My commute to downtown Nashville has lengthened in recent days. Middle Tennessee is experiencing a season of explosive growth, which benefits the housing market in the surrounding counties but weighs on those of us who endure the daily trek to Nashville for work.
Over the years, I’ve tried to redeem my ride to work (whether via public or personal transportation) by finding opportunities to continue learning. I enjoy listening to dramatized Bible readings, working my way through iTunes U lectures, finding an occasional selection from The Great Courses, and trying out various audiobooks.
But most days, I listen to podcasts.
It’s been a few years now since I offered some podcast recommendations, and I still subscribe to many of the same ones (see my list here). Since then, I’ve joined the podcasting world. In “Word Matters,” my co-host Brandon Smith and I consider different takes on controversial or contested passages of Scripture. You should also check out the LifeWay Leadership Podcast Network, which includes 5 Leadership Questions, Est. – For the Established Church, New Churches, and Rainer on Leadership.
As podcasts have grown in popularity, my program list has expanded considerably. I rarely listen to every episode of a show (unless it’s narrative). It’s more enjoyable to dip into different shows or episodes that pique my interest.
Here are nine podcasts I’d like to recommend today, in hopes you might return the favor and recommend a few for me to consider also. Please note that these recommendations should not be considered an endorsement of all the content, particularly the shows that are more political or historical in nature. I gravitate toward programs that tell interesting stories or offer a perspective that provokes thought and reflection, regardless of whether I agree with them on all points.
Australian church leader Mark Sayers and Oregon pastor John Mark Comer lift us up from the urgency of the current news cycle and help us see some of the wider trends taking place in the Western world. I resonate with this podcast because it dovetails nicely with my own efforts in This Is Our Time and Eschatological Discipleship. This show unpacks the worldview question “What time is it?” in order to equip Christians for faithful living in tumultuous times.
If you’re like me, you probably own more classic books than you’ve read. I have a beautiful cloth-over-board set of Charles Dickens’ greatest works, the majority of which remain (sadly) still unread. Tolstoy’s War and Peace sits on my shelf with a bookmark about a third of the way through, silently judging me for not having finished it. (But surely my overkill with The Brothers Karamazov counts for something, having read it three times in two different English translations and once in Romanian.)
A Great Books podcast to the rescue! If you want to know more about some of the most influential books in Western civilization, you’ll enjoy these 30-minute episodes in which John J. Miller interviews an expert on the book in question and leads a discussion of what we learn from the work. Since listening to this podcast, I’ve picked up a few books I likely would not have considered (Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, Whittaker Chambers’ Witness), and I’ve not been disappointed.
For years, I’ve appreciated the Romanian-American journalist Rukmini Callimachi for her careful and detailed reporting on ISIS. This podcast is a riveting and disturbing look at ISIS from the inside—including an interview with a former ISIS member in Iraq who hailed from Canada.
I read everything Malcolm Gladwell writes. Often he inspires me. Sometimes he exasperates me. Never does he bore me. One of the most talented writers of our day, Gladwell is a masterful storyteller who combines a sense of playfulness and seriousness in how he addresses most topics. His episode on the original McDonald’s French Fry recipe had me salivating for the fries of my childhood.
Morgan Lee and Mark Galli do exactly what this podcast’s purpose is: go beyond hashtags and hot-takes to set aside time to explore the reality behind a major cultural event. They are usually joined by a thoughtful guest who adds context to whatever controversies are swirling about.
6. Slow Burn
The first season told the story of Watergate as if you were living through it, wondering how it would all turn out. The second season followed the Clinton/Lewinsky scandals of the late 1990’s. This show stands out for its production values and its ability to craft and maintain a narrative arc through multiple episodes.
7. “Presidential” and “Presidents Are People Too”
Presidential is a Washington Post podcast that devotes one hour to each of our forty-five presidents, combining interviews with authors and sometimes visits to their homes or residences. Presidents Are People Too is an Audible production that combines humor and history for a light-hearted look at the human side of those who have led our nation.
Mike Cosper is one of the best interviewers out there. His podcast on the intersection of faith and work showcases his knack for finding interesting people and asking them interesting questions.
I read a variety of magazines from the left to the right: The New Yorker and The Atlantic, as well as National Review and The Weekly Standard. I appreciate the latter two because they offer a more robust and principled conservative philosophy as opposed to populism, nationalism, democratic socialism, or just the incoherence of many politicians in either party today.
In this podcast, Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos offer thoughts on the news of the day, generally speaking to serious matters from a Republican perspective with a light-hearted tone and witty banter. We need to keep a sense of humor in a day when political rhetoric has become so heated and has an outsized influence on too many people.