The Bible Is Living and Effective, But Not Always in Ways We Expect

What happens when the Bible and humanity collide? Not what you’d expect.

Christianity Today and the Christian Standard Bible have partnered together to create a new podcast hosted by Richard Clark called “Living and Effective.” The program’s first season journeys through history, current events, theology, and the human condition to uncover surprising ways the Bible accomplishes God’s plan in the world.

Richard is one of my favorite interviewers. Last summer, we sat on the back porch at my home and had a wide-ranging conversation about writing, theology, and how the Lord has directed my sense of calling. Today, he’s a guest on the blog, answering some questions about the new podcast on the Bible’s impact.

Trevin Wax: There are many podcasts out there right now. (Just last month, I recommended ten of my current favorites.) Why choose to address the topic of God’s impact on humanity through the form of a podcast instead of a book or a series of articles?

Richard Clark: Living and Effective is about the human element of how God’s Word works in the world—the emotional, social, and even aesthetic impact that the written words of God have on actual human beings. There’s a kind of investment in those human elements that one makes when you’re listening to a podcast. It allows for our guest’s personal and emotional investment in an issue to come across. Too often, when we talk about the kind of controversial subjects we address in this podcast, that human element is lost.

Also, just to be totally transparent, I thought we needed to make a Christian podcast that was thoughtful, well-produced, and unflinching. There are a few of those out there already, but not many, and when you compare the religion and spirituality charts to the rest of the podcast world, what you notice is that there’s a lack of creativity and innovation that exists elsewhere. It’s mostly sermons, interview shows, and roundtable conversations. I love those kinds of podcasts, but there’s so much more that can be done!

There are a number of Christians doing innovative work in the podcast space, like Harbor Media, Love Thy Neighborhood, and The Witness, but not enough. And we Christians don’t have our Serial yet. So part of me wanted to take a swing at that.

Trevin Wax: What were you expectations when you set out to make this podcast?

Richard Clark: I thought it would be easier. I thought we’d have some relatively clear examples of the Bible paving the way for major positive change. Instead, things are much more complicated, even in what you’d think are pretty obvious positive scenarios, like the Reformation or the Jesus People movement. But I think that tension lends itself to a much more interesting podcast, so in a way, I’m pretty happy it turned out the way it did.

Trevin Wax: How have you found the Bible to be “living and effective”?

Richard Clark: I see the Bible as living and effective, without question. It’s just not always effective in the ways I’d personally like it to be. And that’s hard to grapple with. We know God works “in mysterious ways,” but when it comes to the efficacy of the Bible, a complicated result can sometimes feel unsatisfying. The Bible is clear on so many things, and so many times we find ways to avoid or ignore them.

The way people interact with the Bible is pretty messy. The Holy Spirit’s work through Scripture always involves people in a lot of wrestling and struggling, not so much to understand what the Bible is saying, but to get ourselves in a place where we can fully hear it and act on it. And that takes time.

Trevin Wax: In your research, what has surprised you? What has frustrated you?

Richard Clark: What surprised me was how the bright spots of what God’s Word is doing are usually hidden away where we aren’t looking. When everyone is looking in one direction for God’s Word to make a huge impact, God is usually doing something in the opposite direction. He told us he shames the wise and lifts up the weak, and you see that in the way his Word affects those who actually take up their cross and follow him.

Of course, that’s frustrating when we want to see the Bible make great strides in seats of power and prominence. What I wanted was to do a podcast episode on how the Bible helped end slavery. But that’s much too simple. And I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to sit with the truth instead of fiction.

Trevin Wax: You cover several different topics in this first season. Is there a reason you chose these particular subjects?

Richard Clark: We were looking for a wide variety of ways Scripture can be seen working in major cultural events. So we wanted to look at major historical events where there was a prominence of biblical influence. That’s more obvious in things like the Reformation and the civil-rights movement, but even then, the reality of the Bible’s influence is more complex than we anticipated, though ultimately more encouraging.

Trevin Wax: There’s a lot of history in this program. How do these accounts tell us something about our treatment of the Bible in the present day?

Richard Clark: These stories teach us to hope in the midst of dark times. Even when it seems like God’s Word falls on deaf ears, the Holy Spirit is at work in his church to upend our hearts. These accounts teach us to work actively to upend and challenge our own assumptions; and to work to make sure our beliefs about what the Bible says aren’t just cultural. These stories also show us how important it is to hear from others outside our own camp when it comes to biblical interpretation and application. It’s so important to trust not only in Scripture, but also in the Holy Spirit’s ability to make that Scripture clear to those who see Scripture as true and authoritative for our life.