

Dear Mr. Shell,

As you are no doubt aware, there is an ongoing genocide taking place in China. Countless stories have been written about the plight of the Uyghur people who are being brutally oppressed by the Chinese government. Unfortunately, as we have seen most recently with the callous comments from Mr. Chamath Palihapitiya, too many Americans are either unaware of the severity of the situation or indifferent about the treatment of a religious minority across the globe. I am writing to you today because I believe you have a unique opportunity to provide real-time information that could help reveal the truth to millions of people across the globe.

To do that, I would respectfully appeal that NBC use its unique position as a broadcaster of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to highlight the ongoing human rights abuses and genocide of the Uyghur people happening in China and firmly refuse to broadcast Chinese propaganda.

Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has waged a systematic war of persecution against the Uyghur people, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group in Xinjiang. Uyghurs are subjected to totalitarian tactics that include pervasive surveillance, forced detainment and placement into internment camps for “political reeducation,” forced labor, forced birth control, sterilization or abortion, rape, physical and psychological torture, and forced organ harvesting. Estimates vary, but experts believe that China has detained between one million and three million Uyghur people in these facilities.

These actions have been labeled as an ongoing genocide by both the Trump and Biden administrations, respectively. In June 2021, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 14.5 million members and a network of over 50,000 cooperating churches and congregations, unanimously passed a resolution rightly calling what’s happening to the Uyghurs a genocide. The SBC was the first denomination to pass such a resolution.

We should all be clear-eyed about this global event. The Chinese government would love nothing more than to use these Winter Games as an opportunity to hide these human rights abuses and lie to the world about the treatment of the Uyghurs. The Chinese Communist Party cannot be allowed to use the world stage to showcase a false version of itself and to cover up a genocide.

NBC has a unique opportunity and responsibility to correctly reframe what viewers are seeing and provide context to the ongoing abuses in China that are happening outside of the Games. Because NBC has its own cameras and crew, you alone are able to showcase protests that might be happening, cut away from Chinese propaganda that is being shown, and provide com- mentary that contextualizes and accurately reports on what viewers are seeing. In the moments that cannot be appropriately shown to viewers, NBC should broadcast documented reports of China’s abuses.

This will be especially important in the opening and closing ceremonies, where China will likely attempt to portray itself as a hospitable nation to all and inappropriately highlight the cultures of ethnic and religious minorities. It is in these moments that NBC must be prepared with the truth and be ready to make a bold stand for human rights.

Mr. Shell, you understand the importance of this global event. Millions of viewers will be tuned in to see world-class athletes compete against one another with the hope of earning a medal for their country. But, in the backdrop of these Games, is an ongoing atrocity the host government would rather be ignored. Resist those efforts. NBC should be on the side of truth and not allow itself to become the international propaganda arm of the Chinese Communist Party.


Brent Leatherwood
Acting President
Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission               

Further resources:

By / Sep 16

My family lives just outside of a small town in Tennessee with a historic downtown district. Like many small towns throughout our nation, we have a downtown square that serves as a hub. In prior generations, these public squares were gathering places for everyone. People regularly traveled in from the outskirts of town to shop, eat, and do business. They would also come together for community events and to freely engage with one another. While many historic downtown public squares have been abandoned in light of the growth of suburbs, there is a renewed interest in revitalizing these historic neighborhoods and to provide a place for communities to gather once again — especially in a digital age that has led to increasing isolation.

These public gathering places serve as an apt metaphor for a period when much of our daily communication, commerce, and community are facilitated in the digital public square of social media and online connectivity. With the rise of the internet and various social media platforms — such as Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, and massive online retailers and internet companies like Amazon and Google — these new digital public squares promised to bring about a vibrant era of connectivity and togetherness across distances, more diverse communities, and more access to information. Many of these initial promises were made in light of oppressive regimes throughout the world that stifled free speech, suppressed human rights, violated religious freedom, and limited access to information in order to maintain control over other human beings made in the very image of God. 

Ethical challenges in the digital age

While technology has brought incredible benefits and conveniences into our lives, it also has led to countless unintended consequences and deep ethical challenges that push us to consider how to live out our faith in a technological society. Each day we are bombarded with fake news, misinformation, conspiracy theories, ever growing polarization, and more information than we could ever hope to process. We are regularly faced with challenges where wisdom and truth are needed, yet faith is not always welcomed in the public square and in the important debates over digital governance. In truth, technology has always been used and abused by those who seek to hold on to power and wield it to suppress free expression all around the world. But today, these threats seem more visceral and dangerous to our way of life than ever before.

One of the most challenging ethical issues of our day with technology is centered around the proper role of digital governance and the ethical boundaries of free expression in the digital public square. Many have recently begun to question the role of the technology industry over our public discourse, as well as the responsibilities of individuals, third-party companies, and even the role of the government in digital governance. While much of the dangerous, illegal, and elicit content is rightly moderated, questions remain as to what kind of ideas or speech are to be welcomed in the digital public square and how we’re to maintain various ethical boundaries as we seek to uphold free expression and religious freedom for all. 

On one hand, our digital public squares are very public and have an incredibly diverse group of community members. But on the other hand, there is often immense pressure to conform to certain secular ethical principles that tend to push people of faith out of public conversations and debates simply based on their deeply held beliefs about God, the nature of humanity, and how we are to navigate these challenges to free expression and religious freedom. 

A new research project

The complex nature of the questions surrounding ethics and religion in the digital age is exactly why I am excited to announce that the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is pioneering a new research project called the Digital Public Square. This project is designed to help provide the local church and the technology industry with thoughtful resources that will help everyone engage these important debates over digital governance and promote free expression as well as religious freedom for all. We seek to cast a robust vision for public theology and ethical engagement in a technological society — a vision grounded in a historical understanding of the role of the church in society and in the unchanging Word of God. While some believe that religion has no role to play in a modern society, we believe that our faith is central to how we engage these pressing issues and live faithfully in the digital age.

The Digital Public Square project will gather some of the best voices from across academia, journalism, public policy, think tanks, and most importantly, the local church to clarify the state of the digital public square and to cast a vision for Christian engagement in the areas of content moderation, online governance, and engagement with the technology industry as a whole. Just as Christians have sought to develop a robust public theology on matters of church and state relations for many generations, Christians must also think deeply about how God would call us to engage the challenges of technology and these companies that operate around the globe in vastly different cultural contexts. We will seek to answer questions surrounding the nature of free expression, the role of democratic values around the world, and best practices for cultivating a truly diverse digital society where people of faith are a vital part of these important conversations.

We will do so in a four-prong approach that will extend throughout 2021 and 2022. The project will include an in-depth report on the state of the digital public square, a set of guiding ethical principles for digital governance, and numerous resources for the local church to use in order to engage and bear witness to the gospel in the digital age. These resources will include two different book-length volumes: Following Jesus in a Digital Age with B&H Publishing, and The Digital Public Square: Ethics and Religion in a Technological Society from B&H Academic in 2022. The latter will feature contributions from 14 leading thinkers from across society addressing the pressing issues of digital governance, such as the nature of the public square, US and international technology policy, religious freedom, hate speech/violence, seuxality and gender issues, pornography and other objectionable content, misinformation, fake news, conspiracy theories, and the rise of global digital authoritarianism. 

To learn more about the Digital Public Square project and to receive project updates, along with our weekly content on technology ethics, visit

By / Jan 25

If you’re like me—and I’m hearing from more and more people that they are—you have family and friends in your life who are believing some very interesting things about what is going on in our world today. Whether it’s COVID-19 related or a belief that the election was part of some conspiracy on the right or the left, many of our Christian brothers and sisters are being deceived and believing things that simply aren’t true. I am not God, and neither are you, so I can’t refute every false claim that comes at me with a counterpoint of truth. But Christians can and should exercise discernment as we engage with any and all forms of media. 

The need for discernment

Currently, there are some people who passionately distrust any information from the “mainstream media.” And yet, some of those same people are quick to believe what a random individual says on his YouTube channel or social media account. It’s true that there is broken trust between media outlets and the general public. People are tired of fear mongering and bias and many other things. I acknowledge that exists. Afterall, we are a capitalist society and when something sells—whether it’s good for people or not—someone will sell it. And fear sells. Thus, the 24 hour news cycle exists. So hear me say that I understand that distrust exists between the media and their audience. 

However, I don’t believe the answer is to disregard all forms of media and turn to the vocal, independent (and random) actors out there on the internet. Some Christians are operating on the belief that if they “remain in the Word” (you should) and then proceed to scour the internet for information that will assuage their anxiety and fear or confirm their beliefs or suspicions, their time in the Word will enable them to discern truth from falsehood. I believe this approach actually makes these people more susceptible to those that are seeking to capitalize on their fear. As I said before, fear sells. So if you start a YouTube channel (or a website, or an Instagram account) and start telling good stories with confidence, people will believe you. And if those stories are told in such a way that the viewer believes he/she is getting secret, never-before-seen knowledge, they will trust you even more. Furthermore, if your stories are driven by fear or anger, your audience will most definitely grow.

Many Christians in our churches don’t realize that there are people out there who are simply aiming to grow an online audience. Why are they trying to do this? Because you can monetize an online audience. These “truth-tellers” on the internet who are peddling conspiracy theories know this. They will ask you to share their videos and RT their Tweets or sign up for their email list for “exclusive” information. People who are doing this are trying to grow an audience so that they can make money. They exploit people for profit. So be wary of these folks in your search for “truth,” fellow Christian.

Three things to consider

Now, I am not here to tell you that the “mainstream media” is not also in the business of making money. They, too, must earn a profit or they can’t continue their work. The difference here is that these large media companies have processes and accountability (checks and balances) that individuals with an online platform typically do not. So here are a few things to keep in mind when you are tempted to disregard anything from a more established media outlet:

  1. Accountability. Your typical journalist/reporter has a boss that they are accountable to just like you are accountable to your boss. Because they are human, they will bring some bias into their reporting. But that does not mean they are purposely telling lies. They can’t or they’d be fired. As one person I know told me, when these reporters and journalists were trained in their skill, “simply misspelling one name could knock off enough points to get a failing grade on a story.”
  2. Review. Your typical news outlet will have several people who review content before it is published or put on the air. Again, this doesn’t mean bias doesn’t exist. But several people are doing their jobs to make sure the information or arguments being presented are credible. Even here at the ERLC, though we are not a media company, nothing is published on our site that hasn’t been vetted by many people with the sources checked for accuracy before publishing. We all know we are held accountable by the standards of our organization, so we cannot simply say whatever we want about a given topic. Every media outlet has its own bias, for sure, but it is simply false to assert the “mainstream media” is part of some conspiracy to play mind tricks on you.
  3. Fact check. Writer Hannah Anderson said it so well in a recent post, about how our ability to go directly to a source is much easier these days. So any news outlet worth their salt knows that people are able to “fact check” what they say. At the very least, this ensures that journalists are unlikely to push or promote ideas that are easily falsified by a simple Google search. Again, this doesn’t mean there isn’t bias. But we shouldn’t assume everyone is lying if they speak or write from a major media outlet. Rather we would be much better off to cultivate a “healthy” news diet by watching/reading multiple sources.

My friend Chris Martin, an author who writes about internet culture and social media trends from a Christian perspective, said this about our need to discern what various sources are saying:

“I have noticed that truth can often be found where the Right and Left outlets’ stories are the same. For example, if a Right outlet and a Left outlet both report that Event X occurred, that it occurred in City Y and that approximately Z number of people were impacted, all of that is likely true. When Right and Left then explain the implications of Event X, whether Event X was right or wrong, & perhaps who may be to blame for Event X, this is where bias may exist and the stories may differ. This isn’t always the case, but I have often found it to be so.” 

If as Christians we only trust the sources we find in the obscure corners of the internet, including websites with donate buttons and other obvious clues that they are out to profit off of their audience, we are actually trusting more in ourselves.

Hear me say this: we should be in the Word daily and we should be discerning as we engage with any media. But if “discernment” means that we only trust the person who says what we want to be true, I think that means we are putting our trust in ourselves and not the God who will help us discern. We must do better, Christians. Our public witness to a watching world matters and as we show that watching world how the Bible influences our ability to think and reason, we show that our God is living and active, not cowering in a corner waiting for his people to fix the mess here on earth. God is on his throne and in control. He is active in our lives and as we continue to wade deeper into 2021, I am incredibly grateful for that truth. 

By / Aug 5

This week a hurricane came through the eastern part of North Carolina where my family was staying. As the storm raged around us, the house we were in lost power. Though the damage in our area was minimal, the power outage was deeply disturbing to my 6-year-old son. He didn’t understand that the power could soon come back on. Nor did he understand why some things continued to work (like our cars and cell phones), while other things did not (like our lights and plumbing). The wild guesses he took as he attempted to understand the situation were almost comical, but they reminded me a lot about our current situation in this time of plague.

Related to this, I’ve been thinking about the idea of truth a lot over the past several weeks. For different reasons, the pandemic has fueled the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation especially through social media. Particularly alarming to me was a recent article in The Atlantic about the QAnon conspiracy gaining significant traction among many evangelicals (about which, thankfully, Joe Carter has written a very helpful explainer for The Gospel Coalition).

Truth and plague

In a sense, it is understandable that the pandemic exacerbated this problem. Pandemics, by their nature, are frightening things. They not only threaten our well-being and the well-being of those we love, but they also upend our normal rhythms of life. None of us have been through an epidemic on this scale before. And unlike major events that have occurred in recent decades, the COVID-19 outbreak has affected each of us personally, from coast to coast. No one knows when it will end. And we can only guess about its long-term impact. 

What we do know, however, is that the fear and uncertainty created by this moment has generated a lot of anxiety and confusion. And it doesn’t help at all that our collective response to the pandemic has become so politicized, as though the virus were somehow partisan or ideological. But partly because of the politicization, many people are reluctant to embrace information coming through government channels or major media outlets. This has opened up a considerable trust gap. And with the seeming absence of reliable information, it is no wonder that some have turned toward conspiracy theories or embraced false information that aligns with their thinking or suspicions.

Truth is a person

The subject of truth is something Christians should be deeply concerned about. If you open your Bible and turn to the New Testament, the first four books you encounter are the Gospels. They capture something of a theological biography of the life of Jesus. And meeting Jesus of Nazareth in those pages holds the kinds of discoveries that can change your life forever. There is more to absorb in the Bible’s witness of Christ than we could hope to take in across the course of multiple lifetimes. 

But one of the most surprising things we learn about Jesus is that in addition to being the Son of God and promised Messiah who took on flesh to redeem humanity and turn back the curse of sin, he is also truth itself. In a famous passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). This means that Jesus not only tells us what is true, but he is truth. Professor John Lennox of Oxford explained this idea with these words:

When it comes to truth, my Christian worldview raises perhaps the most startling claim of all that Jesus made. He said, “I am the truth.” He didn’t just say “I speak true things.” Although I believe that was true. He said, “I am the truth.” So ultimately ladies and gentlemen, for me there is of course truth beyond science because ultimately truth is a person who created the world in which science is done.

When we think we’ve lost sight of what is true, the first thing we must do is look to Jesus.

As Lennox suggests, all other truth is predicated upon Jesus. He is the truth because he makes visible what is ultimate and invisible. He is the fullest revelation of the living God who created, ordered, and rules the world. And in his words, his teaching, his life, his miracles, Jesus reveals to us what God is like and is the living embodiment of truth . This means that when we think we’ve lost sight of what is true, the first thing we must do is look to Jesus.

Looking for Truth

I know that in the confusing and difficult days we are living in there are rarely easy answers. But I am likewise convinced that too often Christians find themselves looking in a thousand different places for direction before they turn their eyes toward Jesus. This doesn’t mean that reading your Bible will reveal some kind of hidden code or answer key for the serious questions surrounding the pandemic or other important issues. But it does mean that if we look to Jesus, we will be the kind of people who see truth first and foremost in our Savior instead of in conspiracy theories floating around on social media.

In another famous passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus is speaking to Pilate hours ahead of his crucifixion and says, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). A.W. Tozer said that truth “is not hard to find” because the truth is “seeking us.” And he was exactly right. 

Jesus is the truth. He is the only source of knowledge that is absolutely reliable. And he is not only available, but he is seeking us out (Luke 19:10). Christians should remember that as we make our way through these uncertain times. Just like my 6-year-old, we don’t have all of the answers. But Jesus does. And we may not know when this will end or how long it may last, but we can look to Jesus and listen for his voice. 

By / Mar 25

I enjoy podcasts and find them to be a valuable part of my daily rhythms. During this season of social distancing, I think this flourishing new media can help fill the gap and get us out of our own heads.

Growing up, I remember riding in my dad’s truck to and from school listening to Paul Harvey in the morning and talk radio in the afternoon. What I loved then with radio is what I appreciate now with podcasts. I cherish those memories not for the news and weather reports but because I share them with my dad. I think I felt it intuitively then but I know now, all these years later, that it was the shared experience of a father and son with a radio host we never met, but felt like we knew, that made listening to Paul Harvey a “good day.”

Today I listen to podcasts and feel connected, especially when I talk about them with friends who also listen weekly. I tune in while driving, on the metro back when I had a commute, walking my dog, exercising, cooking dinner, and cleaning our home—something we do more often during the COVID-19 quarantine. I use podcasts to pick up news, relax for entertainment, and dive deep into the political, cultural, and spiritual issues of our day. I enjoy all kinds of shows, from interviews to monologue, investigative journalism to friendly banter good for nothing but laughs.

There are at least 850,000 active podcasts right now with well over 50 million episodes produced. If you haven’t listened to podcasts yet, now could be a great time to join the fun with the 62 million Americans regularly listening to shows each week.

Here are some of my family’s favorite podcasts that I think you might enjoy too. I’ll offer three recommendations in each of the following three categories: podcasts to inform, to encourage, and to entertain.

ERLC’s podcasts

But first, I want to be sure you know of the ERLC’s suite of podcasts, starting with Signposts with Russell Moore. On this podcast, Dr. Moore talks with guests about the latest books, cultural issues, and pressing ethical questions that point us toward the kingdom of Christ. 

Next, check out our weekly show from Washington, D.C., Capitol Conversations, hosted by me, featuring our policy team: Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, Steven Harris, and Travis Wussow. The conversations cover the policy debates and news shaping our world as we aim to foster a new way for Christians to engage in politics. 

Next, tune into the The Way Home with Dan Darling for conversations with key Christian leaders on church, community and culture. 

Finally, you don’t want to miss our newest show, the relaunched The ERLC podcast, featuring Josh Wester, Lindsay Nicolet, and Brent Leatherwood. The team in Nashville highlight ERLC content from the week and cover insights into the moral, cultural, and ethical issues of our day.

Podcasts to inform

The Daily from The New York Times: This is the standard-bearer for daily news in a podcast format. Michael Barbaro’s podcast is at the top of the charts for a reason. It’s impressive what this team of journalists do every weekday by 6 a.m. to make listening to the news fascinating.

SBC This Week with Amy Whitfield & Jonathan Howe: Whitfield and Howe are some of the top communicators in our convention of churches. Their weekly roundup of news from SBC national entities, state conventions, and local congregations is a great service to all of us.

The Dispatch Podcast from The Dispatch: The Dispatch is a new media venture built to swim against the tide of the tribal clickbait model dominating today’s news scene. This is their flagship podcast. Host Sarah Isgur is joined by Steve Hayes, Jonah Goldberg, and David French for weekly conversations on the news. They are disruptors and deep thinkers, doing real reporting from a conservative outlook.

Podcasts to encourage

This Cultural Moment from Bridgetown Church & Red Church: Few podcasts have spurred as many ah-ha moments for me as this one from pastors John Mark Comer and Mark Sayers. Their insights into ministry in cities in the 21st century are precious and prescient for followers of Christ in this post-Christian world.

Pastor Well with Hershael York: York’s interviews with other pastors and ministry leaders will make you feel like you’re in his living room catching up with friends who came back to town for a visit. The conversations in this podcast renew my love for the local church.

Knowing Faith: Jen Wilkin, J.T. English, and Kyle Worley are excellent teachers linking up around a podcast table to remind Christians that our faith is not mindless or irrational but rooted in sound doctrine found in Scripture. This team in North Texas is bringing rigorous theological education to the local church. 

Bonus recommendation: A lot of churches upload their sermons as a podcast. These weekly sermons will grow increasingly meaningful as most Sunday gatherings are suspended while our country fights the coronavirus. Here are my churches’ podcasts: my home church in Lake Jackson, Texas, Brazos Pointe FellowshipThe Austin StoneCapitol Hill Baptist Church.

Podcasts to entertain

How I Built This from NPR with Guy Raz: Guy Raz is a talented storyteller who takes you on the journey innovators and entrepreneurs took to start companies that would grow to become integral to our daily lives. As America shuts down for a while, our economy reminds us just how fragile businesses really are. Now is a good time to relearn the risks and rewards of starting a business to meet the needs of real people.

The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey: This is one of the podcasts on my wife's phone that I also enjoy listening to when we’re on road trips. Jamie’s show is meant to feel like you are hanging out with her friends. Chelsea tells me she enjoys The Happy Hour because in it she hears about the Lord’s faithfulness in the lives of so many different women.

Whistlestop: Presidential History and Trivia from Slate with John Dickerson: This would be one of many podcasts on my phone to fall in the category of “shows my wife is not interested in listening to on our road trips.” I love stories of American history and the quirkier the better. John Dickerson is one of America’s finest journalists. His narration in this show brings the stories of the fascinating figures who’ve lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, like Reagan and Ike, Truman and Kennedy, into full color.

By / Aug 27

Beau Hughes shares how the media we consume can perpetuate stereotypes in our hearts. 

By / Jun 7

"Ugh," was the grimacing response of someone in my church when I told her the book I was reading is titled The Politics of Ministry: Navigating Power Dynamics and Negotiating Interests. Politics is not pretty, and we'd prefer not to put such a tainted concept together with the noble enterprise of ministry.

In a positive light, the three authors of The Politics of Ministry point out that politics is simply the art of getting things done with others—and that we are all always doing it whenever we do life in community.  Nevertheless, some of the negative connotations are inescapable because, as they acknowledge, people-work is messy because people are sinful. This reality goes for God's redeemed people as well.

The already-not-yet polis of God

If you are starting in ministry, you will struggle to avoid a naïve, over-realized eschatology that is unprepared for the disagreements and disillusionment you will face. It's true: everyone in Christ should have the "same mind" (1Cor. 1:10; Phil. 2:2), but Paul had to write to Christians appealing for them to agree—because they didn't. Church or parachurch team members won't always have the mind of Christ and put others’ interests above their own. Can you accept that?

On the other hand, if you have been in the trenches long enough to have battle scars, your challenge will be different. You will naturally get jaded, want to insulate yourself from being hurt, and either quit or become a mere religious professional. The term ‘politics’ comes from the Greek word polis, which means city.  A new, perfect city is on the way (Heb. 11:10, 13:14; Rev. 21:2), but it is also already present in the church (Mt. 5:14; Eph. 2:19). The church is a colony of heaven here and now, and we shouldn’t withdraw.  Can you believe that in light of the difficulties you’ll face?

Navigating the difficulties of ministry

Recognizing that sin still plagues the church, and at the same time, that it is a present, supernatural reality empowered by the Spirit provides guardrails against idealism and cynicism. Within this lane, a pastor or ministry leader can navigate the sometimes bumpy roads in the already-not-yet city of God. Here are a few areas that the authors cover:

Power: Leaders must first identify all the different stakeholders in their ministry and understand the power dynamics involved between them. The authors, Burns, Chapman, and Guthrie, distinguish between formal power (e.g., holding an office like elder) and relational power, which can be had by those without official roles.

An effective leader will not rely on his or her formal title but will work hard to develop relational capital, like a bank account balance that he or she can withdraw from in times of conflict or when faced with a difficult decision. Power itself is not evil but can either be misused or stewarded for the flourishing of all.

Interests: After surveying the key players and their levels of power, a careful assessment of everyone’s interests is crucial. We all have interests (motivations, values, goals, etc.), and these interests regularly conflict with those of others. We may be unaware of the interests we bring to the table from our personality or experiences. And ministry leaders are often oblivious to fault lines like cultural differences that are present within their organizations. Such ignorance can exacerbate conflict.

Time and intentionality are required to study the underlying interests of those you are working with and not just rush ahead, assuming everyone is on the same page. The authors assist with this by sharing helpful tools for unearthing personal, organizational, and societal interests.

Negotiation: Negotiation is what happens at the planning table among the different stakeholders. When everyone at the table has shared interests, accomplishing things together is fun and relatively easy. When such decisions are made among people with equal power, the authors call it “Cell 1 collaboration.” If there are shared interests, yet power differentials, then networking is what takes place (“Cell 2”).

However, because we’re not in the New Jerusalem yet, we will often find ourselves in quagmires of competing interests. If this occurs among colleagues with equal power, then bargaining takes place (“Cell 3”). But if there is unequal power, then we venture into the explosive realm of negotiation (“Cell 4”,) which receives its own chapter in the book. In that chapter, the authors walk through a continuum of possible responses from those with less or more power. Cell 4 represents the dreaded politics most people are trying to avoid and from which wise leaders will seek to lead the group away from. Even these experiences of conflict can turn out for our sanctification.

Ethical considerations: Lastly, the authors provide theological guidance for thinking about the pitfalls of church politics. They end with a hopeful picture of what mature, Christ-like leadership can look like amid conflict. They challenge and equip the reader to listen well and to be willing to let go of control, not lording one’s power over those entrusted to the leader, but truly loving them.


Burns, Chapman, and Guthrie carefully and methodically unpack their thesis that all ministry is political, and this means leaders must perceive the dynamics of power at play, understand the different interests people hold, and engage in negotiation while considering ethical implications. The Politics of Ministry adeptly interacts with secular literature, but it still relates the material to real ministry stories while throwing in many helpful leadership tips.

This book could be an excellent addition to a seminary curriculum, although no class can thoroughly prepare someone for what he or she will face in working with people. But if you are leading God's people in any way, reading this book will enable you to see what's going on. And it will push you to learn from reflection-in-action, reflection-on-action, mentors and models, and your inevitable negative experiences.

This timely read gave me helpful categories for better comprehending conflicts I’m currently dealing with in my setting. Most importantly, The Politics of Ministry stirred me as a pastor to pray and preach so that God’s glory in the gospel would increasingly become the overriding shared interest of everyone in our church. I feel Paul’s heart for the people of God—that we would let our political life be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Phil. 1:27), since our political bonds come from heaven, and from there we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20).

By / May 31

Recently, an HBO series with a large cultural following came to an end. Barely a month prior, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s film saga reached a conclusion with the highly anticipated “Avengers: Endgame.” Both the television series and film produced a number of responses from Christians. From those who objected to watching the HBO series because of its content, to those who said they were willing to watch it for its storytelling, Christians looked for ways to understand and engage with both of these massive cultural markers.

Regardless of the stance you take, the same questions arise every time popular culture produces something that seems almost inescapable in terms of popularity. Should Christians watch certain shows or not? Are some series too violent? What does the story of “Captain Marvel” reveal about our current focus on gender roles? How does “Black Panther” deal with questions of race that are timeless and relevant? What do superhero movies reveal about our need for a savior?

Offering a story of our own

For the Christian, we can choose from three options. We can either go unquestioningly with the flow of culture and consume what we are given. At the other end is the option to do as some Christians of the past and completely disengage from culture, insisting instead on our own subculture and institutions. Both of these options are problematic. The answer offered by Daniel Strange in Plugged In is a third way between these extremes. Rather than ignore or receive uncritically, Strange desires to offer us a method for understanding the cultural stories we encounter and also offering a story of our own—a story of the person of Christ and his plan for the cosmos (17).

Although culture can mean any number of things from shared language, interests, or even clothing, at its root, “culture is the stories we tell that express meaning about the world” (23). As Strange points out, there are two components to this definition that are important: story and meaning. For the Christian, this definition should seem familiar because the gospel is ultimately the same thing: a story about the person of Jesus Christ and his importance (meaning) for the world.

However, the gospel is not a story that acts in contrast to culture. It actually flows through the culture and is adapted to each context. This is why different things are appropriate in different contexts. It is not the truth of the gospel, but rather the context of the gospel that has changed.

How to engage cultural stories

Strange offers the reader with a simple pattern for engaging the cultural stories around us with the story of the gospel in each of these shifting contexts. Christians should seek to enter the world of their culture and participate, understand the stories being told, show how those stories are incomplete, and then offer the story of the gospel.

Strange is clear that this is a method or pattern, not a one-size-fits-all formula (121). There will be times when individuals will (and should) for the sake of their own spiritual health abstain from particular manifestations of culture. As Paul says to the church at Corinth, each should act in accordance to their conscience, but ensure that they are not causing another to stumble (1 Cor. 8). Christians also must not confuse the liberty of the conscience with license to act as they please. Thus, the conscience should always be guided by the community of the church. By setting up the guardrails of a community all united in glorifying God, the church acts as a deterrent from a conscience that has been numbed while also ideally preventing us from becoming to legalistic and placing our personal rules on others.

The strength of Plugged In is the way that it does not create an oppositional narrative between Christianity and culture. The cultural stories that we create are not necessarily antithetical to the story of the gospel. Often, they are revealing to us the way that we are constantly attempting to recreate that story. This is why we seek out superhero movies, because we know that something is wrong and that we are unable to set it right—we need a savior. The story of Jurassic Park is the story of our desire to create and take dominion over creation, as well as the limits of that power, a concept found in Genesis 1-3. And many shows reveal the importance of family and the power of a name/identity, themes that the Apostle Paul refers to often (Eph. 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 4:1-7).

Further, Strange reminds the reader that often we are too selective in what we view as problematic. Christians are rightly wary of any hint of sexual immorality on their screens. This is a good thing. However, nudity and sexual images, while often more explicit, are not the only things of concern (83). Christians should not just avoid sexual images, they should think critically about the stories that are being portrayed. There is as much danger in a constant message of cynicism as there is in a violent war scene. For some, the danger may be small, but for all of us, our worldview is being shaped by these stories. In some cases, that shaping is good, such as the stories of sacrifice found in movies and books about the experience of war. In others, the worldview shaping is confirming a distrust of institutions and fosters a sense of anger inconsistent with the Christian worldview. In either case, the Christian should consider how they are being shaped by the media that they consume.

Plugged In is a great resource for anyone thinking about how they can better engage their culture. This book does not offer a formula for evaluating “can I watch this?” It does offer questions for how Christians should approach the issue. So you will not come away with a definite rule for whether certain shows are acceptable viewing or when to look away during the next summer blockbuster. You will however have an awareness of the stories that are shaping you and how to bring the metastory of the gospel to each situation. As a people with a story to tell, Strange reminds us that we cannot just consume media, but must look for ways to transform it with the power of the gospel.   

By / May 20

A brilliant photograph on Instagram, an eye-catching billboard along the interstate, an ambitious landscape inside a new adventure video game, a magazine centerfold, a witty commercial, a music video, an ever expanding television series, a hot blockbuster movie, a sports clip of an athlete’s glory (or injury), a viral GIF on social media—we live in the age of the spectacle. Multiple spectacles. Millions of digital spectacles vying for our time, our attention, our love, our wallets, our outrage, and our votes.

But as she follows Christ, the church is unveiled, changed, and progressively made more beautiful. And she herself becomes a spectacle to the world.

Exploited Spectacles

Christians in the earliest Roman churches were branded as scum. Society hated them for the simple reason that Christians resisted the massive industry of pagan idolatry. Idolatry was the power plant of the entire spectacle-spawning industry, spectacles that became “the very things Romans saw as essential for integration into society.”[1] To resist the idols of ancient Rome was an open rebuke to the whole culture.[2]

This explains the hate projected at Christians by Nero, “the most flamboyantly theatrical of all Rome’s emperors,”[3] who exploited his notorious spectacles for political capital. Christians will never forget one tyrannical example after a nine-day fire that ravaged Rome in the summer of 64. The emperor was so mentally unstable that swirling rumors in Rome suggested that Nero himself instigated the fires. To rebuff the accusation, Nero pinned the blame on Christians, made them his scapegoat, and unleashed his vengeance on them throughout the empire. His retribution was spectacular.

Under Roman rule, crimes against the state were met with like punishments, and the condemned were cast into a theatrical role before a gawking audience. For example, a fake king was given a crown of thorns and crucified naked, mocked and derided by his fake subjects.[4] In this case, Nero called for the Christian “arsonists” to be sacrificed to the gods through fire (crematio) and burned at a privately hosted spectacle (a spectaculum, as it was called), to light Nero’s garden at night.[5]

Even today Christians are made a spectacle in three ways.

A Spectacle of Scorn

First, the church is a spectacle of scorn to this world. Reminiscent of Nero, John Bunyan’s famous pilgrims were beaten, covered in mud, thrown into a cage in Vanity Fair, and “made the objects of any man’s sport, or malice, or revenge.”[6] They were made a spectacle of trash to entertain the city: rejected, mistreated, and slandered. Our otherworldly focus confuses the world. Our focus on the Spectacle of Christ rebukes the worldly. As a result, the church is “sometimes . . . publicly exposed to reproach and affliction” (Heb. 10:33). Being exposed to public ridicule of onlookers, we are “made a spectacle” by the Neros of the world. To preach Christ is to evoke spiritual and human opposition in this world, something like having the Colosseum's wild animals unleashed on you (1 Cor. 15:32).

Or in the testimony of the apostle Paul: “For it seems to me God has made us apostles the last act in the show, like men condemned to death in the arena, a spectacle to the whole universe—to angels as well as men” (1 Cor. 4:9).[7]

The apostles were like a capstone spectacle in the arena, the supreme sacrifice to satisfy the bloodlust of the world. In their weakness, pain, and suffering, they become to this world just another form of public theater” (θέατρον).

In reality, martyrs embraced their deaths with less drama. Historians believe that early Christian martyrs slaughtered before throngs in the Colosseum welcomed death to the degree that it made their killings rather boring in comparison to the deplorables who begged for mercy and were shown none, or, more spectacularly, who fought with zest and zeal to defend their lives, in vain.[8] Christian composure in the face of death meant that the martyrs publicly rejected both the role of victor and the role of defeated foe—fearless in the face of death, they stood before the mobs and subverted the whole spectacle-making industry of Rome.[9] Nevertheless, Christians were killed to satisfy bloodthirsty spectators. Historians believe that Nero had the apostle Paul beheaded in Rome during this post-fire rage against Christianity, doubtlessly staging Paul’s death as a bloody spectacle of its own.

A Spectacle of Victory

Second, the church is a divine spectacle of God’s victory over evil. Matched to the multi-million dollar CGI spectacles of Hollywood, the church’s interior spectacles seem dull. But they are beautiful and profound. Each week the local church reenacts the same things—Bible preaching, the Lord’s Table, water baptism—all of them faith-based, repeated, microspectacles (unlike the sight-based and unrepeated, expiring spectacles of the world). These church ordinances are weighted with cosmic influence.

In Colossians and Ephesians, Paul is careful to show how the gospel-driven love and unity of local churches is a spectacle of the victory of Christ to the powers and principalities who seek to destroy God’s created order. The church is the perpetual resistance movement. And from generation to generation, she displays a spectacle of God’s victory to his cosmic foes, repeatedly striking those enemies with déjà vu of their defeat at the cross.

A Spectacle for Heaven

Third, the church is a divine spectacle for heaven. Paul often used the metaphor of the athlete to depict Christian diligence and gospel ministry (1 Cor. 9:24–27; Col. 1:28–29.) Indeed, the church is a spiritual athletic association, competing before the audience of angels and faithful saints (Heb. 12:1–2). All those past saints, who made it through this world with their faith intact, are watching and cheering us home. In spite of the relentless bombardment of spectacles that seek to dominate our attention and define our identity, we gather on the Lord’s Day, a diverse cast brought together by divine grace, actors of the true drama of the ages.

Despite the loud theatrical trailers of the world’s spectacle-making machines, the church is the true dramaturgy of the ages. God has authored the weakness of his people on purpose, to highlight the power of his gospel. And in this weakness, the world thinks that they see something quite different from what is really being enacted. When the final curtain drops on world history, the world will have missed the whole point. The world watches the slandered church as something of a vain curiosity, but in reality the church is a spectacle of her own—a large cast collectively playing the starring role as bride in the human drama for which all of creation was made as a theater to display.

Content taken from Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, ©2019. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187,


  1. ^ Donald G. Kyle, Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome (Abingdon-on-Thames, UK: Routledge, 1998), 245.
  2. ^ Donald G. Kyle, Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2015), 332.
  3. ^ Richard C. Beacham, Spectacle Entertainments of Early Imperial Rome (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 200.
  4. ^ Matt. 26:66–68; 27:26–44; Mark 15:15–32; Luke 22:63–65; 23:6–11; John 19:1–5.
  5. ^ Beacham, Spectacle Entertainments of Early Imperial Rome, 222–23.
  6. ^ John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1854), 3:128.
  7. ^ Revised English Bible (Oxford, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
  8. ^ The martyrs’ compliance in their own deaths and their defiance of authority infuriated spectators. After some initial novelty value, and even with costumes and spectacular forms of death, Christians provided a rather poor show. They were not skillful performers like gladiators, so they received no hope or privileges. Their use is best explained by Roman hatred or religious anxiety, as punitive executions or propitiatory sacrifices, not by their entertainment value.” Kyle, Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome, 248. See also Kyle, Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World, 334.
  9. ^ Peter J. Leithart, “Witness unto Death,”, January 2013.