Category Archives: radio
This week I’m leaving the BBC. For the last eleven years I have worked for BBC Radio Merseyside as Religious Producer. I have presented the Sunday morning programme “Daybreak” more than five hundred times. Before that I worked for five years as a programme volunteer, and before that I worked with BBC Radio Cleveland and BBC Radio Oxford. I’ve been part of BBC Local Radio religion programmes for more than twenty five years in all, but now I’m leaving.
I’m leaving for good reasons. As well as working in radio I’m an ordained Baptist minister, and I have been called to be full time minister at New North Road Baptist Church in Huddersfield. It’s an exciting new challenge and I know the hand of God is on my calling to go there and work alongside the church to see his kingdom grow.
But I’m also leaving at a time when BBC Radio is struggling with real faith broadcasting. On one level “religion” has been affirmed by BBC Local Radio. Every station has a Religious Producer (now more often called Faith Producer) and a Sunday morning programme with “faith” content. But fewer of those faith producers and presenters have any personal Christian faith and the broadcasts are moving from being an insider’s view of what it means to believe and becoming an outsider’s commentary on faith.
Most of those broadcasters are doing an excellent job in the few hours they are employed. They manage to produce a weekly programme full of variety in the face of pressure from BBC management which is itself under pressure from an embarrassment in society to proclaim personal faith. And if there are fewer believing Christians then the blame lies with the Church who have not reached out to creative communities and have not urged their best people into creative roles and the media.
My new calling is to help to equip the Church to serve the world in workplaces and local communities. My task, and yours, is to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers into places of service and influence. We are sent to be salt and light. My prayer is that our loving Lord will answer the call to make his people saltier and shinier in the world.
As the bright shiny Brian Houston sings: “Who is willing to be broken, who will love me enough that when I call your name, you will go where I send and hearts will be changed. Here I am, send me” (from “Spirit and Truth” on the album In the words of Dr Luke).
This article first appeared in Inspire, the bulletin of themedianet.org
Here’s the mp3 of my full interview with Rob Bell. An edited version of this was first broadcast on BBC Radio Merseyside on Easter Morning, April 24th 2010.
I met controversial American pastor Rob Bell last night. To say there’s been a lot of fuss about Rob Bell lately is an understatement. He’s a superstar to many, the epitome of the cool, relevant communicator. But recently he’s been rejected and reviled by evangelical leaders in the States. He’s been on the news bulletin of major US networks. He’s on the front cover of Time magazine.
All because of one book. He’s written controversial books in the past, but his new one “Love Wins” deals with heaven hell and eternity, God’s love and God’s judgement. What has upset so many people is his claim that all or nearly all the people who ever lived will be embraced by God into heaven, a very earthy heaven of perfect love and justice. Not everyone knows that heavenly state in this life, but those who have rejected God’s love, or simply never heard it, will get multiple second chances to respond after they die. This idea of “post-mortem conversion” is a not a new one, but for many evangelicals it has aroused anger and the outright rejection not just of Rob Bell’s views, but of Rob Bell as a person and a brother Christian.
I had the chance to meet Rob Bell last night in my role as a BBC radio presenter. I had a full fifteen minutes to interview him, longer than the cursory three minutes most “celebrities” allow interviewers like me. I then heard his talk to a full house of 1,200 people at Liverpool Cathedral and the lengthy Q and A that followed.
So what’s he like? As a person he is very likeable. He was comfortable enough to make jokes and to laugh at my jokes. He talked to me about people from Liverpool being called “scousers” and what that meant. He is also surprisingly tall.
He has clearly been hurt by the recent criticism. It has affected his wife and family and his church congregation and that has not been pleasant, though he sees the critics as a symptom of the problem in the Christian church that he has been addressing for years. He mentioned the Yorkshire web designer who has the Twitter name “Robbell” and has received vile insults and threats from Christians, thinking he was the preacher. Rob Bell the preacher conveyed an honest vulnerability and sadness at the way the world is and the way the Church is.
He is clearly a gifted communicator. Like the best preachers, he told stories and included many telling illustrations. But he also quoted the Bible, passage after passage, reference after reference, with deep conviction and respect. If he is a liberal, he is the most Bible-loving liberal I’ve ever met. Very much of what he said rang true for me and seems to be a crucial message for our time. His insistence that people need to urgently heed a call to turn to Jesus and his teachings, his desire to see the world changed and to see hurts healed and sins forgiven, are both timeless and timely.
Rob Bell is not a universalist, not in the way most people understand that term. He believes that salvation is only found in Jesus. He believes that some will resist the love of God and be finally in a place apart from God we call “hell”. And his view of hell is not as heterodox as some are claiming. Leading evangelicals of our day are questioning the standard “everlasting conscious torment” view of hell that many of us have inherited. On some matters it is okay to agree to disagree.
On reflection there are two things that Rob Bell teaches that I can’t agree with. One is the way Bell sees no distinction between “judgement” and “justice”. Our God is a God of justice and righteousness, and his heart is to see a world filled with his righteous ways. This making of righteousness is something he calls us his followers to do as well. God is also a God of judgement, which is something he tells us not to do. As our maker, God imposes right judgement on those who continue to oppose his kingdom of justice and joy. Bell writes and speaks as if the God of judgement is merely a God of justice, but that takes from God an essential part of his character.
The second thing I can’t agree with is the question of turning to faith in Christ after death. This notion of an evangelical purgatory where Hitler and his like will be continually offered the opportunity to repent and have faith in Jesus seems to be without scriptural basis. I’m not denying a rich tradition of people being judged by God on the basis on the revelation they have received. I’m sure heaven will hold some surprises and people we never expected to see will be there. But that’s not the same as Bell’s view of a nearly empty hell.
In all meeting Rob Bell was a delight. I’ve worked in broadcasting long enough not to be star-struck when I meet people who have some measure of celebrity. So it’s not just the pleasure of meeting the man who is courting so much publicity. It’s the joy of meeting a brother in Christ whose endeavours I respect even if I don’t agree with everything he says. God bless you Rob Bell and keep on shaking up the church, we need it.
My interview with Rob Bell will be on BBC Radio Merseyside at 8am on Easter Sunday. I’ll post the full audio here after it’s been broadcast.
BBC local radio stations are hungry for news. They are also committed to having Sunday morning “Faith and Ethics” programmes and each one has a Religious Producer. By getting to know your local producer and recognising a strong story your church can be the talk of your town.
GET TO KNOW YOUR PRODUCER
Make contact with your BBC station’s Religious Producer (sometimes called Faith Producer). This person will be very busy so don’t waste their time, but they do want to know what you’re doing. Some producers also present the Sunday programme; other stations will have a separate presenter. Listen to their programme and find out what material they make use of.
GET YOUR NEWS STORY OUT THERE
Get a brief press release to the local producer three weeks before your event. Give all the important information including a contact phone number, and say why this is a story that should be on the radio.
WATCH OUT FOR GOOD FEATURE PIECES
Things that you might not consider “news” can still make gripping radio. Does someone have a good conversion story? Does someone run an ethical business? Do your young people have an unusual activity planned?
JOIN THE VOLUNTEER TEAM
Find one of your best people with a passion for communicating and release them from other jobs so they can join the team at the radio station. Most BBC stations will gladly accept offers of volunteer help, as long as you’re genuinely committed to the station and willing to start at the bottom.
OFFER A STRONG THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
Some BBC stations still have a Thought for the Day slot of some kind. Listen to what they do then send a sample Thought to your producer. Make sure it’s not at all preachy, but make it relevant to a current local news story and try to use humour. Be available to write Thoughts at short notice.
This piece first appeared on themedianet website.
Congratulations to Cross Rhythms Radio http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/ for a five-year extension to their licence to broadcast in Stoke. The team there have been pioneers of community radio and have found a way of playing unfamiliar Christian music to a general audience and have gained listeners. Perceived wisdom is that people like to listen to what they recognise and turn off stations that have unfamiliar music, but Cross Rhythms have shown that Christian music can be attractive when it’s presented in a friendly and lively way and backed up by local information and news.
Cross Rhythms started in 1983 with a half-hour radio programme http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/vision/history/radio/ and in 2002 became Britain’s first Community Radio station. It’s good to remember that Christians in Britain have been pioneers in contemporary media for a long time. William Tyndale’s English New Testament was a pioneering work, the first to take advantage of the new technology of the printing press.
Back in 1983, the same year that Cross Rhythms began its first programmes, Britain’s first ever “special event radio licence” was granted to Greenbelt Festival Radio, a short-term radio station at the Greenbelt arts festival. The station was pioneered and led by Peter Laverock. This was the precursor of the Restricted Service Licence stations we now have, and the first ever legal radio station run by enthusiasts rather than professionals.
From noon on Friday 26th August to noon on Tuesday 30th August a dedicated team presented programmes on 963 AM including Christian music, speakers and poets. There was news from the festival and requests from listeners across the site. The studio was a small caravan in the backstage area, with a minimum amount of technical equipment. Guests included a brief interview with Cliff Richard after his mainstage concert, and an early morning appearance from Garth Hewitt who had to be dragged from his nearby caravan.
For the record, the first sound ever heard on Britain’s first ever short-term radio station was the sound of a flushing toilet. Flushing toilets, it seemed, were the most exciting innovation being introduced to Greenbelt in 1983. But that radio station with the flushing toilets was the beginning of a radio revolution, pioneered by Christians.