Podcast Review: Critical Faith

May 21, 2020
Title: Critical Faith
Broadcaster: Institute for Christian Studies
Start Date: November 16, 2017
End Date: April 30, 2020

Critical Faith is a podcast that is housed within the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, Canada, and is run by the Institute’s student body. At the start of almost every episode they state their hope that the Critical Faith podcast is a space that fosters conversation about all things faith, fellowship, and society and that it gives its audience a glimpse into the everyday life of the students at the Institute for Christian Worship Studies.

Those two goals effectively sum the content of the podcast; it is equal parts deep, interesting, and philosophical in its reflections on Christian philosophy and equal parts a window into the academic life of the students at the Institute.

This second goal is accomplished deftly by the way the podcast bookends the main content of each episode with brief, honest testimonies or interviews with students as they go through their lives on campus. Most episodes start with short audio clips of students sharing moments of inspiration and side conversations. Some students share the authors that they are reading or philosophies that they’re testing out. Some share short reflections on the classes that they are enjoying. Essentially, what you get is a short snapshot some theologically bright minds as they engage with topics in their classes. The lay lines of intellectual Christian philosophy connect in these conversations and provide multiple chances for students to share valuable resources and enable the listeners to engage what they’re engaging by extension.

Additionally, almost every episode ends with a section which is affectionately dubbed “What’s Your Pleasure.” This section of the podcast is a chance for the showrunners and sometimes the guests of the show to share what they are experiencing that brings them joy in their present moment. Answers range from TV shows to poems and theological works. One notable episode released just after the self-isolation orders of COVID-19 gave helpful resources for different ways to interact with friends online. These short, fairly unscripted moments add even more weight to the podcast and are worth hearing just to hang out with these students on a semi-weekly basis.

Of course, the true meat of most episodes lies in the interior of these two bookends. The first goal of most episodes is to talk about all things faith, fellowship, and society and the many ways that those things interact. This is often accomplished by bringing on various experts to the show or allowing students to speak on issues which they are growing into. Bob Sweetman offers a comprehensive look at Reformation philosophy and frequent reflections on Kuyper. Rebekah Smick reflects on the intersection of faith and the arts. The president of the Institute for Christian Studies, Ronald A. Kuipers, comes on the show and talks about possibility over futility.

The podcast has been around since 2017, and every episode brings on another interesting expert to speak on themes of importance to the Reformed tradition, to the church at large, and to intellectual and philosophical society in general. Given the Institute for Christian Studies’ basis within the Reformed tradition—specifically the Kuyperian Reformed tradition—many of the episodes have a distinctly Reformed bent to them, and they all maintain a light-hearted energy and a willingness to ask hard questions which come to strong conclusions.

One of the greatest benefits of the Critical Faith podcast is the incredible wealth of resources to be gained by listening to its speakers. The experts which the showrunners bring on the show offer a wealth of not only their own knowledge but also the readings, writings, and research of dozens of other writers. Over the course of one interview it’s possible to walk away with four different books or articles to add to your list concerning theology, philosophy, worship, and ways to exist within our current societal moment.

I highly recommend you do yourself a favor by checking out the Critical Faith podcast. Take just a moment and glance through all the guests and topics that they cover on the show. I guarantee you there will be something on there that will grab your attention.

About the Author
  • Jackson Nickolay is originally from the North Woods of Minnesota along the shore of Lake Superior, but has lived in Holland, Michigan for the last 6 years. He completed a Master of Divinity from Western Theological Seminary with a focus on worship design. He has a passion for living into the dual vocation of an artist and a minister and finds application for these callings in worship music, embodied scripture, theatre, writing, and liturgical arts. He is married to Hannah Barker Nickolay who also graduated with a Masters in Divinity from Western Theological Seminary. Together with some close friends they run a small liturgical arts company called Wayfolk Arts, which focuses on crafting liturgies, scripture enactments, prayers, songs, and blessings for small and large ecclesial communities. Jackson is also the co-host and co-founding member of the Podcast No Script, a weekly podcast which centers on unscripted conversations about theatre's best scripts.

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