What to listen to and watch this weekend

The good, the bad and the powerful

In praise of good-content podcasts …

 Preachit! by Dr Alan Stanley, New Testament scholar and theologian

I had the privilege of learning and growing in Alan’s classes at Brisbane School of Theology: The Synoptic Gospels, The Triune God, and Paul and his letters. He also lectured on The Work of Christ, Acts and selected epistles, Greek (variety of NT exegesis), and Biblical Theology and Interpretation. Alan became a close friend and is someone I greatly respect. He now resides in New Zealand where he cares for vulnerable people through a job in his local hospital.

I was honoured to be in the ‘small group’ when Alan did a quick survey a couple of years ago to check the vibe and feel of the name for his podcast. Preachit! won the day and is aimed at helping anyone – from the beginner to the veteran – preach better sermons: sermons that are Christ-centred. The topics are varied and practical, and those interviewed are among Australia’s premier Christian leaders (Mike Raiter, Michael Jensen, Kara Martin, Megan Powell du Toit, Mandy Smith), as well as from Alan’s contacts from around the world, such as Darrell Bock and Pete Santucci. Alan’s conversational style, clear and dry Kiwi humour, and depth of questioning are inviting and, at times, intriguing.  I am always inspired, challenged and enthused to keep on trying to preach “better” – more Jesus-focused – sermons.  For “Down Under” issues and approaches, I highly recommend Preachit! for pastors or parishioners.

The Alabaster Jar hosted by Dr Lynn Cohick, New Testament scholar and author

Lynn Cohick is a New Testament scholar at Northern Seminary in Illinois in the US. Along with two colleagues, also with PhDs in their respective fields, Cohick aims to “take on current issues impacting women at the intersection of faith, theology and ministry”. It is Christian orthodoxy with a thinking cap on, some fun and laughter, and dollops of serious scholarship. They are friends, speakers, wives, mothers and scholars. In their podcast, they reflect upon and discuss how all of our belief concerning God, Jesus, the Bible and the church affects women.

Women make up the majority of the church worldwide, carry the backbone of support services for the church, and give disproportionately in terms of wealth and land ownership to support the church. I have studied world mission history and served overseas – this is the reality. The hosts and interviewees on this podcast are passionately serving Jesus and caring for his Bride, the Church. I dip in and out of The Alabaster Jar, listening to the episodes that most interest me. Whatever your secondary theological or doctrinal issues, you will always find intelligent and respectful conversation for and about God’s people. It’s a podcast worth your time.

In support of difficult content …

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill hosted by Mike Cosper

The world is full of wonderful and interesting people and places, and – as the Bible tells us – is also marred by sin and full of trouble. A difficult and depressing topic has “done the rounds” recently, as many writers have sought to understand the “why” of the Mark Driscoll phenomenon. (If you don’t know what I am referring to, God bless you, you have been spared.)

The long and comprehensive podcast produced by Christianity Today consisted of 12 episodes (including one full-length trailer), eight “bonus” episodes, and one “special” episode. They were hosted by Mike Cosper, Christian writer and producer of the podcast. Mike has been lauded, applauded, criticised and cursed as he laid bare the workings of Mark Driscoll’s leadership at the now-defunct Mars Hill church in Seattle. He interviewed many former staff and survivors of the harsh leadership style that Driscoll became known for. He brought up many questions that all of us need to consider as we live in media-filled worlds that record our every move and note all the words that we should not have said.

What can I say about this podcast that has not already been said? A quick search via your preferred search engine will give a variety of angles and views, mostly from the US. Over the course of the podcast, threads were woven together that should cause every Christian leader to stop and think. How did this happen? Why did this happen? And – hasn’t this happened before? Any student of church history or anyone awake during the scandals of TV evangelists and other “big names” of the 80s, 90s and 2000s would realise the inherent dangers.

This podcast is difficult – both in content and in exposing unhealthy Christian culture. Sadly, we have been here before! And we, as sinful human beings, will go there again, except by God’s grace and a lot of work to remain humble, with eyes on Jesus.

This podcast has been severely criticised as Christian gossip – muck-racking – as a variety of detractors and those squeamish about the public airing of the church’s “dirty laundry” accused Cosper of “just sharing for prayer” sneakiness. Cosper, as a committed Christian, does not gloat about this dirty laundry. He comes across as desperately saddened that this has happened to God’s church, in God’s name, hurting masses of God’s people. And this is why the podcast!

He comes across as desperately saddened that this has happened to God’s church, in God’s name, hurting masses of God’s people.

Nearing the end of the episodes comes an unusual turn in the proceedings. Leadership at Christianity Today was exposed as damaging and a senior leader was accused of harassing women. Mike Cosper, working for and with Christianity Today, lays all this on the table, and more. Cosper is clear but not overt in his aim: we are all sinners needing redemption, so let us all come to Jesus with heads bowed and hearts open. The laundry has to be washed, and that can only happen if it is pulled out into the light.

There is no real “end” or definitive conclusion to the story of Mars Hill church. People who attended that family of churches heard the Bible preached, and by God’s grace, some were saved. By God’s grace, some still follow, and by God’s mercy, many more need healing and pastoral care from those brave enough not to shoot the wounded but to carry them home.

It is vital that all Christians keep holding ourselves and each other up to the standard of Jesus Christ.

There remain so many questions still unanswered about the destructive nature of certain styles of leaders, about personality cults, about accountability and church life and growth. This podcast isn’t just difficult, I feel it is necessary to listen and to learn. It is vital that all Christians keep holding ourselves and each other up to the standard of Jesus Christ: the One who stripped himself bare and knelt down and washed dusty feet.

In response to learning, understanding and praying, all Christians must keep on thinking, asking and discussing and never enable rude or rough speech to be “okay” in the name of God, or in the name of anyone! That may be just one lesson from hearing these podcasts, but I think that we must not be ignorant of the pitfalls and problems that could just come our way also.

A film worth seeing

The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson

People can do their research – books, internet, opinions of friends – but what would happen if “research” included listening to descendants of actual people involved in events? What if the bones of those who had lived in the “good old days”, and who had suffered war, injustice, tragedy and deprivation could talk?Would we – you and me – just be quiet and listen?

The Drover’s Wife is a retelling of just some of Australia’s history by actor, playwright, film director and author Leah Purcell. It sort of follows the poem of the same name by Henry Lawson, but this time, the Drover’s Wife is revealed as Aboriginal.

The plot centres on the disappearance of said Drover and the suffering of Molly, his wife and their kids, who represent all women and children in early colonial Australia. Brutality, drunkenness, rape and violence are depicted with shocking realism. The impacts of white settlement upon Indigenous families and lives are also laid bare.

Why see a film like this? Because this is our Australian history. The violence perpetrated upon the land and peoples of Australia is our shared legacy. Some may say “I didn’t do it, so don’t bother me about Indigenous issues.”

Indigenous Australians who share their stories would like you – invite you – to listen. As Christians, we have a role in reconciliation, which starts with understanding, and that comes through quietly listening and bearing the pain.

The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson is a strong Indigenous-led story that needs to be heard as we realise the pain that continues in our land and in our First People’s lives.

Joanna Vandersee is Families and Outreach Pastor at St James Anglican Church, Sanderson, in Darwin.