In 2018, we launched the podcast and recorded 49 episodes. Nate and Tim reflect on what they’ve learned.
Top 10 episodes:
Nate: Okay, are you ready for this?!
Tim: Sure. I think? I don’t know?
Nate: [laughing] Well, we started Almost Heretical one year ago, and this is our 50th episode! It’s one year. We thought we’d do a little reflection piece. But I want to do this in an interesting way, so what I thought—Tim, tell me if this sounds kind of interesting. We have to try it and see if anything interesting happens. But what if we looked at our top ten most downloaded episodes and played, I’m literally just going to grab my phone. I’ve said, “Literally,” so many times. I’m going to grab my phone and play some random selection, random piece of audio, from each of the top ten episodes. We’ll just kind of go through them starting with number ten, working up to number one. And then we can just kind of reflect, respond, add in other stuff we wanted to say on that episode. Does that sound good?
Tim: So I think what you’re saying is that we’ve reached the point where we will be podcasting old podcasts. One year in.
Nate: No, we’re not doing the like, “Here’s episode 4 again. Hope you enjoy it!” And then just play it. We’re not going to do that. Not yet at least.
Tim: [laughing] No, but it will be our past selves playing through your phone speaker into a microphone with our present selves going out at some point in the future. Which then our future selves later on will maybe also do a recording. It’s like Inception.
Nate: I was going to say, this is getting very Inception-esque. Basically, I’m just going to play thirty seconds of audio. We can talk over it even, so it’s not just going to leave someone hanging with the audio playing. We can laugh, we can cry, whatever feels right. Okay, so let’s just go to our Top Ten! We need that voice [booming voice] “Number 10!”
Tim: Like SportsCenter?
Nate: Yeah. Okay, so I’m going to our website, almostheretical.com.
Tim: What are our Top Ten? I don’t know.
Nate: Okay, our top ten most downloaded episodes, starting with number ten, working our way up to number one. Which, number one still kind of cracks me up that it’s number one. Okay, starting with number 10! Silencing Women. Let me play you a little sample of that. I’m just going somewhere in the middle here. Hold on.
Episode 33: Silencing Women.
Tim: I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in a world as a woman—I’ve been there as a man—as a woman, where you’re being asked to basically pretend that isn’t true and then see it as somehow God’s divine gift that’s on the same level, to these guys, as the gospel. The issues of homosexuality and gender roles for people involved in the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, that is on par with the gospel in levels of importance.
Nate: Okay, so this is part of our gender series, obviously. If you haven’t listened to that, head back into the episode thirties, somewhere in there, and pick up the gender series. It was one of the most popular things we did, and I think that’s telling. And actually the next episode in our top ten is also part of the gender series. And a few of these are part of our gender series. So we’re going to be getting to some more of these. But this one was called Silencing Women. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Should I read it, or?
Tim: I don’t know.
Nate: You’re not sold on this, huh?
Tim: I mean, I’m here for it.
Nate: You’re here? Okay.
Tim: Monique uses the sixteen year old slang all the time these days and it’s ruining me.
Nate: Where does she learn all this?
Tim: Uh, I don’t know. Maybe the people she works with? I don’t know. I’ve wondered that literally our entire marriage. How does she know the things that she knows?
Nate: I think it’s Instagram. I think it’s Instagram. Because I’ve realized how out of touch I get when I don’t go on Instagram or Facebook.
Nate: Okay, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
Nate: And if you haven’t listened to the gender series—or if you have—basically what we did was we went through some of the most popular verses that are used, that are pretty much all Paul, to kind of silence women in the church and say they can’t be pastors, they can’t be elders, they have some sort of limited role. And we kind of just went through those, working to show a different angle, show that’s probably not what Paul actually meant, and maybe he’s actually saying the complete opposite of that. Yeah, so that’s what we did in the gender series. Tim, do you have anything else you want to say about 1 Corinthians 14?
Tim: [laughing] I’m just curious whether the episode titled Silencing Women cracked the top ten because of all the people out there who are tired of women being silenced, or because a bunch of men thought this was going to be their proof text podcast for why they get to continue silencing women in the church.
Nate: In the audio we just played, we were bouncing off of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood coming out with their—which statement was it? So many statements, I kind of get them all confused, but what statement were we bouncing off of? Or it was the… um, the…
Tim: I’m so glad I can’t remember what they called it.
Tim: Well, the Nashville Statement was one that got in all this gender complementarianism stuff, but then the other one was the Social Justice Statement. That was the more recent one. But it was like the Statement on Social Justice?
Nate: Maybe that wasn’t what we were bouncing off of. Anyways, there’s been a lot of statements, and we were bouncing off of one of them in this episode. Okay, let’s just go to the next one because we have more in the gender series coming up here. Okay, so number 9 was episode 35 called Adam, then Eve. We talked about 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Here’s a sample of that episode.
Episode 35: Adam, then Eve
Tim: It wouldn’t make sense to refer to plural women, right? If the idea was, “But a woman will be saved through childbearing,” and then it’s referring to what she does, it would say, “If she continues in holiness with faith, love, and self-control.
Nate: Right, right.
Tim: The most logical understanding of the antecedent, which is the grammatical word for what the pronoun refers to, is ‘husbands and wives.’ So Westfall’s point here is actually, what Paul is saying here is women will be saved through childbearing—which again, is a very real and legitimate concern—if they, husbands and wives, continue as Christians in faith, love, and holiness with self-control. Which is implying, and this is just—
Nate: Okay, I still don’t fully understand that. Or maybe I’ve just forgotten because I haven’t heard the episode in a while. But how are they saved through childbearing again?
Tim: Ah, remember, it was all connected to the big picture concern that we were trying to explore of women being scared of super high mortality rates during childbirth, and so many of them would die, so getting pregnant was a scary idea, and then women didn’t have control over their own sex lives or their own pregnancies, so they were at the whims of men in the culture, whether it was their husband or somebody else who wanted to use them to bear children. So they were essentially, it seems like a lot of the women were looking in some ways to moving away from sex and marriage altogether basically to save themselves, and then possibly looking to the Artemis cult, which basically she was the goddess of protecting women through childbirth. Which makes a whole lot of clear sense out of the idea of them being saved, literally kept from dying, during childbirth. And then remember, we pointed out the implication in self-control is that’s basically implying that the man has a role to play, the husband, in saving the woman by essentially—
Nate: Oh, like if he doesn’t have sex with her all the time then she won’t be getting pregnant and then she won’t die? Like, if he has self-control?
Tim: Exactly. Uh, it’s not just having sex all the time. It’s like the idea that you’re using your wife or wives as what essentially happened through American slavery, as white slave owners using female slaves to create more assets to bump up the equity of the family. It seems like this is one of those classic passages which people today use to subjugate women, but actually it looks like what Paul was doing was trying to chastise men who were subjugating women. And essentially implying that to do so is not to be Christlike.
Nate: I think that was what was so empowering about the gender series and what we heard from so many listeners. Which, a lot of people came to our show first through the gender series, and then have discovered other aspects or gone back to the beginning and listened to other episodes. But it kind of flipped some of these passages on their head, or they felt like these passages were used against them and Paul was against them their whole life and was keeping them out of positions in the church that they wanted to be in. Almost like people wanted them to be able to do more but, “Hey, Paul said this, and Jesus said this, and here’s what the Bible says, so we can’t.” And it was like this handcuff. I think what I heard and what I felt through the gender series was just this unlocking of those handcuffs and deweaponizing the Bible, which is a word we use a lot on this show to show that this isn’t what Paul ever meant, and maybe he meant the complete opposite. I don’t know. That’s what I heard back from a lot of people. It just seemed like a really freeing series. Should we do the next one?
Tim: Yeah, I have a thought, but I’ll save it for another.
Nate: We have a couple more gender ones, so save it.
Nate: So this one goes back towards the beginning, one of our earlier episodes. We had Mako Nagasawa on talking about penal substitution. And this one’s been actually a really popular episode. I know that when we had our gathering in Portland back in November, that’s what a lot of people were talking about was the substitutionary atonement and Mako’s episode. I’m going to play just a little bit here. Let’s go to the middle, I guess. Or let’s go three quarters of the way through.
Episode 15: Mako Nagasawa – Beyond penal substitution
Mako: That would be a retributive model. But a restorative model is, “Well there are consequences. But I want your buy-in to undo the damage you’ve caused. And I want to partner with you to do that, because ultimately this is what helps you learn what it means to be a kind person, a repentant person.” And so I think it starts really, really clear.
Tim: I remember this.
Nate: Yeah, yeah, yeah, because he was talking about restorative justice being—you know those bumper stickers, and I think we said this on the episode, of “I’m not perfect, I’m just forgiven.” It’s this idea of the atonement is just that God used Jesus to figure out this sin problem, so we’re taken care of now. As long as we believe in Jesus, we’re good to go, our salvation is secure, that kind of thing. And the penal substitutionary atonement is like Jesus took the penalty that we were supposed to take. And so now the penalty’s removed, so we’re good as long as we believe in that. But he was talking about this much more robust picture of, how we actually become better human beings? How do we become better versions of ourselves? What’s the long term play here, and how does the atonement actually play a huge part in that?
Tim: Right, and that sound bite was from him telling a practical example about how his kid did something at school. I can’t remember if it was writing on the bathroom door or if he was mean to someone. And he was just talking very practically about the difference between having a restorative approach not just to criminal justice or theological justice, but just to life and goodness, rather than a punitive or retributive approach. Not seeing punishment as good in and of itself or punishment for punishment’s sake, just as a negative incentive, but actually him as a dad trying to help his son become a better person, a kinder person, a healthier person, a more loving person, by actually owning what he did, learning from it, understanding how his actions affected other people, and trying to help his son navigate as a partner or spiritual guide into choosing to live a different way.
Nate: So how’s that atonement? Was Jesus, did He die so that we could learn how to be better humans? Is that all atonement—I know that’s just one way to look at it, but do you have any thoughts?
Tim: Yeah, well he was connecting that to the underlying question of, “Did Jesus die so that He could placate God’s anger toward us?” In other words, did God want to kill us all and Jesus stood in the way and took the bullet? So did Jesus save us from God?
Nate: And to be fair, I think people would say God had to because of His justice, right? He had to kill us all. It’s not that He wants to, necessarily. I’ve heard it always as this like, He had to because He’s—it starts getting into, He’s subservient to His justice, but… I’m just trying to be fair. He had to kill us all, and then did Jesus step in the way, take the bullet for us? Okay, continue?
Tim: It’s so funny that you think that’s being fair because to me that’s even worse. Somehow you have this God—
Nate: I think it is worse if you think about it in that He’s subservient to His justice. I think it is worse, because then you have a weaker—
Tim: Well, and not just justice. It’s a God who’s subservient to what seems like a petty, retributive, fragile justice. Like I remember I got my mouth washed out when I was a kid for saying, “Oh my God,” because my parents thought that that’s what it meant to take the Lord’s name in vain. So they were going good ol’ Ten Commandments. And they were beating me, they’d wash my mouth out with soap.
Nate: I think I’d rather get hit, honestly.
Tim: But it’s like I used the Lord’s name in vain—which has nothing to do with saying, “Oh my God”—but I say, “Oh my God,” and that offends God, who is perfect and holy, and therefore God has to kill me. And it would be unethical according to some, or below God’s holiness, to not kill me, right? But then somehow, Him killing Jesus, God killing Jesus instead of me makes God great. And then a lot of us can be like, “Actually, that would make God awful. It might make Jesus cool,” but that would make the God that we’re simultaneously claiming that Jesus is to be this awful, arbitrary, basically a lot of us would look at it and go, “That form of justice is actually injustice.” And it doesn’t help anything. But that’s where the atonement theories—and we could talk about this for ages and ages because it’s the center, really, of Christian theology. There’s like, how should we think about Jesus and the cross? But then there’s this kind of second question of, well how did the early church and the New Testament writers think about Jesus and the cross? The conversation we haven’t gotten into yet is, do those need to be the same? Or is there the possibility that there was, certainly, a variety of ways to articulate what was happening when Jesus lived and died, but is it possible that some of those ways in our culture and our day have toxic ideological ramifications to them that maybe didn’t in a day where, for instance, you had child sacrifice as a normal part of the mythological framework? Where now we look at child sacrifice as this egregious, offensive, horrific idea. Should that play any part in our theology? So there’s that whole piece, but then it was like, what’s underlying logic of justice when we say justice, underlying the way we think about the cross? And that’s where Mako would say it’s basically by and large, either you have a retributive view where God needs to get back at the bad people and put them in their place, or you have a restorative view where God is like a surgeon trying to help and heal and fix us. So it’s kind of endless. You could go through all sorts of biblical scholarship and looking at different ideas and how they connect and what different authors were saying, but I would just put it simply, even if you don’t want to do the biblical theology, in life—even if you’re not even a Christian—in life, a holding a restorative view where the goal and aim of discipline is to help and heal and make someone a better, more loving person for their own good and for society’s good is a much better way to live than feeling like somehow getting people back or, “An eye for an eye, you caused someone pain so we’ll cause you pain.” Thinking that will ever fix our problems is pretty silly.
Nate: Yeah, and we need to, especially in America—and I know we have a lot of listeners that aren’t in the United States—we need to think about this when it comes to our criminal justice system. And we did get into that with Mako as well. Okay, before we move on, this question came to me just as we were talking about atonement and atonement theory and Mako’s episode. We hear so much about grace. Everything’s grace. What’s your take? Give me your hot take. Timmy’s Hot Take on grace and the way it’s often talked about in reformed circles. Do you have any thoughts? It’s been kind of a little bit of a trigger word for me and I’m just curious what your hot take is?
Tim: It’s super interesting. We had these conversations in Portland about Christian ideas, but words and phrases that we used to use so much and were big parts of our lives, and because of that are now trigger words in a way.
Nate: Oh, yeah, yeah, I remember that.
Tim: So like, forgiveness is one for a lot of people because of the way that’s been used as a weapon, yeah, to hear the idea of grace as one. I got a lot of thoughts. One is just the way grace is used in so much of protestant theology is that it’s opposed to—and this is the way Paul’s been interpreted for a long time, basically from Luther up until this wave of the New Perspective, new ways of rethinking what Paul was actually saying—is grace is opposed to law. But what that actually means in a lot of people’s minds is grace is opposed to whatever the Jews were doing. So everything in the Hebrew Bible, Old Testament, and what Judaism was, what Jewish culture and religious culture was, was the opposite of grace, and then Jesus came to enlighten us to the end of that and the beginning of grace. So that’s led to all sort of anti-Semitism throughout the ages, and it’s just flat out wrong. But one interesting thing is anybody who actually reads Jewish scholars, present day scholars or quotations of, for instance, the rabbis and writers who were reflecting on the Old Testament, grace is just as predominant a theme in Judaism as it is in Christianity. So that whole premise, that it’s a Christian concept, that God being gracious is something we don’t have until Jesus—that’s just a complete farce which has been super toxic in religious history.
Nate: Okay, next episode was episode 32. Husbands and slave-masters. So let’s do a random selection:
Episode 32: Husbands and slave masters
Tim: —in this culture where a significant power differential will exist. And then he speaks to the person without power and he encourages them and empowers them—not to buck off the shackles and seize their own power—they’re to follow Christ and give up power, even though they already don’t have much. But then he speaks to the other side of that equation, to the one with power. And we don’t have time to get into all the details, but he uses oftentimes feminine language to speak
Nate: Okay, so this is another common theme on our show, so it’s kind of fun that we actually randomly played an audio sample talking about power. You were talking about how, and I don’t remember which but you probably remember which passage it was, but Paul is talking to those who have the power and trying to put constraints on that power. And we often look at it and say, “Look, he’s telling women there what to do,” but in reality, he’s more telling them what they already do, and he’s telling those in power, the men, he’s putting constraints on the power that they do have. Am I kind of summarizing that correctly?
Tim: Uh, yeah. I think so. This was in Ephesians 5 and 6, and then Colossians 3 and a little bit of 4, which are very similar passages, so we did them all in one episode. It’s one of those—I think the gender series is interesting from a study perspective because it’s one of those where after an argument is made, some of the arguments we made in the podcast were my own, but a lot of them have been made by other people elsewhere, especially we pulled a lot from Cynthia Long Westfall—but it’s one of those where once you see that argument, it just seems so obvious and simple. It’s like, “How did I miss that for so long?” And then I just kind of feel stupid retrospectively. So this was one where all we did, and it was kind of encapsulated in the title, is point out that in both these passages, if you zoom out and try to read a little bit in context, you’ll see that the whole husband/wife pair, those two people in that kind of relationship, is lumped together with children and parents and slaves and masters. And so if you’re going to sift through the part about husbands and wives and try to pull some sort of complementarian patriarchal ideology, you probably shouldn’t ignore the fact that in context, husbands are put in parallel with slave masters. So if that’s what you want to do, you are on the side of the theological tradition which endorses the right to own human beings. If that’s not what you want to do, then you need to recognize that actually, Paul was comparing the power that husbands have in a patriarchal world to the power that slave-masters in a non-democratic, slave-basic society and economy. And if you think slavery is egregious, which it is, you should also think patriarchy is egregious, which it is. So Paul was essentially putting those two things side by side. So that was kind of the basic premise, and then you could get into a lot of the details.
Nate: Okay, cool. We have a couple more on the gender series, so let’s get back to that in just a second. The next episode is our first episode. And so I’ll play a selection of that and then we can just reflect on the whole show, I guess.
Episode 1: Ex-pastors in a shed
Tim: A lot of people, what they get left with after all those dominos fall down is kind of the sense that there’s nothing really to hold onto, they’re sort of waving around looking for some sort of foundation. And it gets to the point, and we’re sympathetic here, we’ve both been through it, it gets to the point where, it’s kind of a battle between you and what feels good and right and true, where you see justice–it feels like a battle between that and the Bible. Where a lot of people have gone is you feel like you kind of have to walk away from the Bible. Some people that means walking away from Christianity, for some others that means trying to figure it out on their own. We’ve just come to a place where we’ve been able to see enough missing pieces of stuff we had never been taught in church, and ideas and paradigms that are older than the church itself, but are new to us, just weren’t part of our western tradition, but have actually led us back to the place where the Bible’s our greatest ally in the struggle.
Tim: Hmm, stop right there. Nate! Okay, so first of all, we called this Ex-Pastors in a shed. So first question to you is now, a year later, if we had started the podcast this year instead of last year, what would you have changed about the way we started and introduced Almost Heretical and our own reasons for doing it? Second question, based on that little audio bite we just heard. I know you and I have both been on different roller coaster rides in our relationship with the Bible. But I know I’ve gone through many different moods in the last year in how I feel about the thing, whether I care about it or not, and that idea that I just heard my past self say, that it feels like our greatest ally. I was like, “Oh! Does it? Really? Interesting!” So is that true for you now, or was it true throughout the year, or how has that changed?
Nate: [laughing] I’m just laughing, too, because I remember at the time when we recorded thinking and knowing and talking about the fact that some of the things that we say and think—I mean, we’re humans, we’re talking, we’re thinking out loud—are going to change over the course of this year, and when we listen back in ten years, in twenty years, whatever. They’re going to change, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t—I think the fear is, then don’t say anything, but I think the whole reason we were doing this show is because we felt like we had experienced enough. And not just personally experienced enough, but heard from so many other people who were all kind of in this same boat of growing disillusioned with their faith communities or the theology that they believed or were taught, or however they got it, the theology that they were handed and were teaching other people or whatever. They’d become disillusioned with it and oftentimes, and this is the real piece for me that I think, looking back on the show now, if I was to describe why we’re doing the show would be this other piece of those that are actually being hurt by interpretations of the Bible and how important that is. Especially if those interpretations are pretty easy to—some of those interpretations are pretty easy to debunk or show, “Hey, there’s a better way to look at this,” we should be doing that work to help those people that are being hurt.
Tim: Right. I think what I meant when I said that is something I still mean, and the gender series is a good example of it, is basically what many people, especially the loudest voices, especially the evangelical church as a whole, says that the people who wrote the texts that make up our Bible meant to say are simply wrong. And when you do more homework and better reading, many times you realize that what the authors were trying to say is much better and less toxic than what people have claimed that they’re trying to say. So the gender series was just a constant set of, “We’ve been taught that this verse means something egregious, and then we all have to deal with it our different ways, but actually what if this means something that’s actually even beautiful, potentially.” But the reason I kind of cringed when I heard myself say that is I’ve also gone the other direction, and texts that I used to think were saying something beautiful, I actually now find cringeworthy. And so in my studies I’ve kind of found both. So I think that was coming in the context of, “Let’s re-engage in theology to try to free people from oppressive ideologies,” especially in evangelical church-world. But when I heard myself say that, I was like, “Oh, let’s not whitewash this thing.” There’s some stuff in there, and I think it’s going to be one of our series coming up in the new year talking about, basically I think, the word “biblical” gets thrown around all the time.
Tim: I’m going to make a case for there being precedent within the biblical texts themselves that it is biblical to critique and move away from ideologies that are in the Bible itself, and that you can see evidence of that happening from one text to another, for example in the Old Testament. So there are some things where I go, “Ooh, this text is not an ally.” And then there are other ways, even in the gender series, back to that, like, I was going to ask you this, whether or not you feel hopeful or defeated after doing the gender series. Because you basically, you’re like, “Oh, cool, so these texts don’t mean what been taught they do.” But 95 percent of the world around us still believes that they do, and they’re not going to be convinced. And I don’t know if that makes it worse for me. [laughing] You know, it’s like it was hopeful for a minute, and then you’re like, “Well, but people don’t care!” Or a lot of people don’t care. And people with the microphones are going to go to their grave claiming that patriarchy is biblical. So then I’m just like, I don’t know. Is it an ally if people don’t actually care what the authors meant and they get to spin it anyway they want?
Nate: And maybe they should wrap up with this after we do these next few here, but there’s that whole piece, we’ve talked about on the show before, how oftentimes those that are then going to not care or be able to explain away how your interpretation is wrong and will go back to the one that is held by 95 percent or whatever, they can do that by calling those people—that’s why we called the show Almost Heretical—they can do by calling those people and pushing them outside as heretics. It’s something the church has done many times before. And it’s always done in tears and with the best of intentions. I did it, so I know how to do that. And you’re praying for them, and you care about them, but, “They’ve gone astray.” All these things that we say. So it’s just—that’s what makes me so frustrated, is that you’re then pushing those people outside so you don’t have to deal with them. Because if you can label them—we talked about this on the slippery slope episode. Was there an episode called Slippery Slope, something like that?
Nate: Anyways, we talked about how if you can get someone outside the circle, then you can just point at them and say, “Yeah, but look, they’re outside this safe circle of the things that we all believe.” Anyway, that was totally a soapbox there. Let’s get back to that. We still have to wrap up. We’ll come back to more—
Tim: Say the numbers. I think it’s fun when you’re like, “Number five!”
Nate: Okay, okay. I will, I will. And we’ll come back and talk more about the whole show and our thoughts on that at the end here.
Tim: Okay, cool.
Nate: Okay, so next one is Number 5! [electronic noise] Oh, that’s my phone dying! Okay, we’ve got 10% battery left to get through these! Okay, episode 30, Jesus ended hierarchy. And then the next one, actually, is the gender series as well. Episode 31. So episode 30 and 31. They were called Jesus ended hierarchy and Authority over her own damn head.
Tim: Did we put the hierarchy in the gender series, or was that kind of like an offshoot?
Nate: That was in the gender series.
Nate: I’m going to play these ones back to back, alright? So I’ll play a little bit of episode 30 and then a little bit of episode 31, and then we’ll kind of jam on those to wrap up the gender series reflection. Cool?
Episode 30: Jesus ended hierarchy
Tim: If your version of Christianity isn’t anti-hierarchical, you will just naturally default to climbing the ladder. You will use whatever gifts, skills, talents, energy you have to persistently, subtly climb the social ladder.
Nate: Okay, so that’s for that one. So remember that; don’t forget. We’ll reflect on that. Unless you have a quick thought?
Tim: No, keep it rolling.
Nate: Okay, okay.
Episode 31: Authority over her own damn head
Tim: It’s one of the only sensible ideas. Back in Genesis 6, you have one of the chapters of the story of what’s gone wrong with the world is that women are not only unsafe sexually, relationally, socially with men, but also in Genesis 6 they get raped by these angelic beings. And the point is to depict how cruel the world has become for women. That’s one—
Nate: Oh dear. Wait, do you want to do a different selection? Let me go find a different selection.
Tim: Ah, no, that’s my favorite, man!
Nate: [laughing] Okay, okay! Then those are the two selections, episode 30 and episode 31. Give me some thoughts.
Tim: Oh, interesting. I mean they’re pretty different. Actually, I have different thoughts.
Nate: Okay, so let’s do this then. Episode 30, hierarchy one. Give me your thought about that one.
Tim: Yeah. So I’ve found, both in some emails that we got from listeners and in other conversations I’ve had that this episode and the idea that Jesus was fully anti-hierarchical, or that early Christianity was itself utterly subversive to hierarchical power relationships, this is where I step beyond a lot of people’s comfort zone or willingness to go with me. So there are a lot of people who are like, “Yeah, I’m with you,” in the gender stuff, “Paul wasn’t a raging, patriarchal jerk. But completely anti-hierarchical? Don’t we need people in positions of power?” And it just seems like there’s some piece here, I think I understand it, but there’s some piece here where that’s too far for some. And so, I think this episode, as much as any I can remember, got some significant push back, even from people who were tracking and were happy with the conversation; this crossed a line. So I get it, I understand it, that’s fine, I could be wrong. But I also think something we said in these conversation was just, we’ve never tried it. Most of us have never experienced any reasonable or sizeable community where people are actually, practically, and regularly trying to do away with power dynamics. We really are trying to hold on to power over other people. I’ve tasted just enough in experimental communities of people who bought into this idea of Christianity as anti-hierarchical that convinced me thoroughly in the other direction that it’s totally possible, it’s actually not even that hard, and it’s really beautiful. But yeah, I think that was my biggest thought from this one. This is one of the things I want to scream loudest on top of my soapbox, and yet it’s one of the things I think has been least received, even by people who are open to new ideas. I’m not saying these are hyper-conservatives that just don’t want to—
Nate: Right, I think the listeners of our show are pretty open to new ideas. Of most groups out there, this would be a group that would be pretty open to new ideas. And I think what’s difficult about it is it’s just so counter to what we’re used to. It’s hard to imagine a church and a system where it’s not a great person at the top, or even a country or whatever. To imagine a great person at the top that’s leading it the right way, but it’s still that same system of top-down leadership.
Tim: Right. Yeah, and that’s where like, for me, we talked about this in the gender series, and I remember trying to tread really carefully with how I said this and how I talked about it. But if all we did was just flip the gender paradigm, and women gained power in society and men became relatively powerless, I do think that would be an improvement on society. I’m actually for that, if that’s the best we could do. But I feel like at the end of the day, most good stories, like Star Wars and Harry Potter, so many of these stories are like, you have an oppressed group that is trying to come up from their oppression, from their powerlessness, and if they succeed, then the question always follows, will they just become the next oppressor? Will just do what they escaped from? Or will the whole game get changed? So I’m really captivated by the idea not just that Jesus liberated Jews to be on top of the Romans or liberated the church to be on top of the world, but changed the game entirely. And that’s probably, as much as any part of Christianity, the thing that I can keep coming back to, that I could believe in that ideal and I could give my life wholly to that ideal. Even on days where I don’t have much faith and I’m not sure if God exists, or I don’t want any part of religion or whatever, there’s nothing inherently needing to be religious about wanting to flip society upside-down, not just to put myself on top and you on the bottom, but so that no one, there is no bottom and no one’s on the bottom.
Nate: It’s like continuing to flip that over and over again, right?
Tim: Totally. And if that is the hope, then I can get behind all the sort of emotional energy around a new heaven and a new earth and this progress and this great act of God healing the world, if that’s what it’s going towards. If that’s what heaven is, then I can at least sustain excitement in it, because I’ve seen how beautiful that can be. If heaven is still a hierarchy then that either means I just try to get to the top or I just don’t want any part of it. So for me, I kind of have to believe that Christianity at the end of the day is fully egalitarian, or at least has a fully egalitarian ethos. And that’s where, as it related to the gender series, when we looked at the different dynamics, I’m pretty certain that the only relationship that Paul had any interest in not doing away entirely with the power differential, the hierarchy in the relationship, was old people and young people. That was the one place; I think he wanted to maintain the value of people who had lived a long time, the grandfather/grandmother generation. Ironically, that’s just the term elder, which of course has just gotten used today as just another power term, like a role you have that’s at the top of the pecking order in the church.
Nate: Yeah. Okay. We’ll put a lid on—lid on? Is that the? We’ll put a lid on the gender series for now. We’ll probably come back and talk more about that at some point. The next one on the list, number 3, is our second—
Tim: Wait, actually. Can I jump in real quick? It’ll be a quick one.
Nate: Yeah, yeah.
Tim: Okay, so fourth most listened to was episode 31, Authority over her own damn head. I was going to ask you, Nate, what your favorite episode is that we’ve done, because I think this was favorite episode. At least of the non-interview episodes.
Nate: Hmm. Right. I remember really liking it, but I also have a hard time recalling everything that we did. Hold on, let me scroll, let me scroll. I’m scrolling. I also plugged my phone in, so we’re heading the right direction there. Yeah, that was really fun, the gender series was really fun. Actually, I think one of my favorites was episode 9, taking responsibility for our theology. And it kind of came along with episode 10 where we got into some stories. But that was kind of a new concept for me. It’s almost like giving permission—this is like a bonus one. It’s like the eleventh of the Top Ten—giving permission to think about the implications of the things I believe. That was never something I did before. It was, this is the truth and you have to believe it, and you have to fit all the consequences of that belief under this heading of Good. This is all good, because it’s the truth. So this is where it got into justifying children dying and the meticulous sovereignty of God and all that kind of stuff. I don’t want to get on a rabbit trail, or down a bunny hole, or whatever we call it. But that episode kind of unlocked this new way of thinking in me of actually thinking about theology I hold, following it down—we used that stream metaphor—following it down the stream. What does it lead to? Does it lead to good things or bad things? And the actual definition of those words, not, “No it’s actually good that that child died because blah blah blah.” Is it leading to actual goodness in the world? Is it actually improving the world? Is it leaving the world better? And then examining the things I believe and kind of taking—what’s the word in finances? Audit!—auditing my beliefs to an extent and seeing, do they lead to good or bad? Are they hurting people or are they helping people? And having that be an okay question to ask, because that was always a “No” in my head.
Tim: Yeah. That was important. That was setting a paradigm for what we’re doing, both in our lives and with the podcast. I think that episode was you and I—was that one of the ones where we had to take multiple takes at it? But it was you and I trying to articulate what we had been talking through for a couple years, and I think that was important for us to find words for. It’s another one of those where it’s like, now looking back, at the times when I was, as you were saying, just making the claim, “Well, this is true. God said, Bible says it, whatever, it’s true. We have to believe it whatever the cost!” I now look back at that and I’m like, that is sociopathic! That was not just stupid, that is crazy! That is an absolutely crazy way to live, I can’t believe I did that. It’s such a paradigm shift, but until you make it, it feels like that’s what you’re supposed to be doing
Nate: I think we talked about these on our episodes with Tim Mackie, our recent ones here, but the church has always done that, too. It feels like, “But we can’t, it’s the truth! How can we ever diverge from the truth?” But the church has done that. Like we just talked about slavery, the church did that. The majority of the church used to view slavery as biblical because the Bible talks about it. It talks about it in a positive light, it just puts constraints on it to do it in a good way. But the church changed on that to where, 100, 200 years later, we don’t view it that way. So if our foremothers and fathers in the church hadn’t had the courage to examine their beliefs and audit their beliefs, then the church probably would have died, honestly, because the culture would have been so far away from where the church was on that issue that the church would not have been relevant anymore. That’s where I like—another bonus episode here—getting into Brian Zahnd’s episode, where we talked about making Christianity possible. I think that was one of the best things that came from that episode, was this “Making Christianity possible” line that we’ve kind of ran with a little bit. And yeah, it feels so heretical. Which I guess that’s why we called the show what we did, but that’s what the church has always done and really what we need to be doing. And it sounds like you said maybe we’ll talk about this in a future episode, that this is what the Bible is encouraging us to do. Anyways, we should probably move on, huh?
Tim: Top three.
Nate: [deeper voice] Top three! Number three! This was episode 2, called In the beginning.
Episode 2: In the beginning
Tim: and ask some honest questions and be honest with what we’re wrestling with.” And the reality is, I think what we’re going to find is awesome. As Nate mentioned before, it can be painful to go through a season of deconstruction where it feels like old ideas have to die, and therefore old identities based on those ideas or even the tribal affiliations of the church communities that we were attached to, those might have to die as well. But the reality is, there’s a whole other world to be born into.
Nate: Okay, I’m going to pause it there. I was trying to find a sample where we talk about what we actually talked about in the episode and in that first series we did, but I didn’t. But I think that was a good line. Okay, just to summarize, we talked about trying to get our minds into the minds of those that wrote Genesis and then other portions of the Old Testament, talking about multiple divine beings and this other spiritual realm that the writers had in their head. I think at the time I was thinking this is pretty crazy, and then The Bible Project did a series on it, and now more people are accepting of it, and it’s not viewed as crazy, I don’t think. But I don’t know if you have any reflections on that series or on the clip of what you just said, but go for it.
Tim: It’s interesting. I was going to ask you. I think you were pretty unsure about launching the podcast with all this Genesis, multiple gods, what is monotheism?
Nate: I also had tonsillitis, so.
Tim: You did?! I don’t remember that.
Nate: Yes! [laughing] That was when we did seven episodes or eight episodes in the shed kind of to kick off the whole show, and we recorded them all at one time and released them in early January. And when we recorded those, yeah, I had tonsillitis for the entirety of all those episodes. So every single time I spoke, every single time I swallowed it was one of the most painful things I’ve ever had. It was terrible.
Tim: Suffering for the kingdom.
Nate: That’s right. And you didn’t even know!? Are you kidding me? I was like, gargling salt water every night, I was up, I wasn’t sleeping!
Tim: That’s how empathetic I am. Anyway, I think you were pretty unsure of it.
Tim: I think if I recall correctly—clearly I don’t remember the tonsillitis part—but part of it’s because it’s weird and new, part of it is because you weren’t sure why it matter, and then part of it is because you thought we’d probably lose a lot of people with the nerdy Bible piece. So now, looking back, do you still, do you think you were right? Are you glad we opened with that stuff?
Nate: Hmm. I’m always afraid we’re going to lose people with nerdy Bible because I think we will lose people with nerdy Bible if we don’t keep it relevant, if we don’t keep it interesting. I think that’s just a real thing. But I don’t know. Obviously, looking back, you and I, we can always figure out ways to do things differently and critique the way we did things. But I think it’s good that we opened with it, not even so much what we were talking about, but just the fact that we were shaking the foundation and making it okay to shake the foundation. Because some of the earliest emails we got, if I recall, were people saying, “It’s so nice that we can talk about these things, all these verses that I felt were off-limits.” It wasn’t even so much the content of what we said as, people felt comfortable and safe being here and listening and being a part of this because we were willing to talk about those things and willing to maybe not always have the best answer. And I remember after we did, I think it was the episode we talked about genocide, the Canaanite genocide, I just ended with, “Yeah, it still feels like that gives me a bad picture of God and that doesn’t make me, doesn’t leave me with a good picture of God.” Even though we explained it in a different way, I still felt that, and we just kind of ended the show with that. So not always wrapping everything up with a perfect bow of, “It all works now! It’s all better now!” Being honest with the Bible—hold on, someone flushed. [laughing] I’m literally in the garage, so give me two seconds… Okay! Being honest with the Bible and being honest with our feelings… I’m rambling, but that’s sort of what that made me think of.
Tim: Yeah, cool. I think you and I were in a space where it’s pretty easy for us to be open and honest and not try to present as some safe Bible authority or stay within anyone’s bounds. I think that was even part of why we named the podcast Almost Heretical. You and I personally just needed to embrace that in a way and acknowledge that to do any podcast asking any worthwhile questions is going to push us outside of people’s tribes, right? But we had come to a point where we don’t want to be in any tribes anymore, so we welcomed that push. But I remember, I think looking back, the reason I wanted to start with a series on all the weird Genesis stuff. I mean, theologically, as people interested in the Bible, the first opening pages of Genesis are significant in terms of the narrative, but it really was to kind of model what’s possible if you get outside your little theology bubble and actually take an open mind to the text and do some homework, it’s these massive paradigm shifts. Literally the idea that there is one God doesn’t even mean what we thought it did. Even on just the first pages, everything we thought we knew could be flipped upside-down. So I think that was a big one, and I knew it would be big enough that I wanted to put it towards the beginning just to kind of show what’s possible. I think that’s why the Authority Over Her Own Damn Head was one of my favorites is it’s such a Malcolm Gladwell moment. Malcolm Gladwell, if you know his podcast or his books, it all has the exact same arc. It’s like building to this moment of like, “Everything you thought you knew is totally opposite!”
Nate: It’s the Dumb and Dumber moment.
Tim: [laughing] Yeah. “Just when I thought you couldn’t get any dumber”—
Nate: “You go and do something like that!”
Tim: Yeah. So it’s that moment. Which is just fun intellectually, right, to discover new ideas, to learn you were wrong, to learn somebody else was wrong. It’s fun and interesting, but it should also just snap us awake from this whole biblicism brainwashing that a lot of us have gone through. That whole thing we were just referencing where you’re kind of trained to turn off parts of your brain and to just settle on the ideas as they’ve been handed down to you. So looking back I’m glad we did it, even though I don’t know that it matters all that much. It matters in terms of if we’re interested with what the people who wrote the texts were thinking, but as I live my daily life, I’m not sure it really matters. One thing I remember we talked about that I’ve thought many times since is, when we were looking at all the weird Nephilim, and there are all these semi-human, semi-god giants, and how that’s the background for this idea of spiritual warfare and demons and all that. I’m like, well, it makes me have a better picture of God. For instance, in the genocide stuff or the idea of Christ as this victorious conqueror, well, okay, but it’s over these weird alien spiritual beings. It’s not over humans, right? It gives me a better picture of God. And simultaneously it makes me less willing to believe any of this is real. So it’s that kind of weird, paradoxical faith shift of, “Oh, okay, I could buy into this God more, and more and more I’m not sure this God is actually real and exists.” And I just have to live with that tension. And that very thing I just said is what people like John Piper and them are trying to keep people from feeling. We’re not supposed to get to that point, and they want to keep us safe in our Really Strong Faith, even if that faith is in something horrendous. They just want to keep us believing. And I’m like, “Well, let’s explore all the ideas, and our belief is just going to have to waffle and wane at times.”
Nate: I think the other, if we talk about our earliest—Oh, wait, hold on. Let’s do this in a second. Because we have one more from our early series coming up. But the next one is [deeper voice] Number 2! Episode 20 with Rachel Held Evans, Using and abusing the Bible. And you actually just said something about turning our brains off, we felt like we had to do that. And I remember talking with her—okay, let me just play a sample, one sec.
Episode 20: Rachel Held Evans – Using and abusing the Bible
Rachel: —question and doubt and struggle. So yeah. You know, I don’t like the person I become when I start to just pretend like I believe things I don’t believe, or pretend to be okay with things I’m not okay with. That’s not really Rachel, and that’s not a fully integrated and healthy way to live. And certainly not a fully integrated and healthy way to experience your faith. It just means, at the end of the day, it means we have to be willing to embrace risk. I think we are very risk-averse people. But faith is a risk. You could go down that rabbit hole and find out that none of this is true. Or you could go down that rabbit hole and stop believing.
Nate: That pretty much fits perfectly with what you were just saying, huh?
Tim: Yeah, timely clip. That literally was just what we were saying. I remember we both felt, Nate, a version of like, “Okay, episode 20, we’re a few months in.” And when we found out we were going to get to interview Rachel, it was like, “Okay, maybe we’re a real podcast after all.” [laughing]
Nate: Yeah. No, totally. She had been someone that had helped me so much. I’d read I think all her books up to that point, and she had a similar story of me, being so in that world and kind of climbing in that world a bit, and teaching in that world, and really loving and appreciating a lot of that world, which is my story as well. So I was over the moon to be having her on the show. It totally felt like, “This is a real thing. We just have a best-selling author saying yes to coming on our show, this feels like a real thing that we’re doing now.”
Tim: Yeah, it was cool. And for me, I can still vividly remember a staff meeting when I was working at the church years ago. And I was never on Twitter or any of that, so I kind of knew the name Rachel Held Evans, but didn’t know anything about her. And I just remember, she had tweeted something or made some statement. Oh, I think she called out The Gospel Coalition—oh, you know what I think it was, I hope it was this. It’s still probably, I think, the best thing she’s ever said, and I won’t get it right. But it was something along the lines of just simply saying, “The gospel doesn’t need a coalition to protect it.” And just kind of, in a quick, poignant statement, pointing out the hypocrisy of one group of a bunch of almost entirely white men deciding that they are the gatekeepers of what the gospel is. Anyway, I think that made a little stir. And I remember in the staff meeting the lead pastor just being like, “Well, she’s always out to stir the pot. She’s just like a troublemaker in church world.” It’s so funny, because who knows what that dude said about me over the last year and a half. But now, it’s just like, anybody that doesn’t ruffle people’s feathers and doesn’t make evangelical churches uncomfortable, I’m super uncomfortable with them. So it was kind of interesting for me, sitting down, talking with Rachel, and the dissonance with how maybe four years earlier or so, in my world and the world that I was perpetuating, she was an enemy. It’s just so silly.
Nate: Yeah, I know even reading Rachel Held Evans or some of these other authors that we’ve had on the show, they put you in that outside-the-circle group. It’s like, I know of people that have had to hide books they’re reading or whatever because they don’t want to get labeled as outside. They’re not ready to take that step that we’ve taken on the show, and so many others have as well, of making that step of, “I don’t actually want to be in that camp anymore, in that circle anymore,” for a variety of reasons. But yeah, they have to hide books. And some of them are like, “Bye, Rachel Held Evans.” So someone we’ve come to respect so much was definitely an enemy in our old way of thinking about things. Okay, should we do it? Number one?
Tim: Number one.
Nate: Number 1 is—this is like the funniest thing to me—number one is episode 3, called Why is there a snake in the garden? It’s done incredible. Nothing can top this episode! I feel like we could have—
Tim: It’s been number 1 literally all year.
Nate: Yeah. I feel like we could have Barack Obama on the show, or Stephen Colbert on the show—which are secretly two of my people I’d love to have on the show—but we still wouldn’t top this episode. We just can’t do it! Okay, so episode 3, Why is There a snake in the garden. It’s kind of self-explanatory what we talked about, but here we go.
Tim: Yeah, I mean, Nate, do you think—
Nate: Do you want me to do a sample, or no?
Tim: Oh. Well, su—uh, maybe I’ll ask first. Nate, do you think it’s been number one because everyone has always had this question?
Nate: Yeah, maybe.
Tim: Is it just a pertinent question? Is that it?
Nate: Yeah, I go there. I think like, search engine optimization, SEO stuff, is it just a really good title? I don’t know! But it’s—
Tim: [laughing] I do think there was a phase where you wanted all of our show titles to be questions at some point?
Nate: I do and I don’t. I really don’t like that, but I think they do better. Anyways, I don’t know. Okay, so here’s a sample.
Episode 3: Why is There a Snake in the Garden?
Tim: what that fall was, this fall of divine beings, but who was involved, but they actually come up with solutions as to why and what the motivation was. And one of them goes back to exactly what we were kind of trying to draw on, which was that Adam and Eve were royal figures, royal in the sense that they weren’t just everyday folks supposed to live on earth. They were tasked with ruling, but I said that that whole account is coming in the context of a cosmological worldview where there’s a high supreme creator God who has a host, a heavenly host.
Nate: Okay, I’m just going to pause it. Do you want to say something about that?
Tim: You know, most episodes we do, I can be a perfectionist and self-critical, and I always wish I said more, or I said something differently. I usually always have three times as much content as you allow in, so you usually cut me off. There was one, this is definitely one of those. We never got to talk about how, it’s really fascinating to me how there’s this anthropological phenomenon where almost every ancient culture around the world had a dragon mythology. Which is fascinating, because no scientists actually think anything like a dragon ever existed, like a big lizard with wings, and yet somehow it predominated in a lot of different cultures in very different places. But that was one piece we didn’t get into. Usually dragons symbolized, especially in the ancient Near East, one of these mythical chaos monsters. So that’s another why there’s a snake; the whole curse, the snake gets banished to the dust of the ground, and a lot of scholars think is an explanation for how a dragon turned into what we now see in the world as snakes, that there was this curse where it loses its wings and now has to slither around. So that was just this interesting mythological, anthropological piece, it’s obviously drawing from this kind of Canaanite and other cultures around Israel that believed there was this big monster. So anyway, here I am, a year later, throwing it in.
Nate: Yeah, you have to go back and listen to it. I was hoping I was going to randomly select the part where you just said, “You want to know why there’s a snake in the garden? Here it is!” I don’t know if we had that in the episode, but I didn’t randomly go to it. So you’ll just have to go back and listen to episode 3. Okay so that is the Top Ten Episodes from 2018. A little reflection, a director’s cut—director’s cut? Commentary? DVD commentary? I don’t know—on those episodes. So that’s all we had planned. I don’t know what to do. What should we, how should we wrap this up, Tim?
Tim: I don’t know, I mean I guess I’d just say thanks, if you’re still listening. Both to this episode and to the podcast. This’ll be episode number 50. So I know for me, doing and hosting this podcast and getting to talk to a lot of you over email, some of you in person in Portland a couple months ago, it’s actually been really healing for me and really helpful in my own life journey. So thanks. Especially thanks to those who support the show. And I know sometimes we’ll go dark a little bit. I think we missed a few weeks at the end of the year, it was in November we missed a few weeks; came back for a bit, and then we missed a few weeks around New Year’s. And that’ll probably keep happening. I think the reason podcasts do season is to basically buy yourselves some vacation time, and we haven’t really done that, so we’ve just not recorded sometimes. So sorry for when that happens. But we’re still here and we’re still going and don’t have any plans to end these conversations. So I’ll just say, we still want as much feedback from you in terms of what would be helpful, what do you want to hear, if you did listen through all the first season, what do you want more of, what do you want less of?
Nate: Yeah, I just want to say, too, huge thank you to those who support the show. For me, this past year, it’s been tough. Because it feels in a sense like leaving that circle, like I’ve talked about, being honest about the questions and the doubts that I have and fully embracing this group of listeners that we have here in this community that are also in this same boat, that’s been amazing and so encouraging to hear from all of you and your emails and voicemails and tweets and Facebook. All the different ways you’ve gotten in touch has been so encouraging. But it has been a really, really difficult year in other ways, because on the flip side, there have been a few friends that, out of concern for me—I understand that it’s out of love—have been pretty frustrated by the fact that I do have a show called Almost Heretical where I am talking about these things, where I am questioning stuff, and where we’re trying to come to a better understanding of the Bible, a better way to view the world, and all this stuff. That’s where the Portland gathering, we never really—we tried to reflect and record a reflection episode on the Portland gathering, but we just never actually released it—but that’s where I just feel like that was so validating. And all the emails we get are just so validating, because it’s when I actually hear the stories, when I actually hear all of you share what you’ve experienced. And it’s not always some crazy big hurt thing you’ve had. It’s just varying degrees of being hurt by the church, kicked out of churches, being fired, whatever it is. And then also just people who’ve had their theology change and haven’t been able to believe some of the things they used to believe or used to teach, and then kind of having to leave or being pushed out of the faith community they’re in. And it’s often in love, it’s often a, “We’re praying for you.” But still, it does hurt. And I just want to say, I’m there with you on that journey, I’ve experienced that this year. And I don’t really have anything more to say except I’m there with you on this journey, and like we always say, we’re here for you and we’re here with you. So if you ever want to reach out, our email address is on the website, almostheretical.com. Get in touch. We’re going to keep going into 2019, and we’re really excited about some of the things we have planned.
Tim: Do you think in 2019 I should say something different at the end of the show, like “See ya,” instead of “Peace”?
Nate: Oh. That would be nice. I’ll be honest, there’s been a couple times you didn’t say, “Peace,” at the end of an episode, and I went and grabbed one from another recording and just put it at the end. So yeah, let’s change it up! Alright, thank you so much for your support. And if you want more information or have questions, almostheretical.com
Tim: See ya.