Kendra Arsenault, Andrews seminary student, interviews academics and experts for a new Adventist podcast focused on helping anyone who wants to go deeper into learning about current issues and answering hard questions.
Question: You have started a new podcast called Advent Next, where you interview academics about current issues in Adventism. Please tell us about it.
Answer: So Advent Next is a video podcast designed as a platform for Ph.D. professors and professionals to address issues both inside and outside of Adventism.
We really want to begin holding conversations with the broader Christian community and even outreach to non-Christians in an attempt to answer difficult questions.
Why did you start the Advent Next podcast? You are director of operations for the podcast. Who else is involved?
The idea behind Advent Next was to create a Christian Ted Talk of sorts. Adam Fenner, the Director of the Adventist Learning Community, and I began brainstorming the idea. He's someone who has a heart for innovative outreach and so he has been a critical player in getting this project up and started.
We both had a desire to reach the growing educated class among Millennials and Generation Z. Unfortunately, there is an increasing sentiment among younger generations that the Bible isn't intellectually stimulating, and when set beside the academic rigors of secular higher education, a common perception is that the Bible simply can’t hold its own.
I get the struggle. I attended UCLA during a time when I didn't have a clear understanding of biblical theology. So I walked away from Christianity as a religion and frankly saw it as intellectually inferior to our modern understanding of the world. I had a re-conversion experience after college that changed my views.
As a result of that journey, I wanted not only to challenge this idea but also provide a place where fringe and disenfranchised intellectual Christians can find compelling research and history to challenge their thinking, as well as encourage their faith. North America is becoming more and more educated with 65% to 70% of high school graduates attending college. This means that as a church, we have to find ways to be able to sit at the table with their college professors. We have to be able to hold rigorous conversations about theology, sociology, and history that will be insightful as well as robust enough to warrant their ear.
There are a variety of reasons why young people leave the church so I can't simply say it’s because we’re not making the Bible intellectual enough. But what I do know is that the more you know, the more you don’t know — meaning the more you know, the more you can see and understand the gray areas in biblical interpretation. There are some areas where a person can come to definitive answers and then there are others where we have to have enough humility to say, “I don’t know.”
I think people in my generation and younger can appreciate faith communities exhibiting humility. Academics help to keep us humble by reminding us how definitively we can make a certain claim. This willingness to say “I don’t know” to some things, or to introduce research that will provide a viable alternative perspective, is what we hope Advent Next will provide.
Advent Next is quite a new podcast, right? When did you publish your first episode? How often do new episodes come out? How many have been published so far?
Yes, it’s brand new. Our first episode was published just this year in early February. We are hoping to release one thirty-minute episode every week. So far we have eight episodes of interviews with some fantastic professors, including one of the translators for the New Living Translation Bible, another professor of church history, a professor of systematic theology, and a discipleship director/licensed social worker, along with his wife who is a DNP (doctor of nursing practice). We have discussed a wide array of topics, from women and ordination to dealing with trauma in the church.
Have your podcasts so far focused mostly on women in ministry? Is this topic the purpose behind the podcast?
Actually, women in ministry was only the focus of our first full hour episode (which we divided into thirty-minute segments to make it more palatable). The second was on “hermeneutics,” a fancy word to describe tools for biblical interpretation. Women in ministry were simply used as examples. The following episodes are more diverse in topics.
The main reason for our initial focus is because women in ministry is currently a highly controversial issue in the Adventist church and yet we don't tend to see a lot of scholarly opinions adding to the conversation. I became intrigued with the book Women and Ordination edited by Dr. John Reeve when I first arrived at the seminary. That book presented research on the topic that I hadn't previously seen, and wanted others to also have the opportunity to see it.
Our other podcasts are on a wide variety of subjects. We have one with Dr. John Oswalt, one of the translators for the New Living Translation Bible who graciously agreed to an interview. We also touch on topics of mental health and trauma with professors and licensed clinical social workers.
We also have a few others scheduled for future broadcasts on archeology, law & politics, architecture, and more.
I believe you are studying in the seminary at Andrews University, is that right? Does producing the podcast complement your studies?
Yes, producing these video podcasts do complement my studies. They force me to think more practically about what I am learning. How does this book, or this information, help me answer the big questions people want to know?
There's a big difference between studying theodicy for the sake of argument and trying to help someone find the answer to “Why does a good God allow bad things to happen?” In order to be effective, I am challenged to think of creative ways to make these topics relevant to the everyday listener.
How do you choose topics and how do you decide who to interview?
I wish I could say there is a scientific approach to the way I choose topics. I mostly research subjects that I find interesting, hoping that others out there might share my taste. I think we are all wired to hear a good story, so I try to find professors who are researching cutting edge issues and topics that are ripe for engaging and lively discussions.
Can you tell us about any of your upcoming episodes?
I am really excited about our upcoming episode on archeology and the Bible. When it comes to archeology and the sciences there are so many fascinating discoveries taking place every day. As the public, we usually don’t hear about the latest research unless we really go digging for it. So I'm excited to have an archeologist on the program in order to discuss what's happening on the latest digs and what we can learn from these discoveries.
An important question archeology helps to answer is how historically accurate is the Bible? Finding ancient cities and records of events or biblical figures that corroborate biblical narratives can be exciting.
It’s also interesting to see where the science and faith communities are in agreement as well as how they are navigating their differences.
Have you ever hosted a podcast before? What media background do you have?
I used to co-host a local radio show a few years back, but not a podcast. My background is in video production, so filming, editing, marketing, and so on. I also really love to write and hope to use that medium of communication more in the future.
How is podcasting different from other forms of media and interviewing?
Podcasting is different than other forms of media because the main focus is audio. You have to be careful with your “ums” and verbal affirmations (something I'm learning) because you're trying to build a visual world conceptualized in a person's mind through sound.
It's an awesome journey, and I'm learning a lot, since audio is not my strong suit. Fortunately, I have a fantastic team of tech engineers who have used their skills to get this podcast off the ground and who continue to provide support as we navigate this new world of sound.
Are there podcasts that you have been inspired by, or that you are modeling Advent Next on? What are your favorite podcasts?
You know the old saying: “The shoemaker’s son has no shoes”? It details the irony that sometimes in your profession you can be so focused on what you’re making that you don’t have time to “wear” your own product. There are a ton of fantastic podcasts that I keep telling myself I am going to listen to one day.
Unfortunately, between being a full-time student and working, time escapes me. I do, however, enjoy Vox and I listen to Vox podcasts here and there. I enjoy information-rich programs so, in that way, I tend to model Advent Next after that style of podcasting.
How many listeners do you have so far?
It’s hard to keep exact track since we are on multiple platforms: YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher. We just launched about six weeks ago, but we have about 1,700 followers on Facebook, and our YouTube has about 9,500 views, while subscribers continue to grow.
Building a platform from scratch takes patience, but we're hoping that within the next year we'll have a solid growing audience who both enjoys the content and are impacted by our guests and their stories.
Why do you think people should listen to Advent Next?
If you are the kind of person who is interested in finding answers to tough questions, or someone who wants to hear about research and perspectives that may not always make it to the mainstream, I think you’ll find Advent Next enjoyable. My goal is to provide our audience with well-informed, well-researched, and balanced opinions.
We live in a world where it is very easy to have an opinion about a variety of matters, but finding good logically-sourced bases of information is not always easy. It is my aim to make Advent Next a place where lay members can hear some of the brightest minds tackle some of the most difficult issues, or dig out insights from parts of scripture or Bible history that inspires a person’s individual devotion and study.
What is the feeling around the women's ordination issue at the seminary at Andrews? What do you think will happen next in the Adventist Church with women's ordination?
When it comes to the issue of women and ordination, people maintain a variety of opinions on both sides. For me, I really believe in education. I want to give people the right tools and information so that every Bible-believing Christian can be better informed and better equipped to understand the issues at hand. The more we educate lay members about church history and the way cultural context played into the writings of Paul, as well as the ultimate ethics to which the Bible is leading us onward to, the better the church at large will be able to embrace a Galatians 3:28 perspective of equality.
Whether this equality translates into the ordination of women, or of the dissolution of the title “ordination” altogether, or Christ returns before we reach a solution, only God knows. There is always going to be a difference of opinion on certain biblical issues that seem unclear, and that’s okay. It’s my hope, however, that Advent Next will be a platform of research, where informed professionals can provide the everyday Christian with tools and information to help them understand the intricacies of Bible study.
What are your career goals? Where do you see yourself in ten years?
As far as future life goals, I hope to continue working in the field of media ministry and education. I've always told myself that the job I want hasn't yet been created, but is in the making. Which, honestly, is kind of what I’m doing now. My mind is constantly churning with ideas of how to be better and to provide better resources for the family of God. I am so blessed to have a fantastic team of professionals and creatives who are regularly using their gifts in technology, communication, and leadership to move forward in the spirit, love, and the sharing of Christ. I want to continue building communities with people like this who inspire me.
And in ten years I hope to have a remarkable network of God-loving creators that support one another in the journey of becoming a well-crafted resource in the world of creative education.
Photos provided by Kendra Arsenault.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
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