Do You Geek Out When There’s A New Episode Of Radiolab? Thoughtful Christian Podcasts

Podcast BearI love podcasts. I listen to them every day as I bike to and from campus. I listen to them in the gym as I work out. I listen to them whenever I drive somewhere and there is no one else in the car.
There are a ton of Christian podcasts out there, but most of them are sermonic. Nothing against sermons – I preach a lot of them and listen to even more. I even podcast my sermons. But there are so many sermons podcasted that it can be hard to find some of the other Christian gems that are out there.
So if you’re into podcasts and are into Jesus, here are a few to consider adding to your list.
Thinking In Public with Al Mohler
Dr. Mohler is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In this podcast, he interviews interesting people about theological and cultural issues.
This weekly radio show from the UK features Christians and non-Christians in dialog. They usually bring in amazing people and the host is good at helping each person put their arguments forward effectively. The episodes feel long to me, but I still come back to it over and over again.
The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast
This one is more ministry related. Highly successful pastor Andy Stanley explains principles of leadership in a helpful way. This is one of my favorites.
This is a roundtable discussion about theological topics with intelligent and well-informed people. Sometimes it gets a little confusing because their voices are hard to tell apart, but it is nonetheless worthwhile.
Research On Religion with Anthony Gill
Dr. Gill is a professor of political science at the University of Washington. This podcast is pretty academic and can be dry at times, but the best episodes are fascinating. Two good ones to start with:
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What The Bible Teaches About Baptism

African American citizens attend a baptism

I just added an article about baptism to my repository of essays and Bible studies. It’s a pdf called What The Bible Teaches About Baptism.

Here’s an excerpt:

Why Should I Be Baptized?

“Why should I be baptized?” is a reasonable question, but I prefer the question asked by the Ethiopian eunuch: “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’” (Acts 8:36). Getting baptized is something that Christians do – it should be your default decision for the following reasons:

1) I Should Be Baptized To Obey Jesus

Jesus commanded his apostles to baptize people as they proclaimed the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20), and so we see that he expects new believers to be baptized as part of the process of becoming his disciples.

2) I Should Be Baptized To Identify With Jesus

Being baptized is a proclamation of our spiritual union with Christ. Colossians 2:12 says that Christians are “buried with [Jesus] in baptism” and that we are then “raised with him through our faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead.” Another way to approach this point is to recognize that Jesus, though without sin, was baptized and thereby identified with us, and we complete the cycle when we are baptized and likewise identify with him.

3) I Should Be Baptized To Proclaim My Devotion To Jesus

In 1 Peter 3:21, baptism is described as “the pledge of a clear conscience toward God” (that’s the NIV: some other translations phrase it as “an appeal to God for a good conscience”). Whichever is the better rendering in English, it is clear that baptism is an act of formally giving ourselves to God.

And so if you name Christ as your Lord and have not been baptized, then seize this opportunity and be baptized.

Read the rest of the pdf.

Hymns To Remember

hymns & psalmsI was chatting with a new worship leader recently who didn’t know any hymns, so I decided to make a quick list of some of my favorites (in alphabetical order, not order of favoriteness). There are multiple versions of each hymn on youtube; I picked the particular videos I linked to somewhat at random.

If you’re a worship leader and don’t know any of these, you should add them to your repertoire. You’ll be amazed at how useful they can be. And if you search for “contemporary arrangement of [name of hymn]” you’ll find good resources for making them sound fresh.

You can find chord charts for most of these at Indelible Grace Music’s online hymn book.

For an interesting list of the most popular hymns of all time, check out The Hymns That Keep On Going.

One Of The Most Revolutionary Thoughts I Have Read

Papyrus in Greek regarding tax issues (3rd ca. BC.)It doesn’t happen too often, but every once in a while I become aware of some new piece of data that explodes what I think I know about some area I’m interested in. New Testament scholar (and fellow Pentecostal) Larry Hurtado just dropped a bomb on me.

In his blog post How Long Were Manuscripts Used? he mentions something that had never occurred to me before. Not even a little bit.

One matter Houston addresses is how long manuscripts appear to have been in use. On the basis of manuscripts from Oxyrhynchus and from Herculaneum in particular, Houston notes numerous examples of manuscripts discarded when they were ca. 2-3 centuries old. Overall, he judges that the evidence indicates “a useful life of between one hundred and two hundred years for a majority of the volumes, with a significant minority lasting two hundred years or more” (p. 251). And, as he notes, the evidence from Qumran leads to a similar view.

This is of potential relevance for questions about the transmission of early Christian texts, especially those that became part of the NT. If early copies were intact for something approaching a century or more, then this could be a factor against notions that these texts were highly unstable and susceptible to major revision in the course of transmission. But we might adjust our thinking to allow for an earlier wearing-out of NT manuscripts through greater frequency of usage. OK. Let’s suppose that early manuscripts of NT writings typically wore out sooner: twice as fast (ca. 50-75 years)? That still means that the manuscripts from which copies were made remained available for potential checking for a fair period of time.

This probably means nothing to most of you, but this is huge if you’re interested in the textual reliability of the New Testament. This is surprising and strong evidence in the “Bible is reliable” column. Check out his comments section where Dr. Hurtado unpacks this a bit more.

Something Dr. Hurtado does not mention is that this makes it plausible that our earliest papyrus fragments (such as P52 or one of the handful of others from the mid-second century) might actually be direct copies from the autograph or only one generation removed. It’s impossible to know, of course. But the mere fact that we can even think it plausible is mind-boggling.

Dr. Hurtado got this data from UNC’s George W. Houston in his article “Papyrological Evidence for Book Collections and Libraries in the Roman Empire,” in Ancient Literacies: The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome, ed. William A. Johnson and Holt N. Parker (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 233-67.

Commentary Review: Blomberg & Kamell on James

I recently received a review copy of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on James by Craig Blomberg and Mariam Kamell.

I was particularly excited to receive this book for two reasons:

So here’s my take on the commentary:

  1. It’s nice and short. This is a plus, not a minus. Too many commentaries today run to the thousands of pages. This volume is long enough to helpfully explain puzzling aspects of the text without being so massive that the central message gets lost.
  2. It pays attention to usability. For example: the commentary on each verse is preceded by a bolded English translation of the verse followed by the Greek text. Contrast this with most commentaries that seem to assume you’ve got three or four books open on your desk (or windows on your monitor) at once (view the explanation of James 1:2 to see what I mean).
  3. It keeps you oriented. Every section begins with an outline of the surrounding text and an extraordinarily clear grammatical outline that makes the author’s argument clear. You can see a sample page at Google Books (click that link – seriously).
  4. The commentary ends with a very helpful summary of the overall theology of the book of James – something I wish more commentaries did. The discipline of Biblical theology would be much richer if that were the case.
  5. It uses footnotes. Yay!
  6. I dug into some of the more puzzling verses in James and thought that Blomberg & Kamell explained them with clarity and wisdom. Disclaimer: I have not read this commentary all the way through.

Overall, I recommend this commentary if you need to preach or teach on James anytime soon and urge you to look carefully at the other volumes in the series as reviews on them become available (the linked website – – is, in my opinion, the best place to begin searching for a commentary).

Thanks for the freebie, Zondervan! I would have told the truth if your commentary was lackluster, but I am delighted to report that this is a solid exposition of the book of James.

How To Get Better Grades In Physics

Enrico Fermi (1901-1954)Ben Shank is a Ph.D. candidate in physics at Stanford, where he also serves as a teaching assistant (TA) for an undergrad physics course. At our recent Thanksgiving party he began rattling off advice to one of our students on how to get better grades in physics (or almost any technical course). Said student was amazed and beseeched Ben to make this information more publicly available, and so he typed it up and sent it to our Chi Alpha email list.

With Ben’s permission, I also share it below (emphasis is mine):

  1. From the first day of class, sit in the front of the room toward the center. At least one study has shown that students who sit in the front are 2-3 times more likely to get an A and 6 times less likely to fail than students sitting in the back even when seats are randomly assigned on the first day of class. We can debate why this is so all day, but it is so, so take advantage of it. (By ‘the front’ i mean the first ten or so rows of Hewlett 200.)
  2. Be sure to get plenty of sleep the two nights before the exam. Of all the bad conditions you could be in going into a physics test, being tired is probably the worst one that is legal. Studies indicate that the second night before the test is even more important than the night immediately before. A clear, thinking, creative mind is your single greatest asset for any physics you might encounter. If you have been keeping up with the class, getting two full nights of sleep is probably more important than any amount of studying you might do during those two days.
  3. That said you will probably want to do some studying. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend finding someone else in the class to study with. Go over problems together. Go into the later problems in each chapter and pick some that you’re not sure you can both do. Taking an exam well is very similar to teaching the grader how to do the problems, so even if you are teaching a friend how to do something you already know, you are preparing for the test. If you both (or all) get stuck on something, contact a TA.
  4. Read every problem at the beginning of the test. Your mind will continue to process problems you are not looking at, provided it is awake. (See Tip 2) Studies show that you are best served loading all the questions into your brain at the start to give yourself maximum time to contemplate. If you get really stuck on a problem, leave plenty of space and move on. Odds are you’ll have better insight when you come back to it.
  5. DON’T PANIC. Attempt every question. This sounds really obvious, but we occasionally get blue books that have a few scribbles labeled ‘Problem 1’ and nothing else. As best we can tell, these students are looking at the first question, panicking and staring blankly at the paper for forty-five minutes or just walking out. This is something worth practicing to avoid. If you find yourself in a panic: stop, look away from the paper while slowly counting to ten. If you are feeling calm, you can go back and draw a diagram or write down some possibly relevant equations. If you start panicking again, repeat Steps 1 and 2. If you are not feeling calm, turn a couple pages and start the next question. Things will look better when you come back to this one. Trust me.
  6. Now for a few tips on getting the most [points] out of your graders. Grading a midterm takes 4-5 hours. As much as we try to assess each of you according to all the knowledge of physics you demonstrated, we are going to get tired and eventually parts of our brains are going to go on autopilot. If your answers are in clearly marked boxes (preferably near the left side of the page) and they are right, there is a reduced chance of any error in your work being marked off. If an answer is wrong, but it’s in a box near the left side of the page immediately below the work that produced it, then it is very easy for us to find the one little error and give you most of the points. I know having all the answers in one box at the bottom of the page feels concise, but if one of them is wrong we have no idea where on the page to look for the mistake. On a related note, it is better if you work one part of a problem and then work the next one below it. Believe it or not, grad students can get confused if part c is to the right of part b instead of below it. It’s silly, but after a few hours of grading that’s the way we are, so you might as well not let it hurt you. As a general rule, each line on the page should only have one equation or statement on it. (pictures excluded) You may use up more pages that way, but there’s no shortage of blue books.
  7. Whenever possible, draw a picture. Not only will it help you think, but it also helps us know what you were thinking. If you are not absolutely confident in your solution, a minute spent drawing a decent picture is probably worth it in terms of partial credit. Too often I’ve suspected a student knew more than their answer indicated, but they didn’t leave a good record of their thought process so I couldn’t grant partial credit. And that makes me sad. (Organizing graphics are also great antidotes to panic, see Tip 5.)
  8. When you get an answer, check that it makes sense. Negative lengths and times are often indicators that you’ve made a mistake, as are e.g. megaCoulomb charges and kiloAmp currents. If this happens to you, go look for the error and fix it. If you can’t find it, let us know that you don’t like the answer and why. One of the easiest ways to tell that someone is lost is if they give you a non-physical answer and don’t blink. As a physicist, it is much easier to grade leniently if a student indicates that they understand why the result of their calculation can’t be right. If nothing else, the grading rubric often has a point designated just for having a result that could be true. You’ll at least get that.
  9. It is well known that having good handwriting improves the attitude of those grading your exam. What is less well known is that having tiny handwriting can hurt you. Often what is perfectly legible to you while you are curled up with your nose 12 inches from the paper makes our eyes hurt after the third or fourth hour of grading. Obviously this vastly reduces the incentive to hunt for that tiny little math error you made in part a. This is not a small matter. I, for one, tend to get a migraine when I bend over small text for too long. So imagine a three hour migraine and then gauge the incentive to just mark you off so I can stop looking at your paper. Find a test that you have taken recently. If you (or better, a friend) can’t clearly read your text at arm’s length, you might consider consciously writing larger on all tests from now on. Grading fatigue isn’t limited to physics TAs.

And that’s what Ben has to say about that. Hope it helps you out as finals draw nigh.

the NIV reloaded

Bible Study 2I sent an email to my students and it occurred to me that it might be of more general interest:

Chi Alphans,

You might be interested to know that the NIV translation of the Bible has been revised. You can’t buy it in stores yet, but it is available online at

I think you’ll find the translator’s notes interesting. They include a section on language and gender and also have a list of key passages that have changed in the newest translation.

And while I’m on the subject of new releases of the Bible (which is a weird sentence), I should mention that there is a new, academically legit compilation of the Greek New Testament available at

Finally, remember that every translation optimizes some things at the expense of others. There is no “best” translation. It’s far more important you read whatever you have than that you engage in some fruitless quest for the ideal. In other words, your existing NIV will do just fine from now until you die.


P.S. There is no “best translation” but there is an option you might not have considered – you can learn to read the Bible in its original languages. It’s not for everyone, but just think of it: you can earn Stanford credits while growing in your understanding of God’s Word – it’s a twofer!