297 episodes

Bigger Questions explores the big questions of life. It's is a fun and stimulating forum where a guest is interviewed on a particular topic or theme. We hear their story and their reflections on a short passage from the Bible and we have a few laughs along the way. Bigger Questions is an activity of City Bible Forum in Melbourne, Australia.

Bigger questions City Bible Forum

    • Religion & Spirituality
    • 4.9 • 35 Ratings

Bigger Questions explores the big questions of life. It's is a fun and stimulating forum where a guest is interviewed on a particular topic or theme. We hear their story and their reflections on a short passage from the Bible and we have a few laughs along the way. Bigger Questions is an activity of City Bible Forum in Melbourne, Australia.

    Would we be better off without Christianity? | Simon Smart

    Would we be better off without Christianity? | Simon Smart

    There are many things we may be better off without—slow Internet and pineapple on pizza, but what about the Christian faith? In an honest conversation Simon Smart confronts the failings of the church and offers another possibly better story.

    Our guest: Simon Smart is Executive Director of the Centre for Public Christianity. Simon has a Masters in Christian Studies, is a prolific writer and contributed to For God's Sake: An Atheist, a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim Debate Religion.

    Check out the documentary For the Love of God: how the church is better and worse than you ever imagined.

    This conversation was recorded live in the CBD of Melbourne in September 2018.


    Invest in bigger thinking for as little as US$1 per podcast on Patreon.


    Bigger Questions asked in the conversation

    Your book, For God’s Sake - an atheist, Jew, a Christian and a Muslim walk into a bar....

    Four different people debating religion - that sounds like an intriguing conversation. Was that a worthwhile experience?

    Smaller Questions

    How much you know about things we’d be better off with?

    Worse elements of the Christian faith

    Now Simon a similar result was found in a poll conducted on the Q&A TV program back in 2012 which asked the question “Does religious faith make the world a better place?” Seventy-six percent of the 20,000 respondents said “no”. So Simon, does it surprise you that such a high number of people think that the world would be better off without religion?

    Why do you think so many people think that Christianity is a negative force in the world?

    Now you addressed a number of these awful things in the recent Centre for Public Christianity documentary: For the Love of God: how the church is better and worse than you ever imagined.

    What were you hoping to achieve by addressing them - to say that the bad things done in the name of Christianity weren’t really that bad?

    Why did you include the bad parts of what the church has done?

    German Church

    Was there a particular story which captures the essence of the film?

    How did the German church respond to this at the time?

    Martin Luther King

    As you investigated the best and worst of Christianity - was there a really positive story, or something that really uplifted you?

    What role did the Bible play in motivating Martin Luther King?

    The Bible’s answer - equality of humans

    We’re asking Simon Smart today’s big question of whether we’d be better off without Christianity. In the New Testament book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes in Chapter 3 verse 28,


    There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.


    What is the significance of this?

    How does this verse help help us understand human equality?

    Can’t we get notions of equality without the Bible though?

    Didn’t the French Revolution proclaim, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, as beacons of non-religious Enlightenment thinking?

    Personal story

    After doing this film project with are you more encouraged or less to be a Christian and be an advocate for the church?

    You confronted the verse worst of 2000 years of the church - surely the world would be better without those things - like Crusades, the German church supporting Nazi Germany, clerical abuse of children? So what persuades you to stay a Christian even though you’ve confronted some of its very worst?

    Are you better off with Christianity? How so? What difference does it make to you?

    The Big Question

    So Simon, would we be better off without Christianity?

    • 27 min
    How is the church better and worse than you imagined? | John Dickson & Simon Smart

    How is the church better and worse than you imagined? | John Dickson & Simon Smart

    Christian history offers plenty of ammunition to its critics—the crusades, the inquisitions, the witch trials, the oppression of women and more. This episode addresses the many questions brought up by For the Love of God: How the church is better and worse than you ever imagined, a documentary by the Centre for Public Christianity, studying the worst of what Christians have done; while tracing the origins of Western values like human rights, charity, humility, and non-violence back to the influence of Jesus Christ.

    This is not the history we think we know.

    This episode of Bigger Questions was recorded as a bonus episode after a screening of the cinema version of the documentary. Hence many of the questions revolved around questions raised by the documentary.

    The guests: John Dickson has a degree in theology and a doctorate in ancient history, specialising in the birth of Christianity. He’s founding director of the Centre for Public Christianity, a Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University, an Anglican minister, and author of over a dozen books. Along with being the host of the popular Undeceptions podcast, he is also hosting this year's Undeceptions Conference.

    Simon Smart is the Executive Director of the Centre for Public Christianity. He has a Masters in Christian Studies, is a prolific writer and contributed to the book For God's Sake: An Atheist, a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim Debate Religion.


    Help us keep asking Bigger Questions. Support the show for as little as US$1 per podcast on Patreon.


    Bigger questions asked in the conversation

    Well, John and Simon thanks for taking some time to chat now about this documentary.

    Now we’ve just seen a full length cinema screening of For the Love of God: how the church is better and worse than you ever imagined, it’s been described as an unflinching documentary, and the film does raise lots of big questions.

    But before we get to discuss some of these - let’s talk a bit about the film itself. So Simon what inspired the making of the film? Were you looking for an excuse to travel to exotic locations around the world?

    Congratulations on the documentary. It’s been really well produced, with some world experts. Tell us a bit about the making of the film. Was there anywhere that was particularly difficult or challenging to film?

    Where was your favourite location for the filming?

    What was your favourite story for the filming?

    So why the name of the film: for the love of God? Why did you choose that?

    So why the tagline? ‘How the church is better and worse than you imagined’ Why did you include the bad parts of what the church has done?

    How did you choose what you chose to tell? There’s lots of potential stories of how the church is better or worse, why did you choose certain stories and not others?

    The tune of Christianity - love enemies

    A key theme of the film is what you describe as the tune of Jesus, which comes from the Gospel of Luke,


    Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you


    Why do you suggest that this in particular is the tune of Jesus and not some of his other teachings? Have you just cherry picked something from what he said to make Jesus sound radical and appealing?

    But Jesus wasn’t the first to teach love enemies - didn’t other ancient teachers say similar things? For example a pagan Babylonian text predating Christ by more than 1000 years said,


    “Do not return evil to your adversary; Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you, Maintain justice for your enemy, Be friendly to your enemy.”


    So John, how was Jesus different?

    Jesus myth

    Rugby Union footballer Israel Folau recently tweeted: Jesus Christ is and will always be the most important thing to me above anything else in this world

    One person responded briefly by saying: Shame he’s fictitious

    Now this comment got 76 likes.

    So John it’s all well and good to say that Jesus has a beautiful tune, but it’s becomi

    • 27 min
    Dystopia: What are we so afraid of? | Shane Rogerson & Stephanie Gear

    Dystopia: What are we so afraid of? | Shane Rogerson & Stephanie Gear

    Why is fear so powerful? Shane Rogerson and Stephanie Gear explore explore the big questions dystopian novels (e.g. The Hunger Games, 1984, The Handmaid's Tale & Where's Wally) raise. An engaging conversation confronting our fears, but offering hope of overcoming them.

    We’re asking this question today to two people.

    Shane Rogerson is senior minister of St Matt’s Anglican church in Prahran. He's passionate about engaging with the bigger questions of life.

    Stephanie Gear runs a Melbourne based catering business, works part time with City Bible Forum and is a passionate reader.


    Help us keep asking Bigger Questions. Support the show for as little as US$1 per podcast on Patreon.


    Bigger questions asked in the conversation

    Smaller Questions

    How much do you know about dystopian fiction?

    Dystopia: definition and popularity

    So dystopia, it’s very popular, but what exactly is it? What would make something dystopian?

    At the start of 2017, the book 1984 experienced a resurgence of sales with sales jumping 9,500% and the book jumping to number 1 on the Amazon best-seller list. The book was published 70 years ago - why do you think it’s made such a comeback?

    What attracts people to dystopia?

    Do you like dystopian fiction?

    Dystopia and fear

    English literature academic Rob McAlear claimed that,


    If the persuasive strategy that governs utopias is "hope," for dystopias it is "fear."


    Is this true?

    What fears do dystopian fictions particularly tap into?

    These are legitimate fears though aren’t they?

    Why is fear so powerful?

    The Handmaid’s Tale - religious suppression

    Religion can also be a force used to intimidate and control as is seen in the recent award winning dystopian TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale. Steph, you read the book as a high school text, and you’ve watched the TV series - what did you make of it? Did you enjoy it?

    It really is an adult only show though isn’t it?

    So in The Handmaid’s Tale - what are people afraid of? Is it patriarchy or religion, or a combination of both?

    At the core: freedom and control

    So at the core of dystopia is the fear of loss of control and freedom. So what does true freedom look like?

    Are there limits to freedom?

    The Bible’s reflection - coping with fear

    This week’s big question is about dystopia: what are you afraid of?

    In the New Testament book of 1 Peter, the author, Peter the Apostle, writes a letter to a group of Christians scattered across the Ancient world. He writes in Chapter 3 verses 13 and 14.


    13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.


    So Shane, it sounds like the recipients of this letter are suffering in some way. What was their situation?

    Peter goes on and exhorts his recipients amidst their difficulties by saying,


    ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.


    So why should they not fear? What reason does he offer to overcome fear?

    He says, Christ as Lord - isn’t it a scary prospect to revere someone as Lord?

    In 1984 ‘Big Brother’ was depicted as an infallible and all-powerful omnipotent leader. Some have drawn connections between Big Brother and God: a large, masculine deity who is always watching you and demands that you unconditionally love and obey him. So isn’t following ‘Jesus as Lord’ just patriarchal, controlling submission?

    The big question

    So Shane & Steph as we’ve thought about dystopia today: what are you afraid of?

    • 28 min
    Superheroes: Do we need another one? | Sam Chan

    Superheroes: Do we need another one? | Sam Chan

    Superhero have become incredibly popular and earn big dollars. Twenty years ago, they accounted for just 1% of movie tickets sold—now, they make up over 30% of sales. They are more popular than ever, but haven't we had enough of them? Why are they so popular? In another entertaining and insightful conversation Sam Chan shows how superhero movies help us see something bigger.

    Our guest is Dr. Sam Chan. Sam is a preacher, author, cultural analyst and medical doctor. He works as national communicator with City Bible Forum.


    Help us keep asking Bigger Questions. Support the show for as little as US$1 per podcast on Patreon.


    Bigger questions asked in the conversation

    Sam, we’re talking today about superheroes. Did you ever read superhero comics?

    Smaller Questions

    Today we’re asking Sam Chan about superheroes. So Sam, I thought we’d test you on how much you know about superheroes.

    Superheroes - origin and explanation

    So Sam, if you could have a special superpower - what would it be?

    Have you thought about becoming a superhero? BatChan? SpiderChan?

    Now, we ask the really big questions on this show. So, I want to get to one of the biggest: Where have all the superhero capes gone? Wonder Woman, used to have a cape - but it’s gone. Now most of the modern superheroes on our screens are cape-less, except Captain Underpants. Why is that?

    Why do you think the old superheroes wore capes?

    Do you have a favourite superhero?

    There are two ‘universes’ of superhero movies: DC and Marvel. What is the difference?

    So then - what makes a superhero?

    Superheroes - childish and formulaic

    But isn’t the whole superheroes thing a bit childish? Rhymer Rigby, journalist with the Telegraph in the UK in an article entitled: No self-respecting adult should buy comics or watch superhero movies, said


    Can we all please grow up? Can we acknowledge that Marvel and DC have scraped right though the bottom of the barrel? Can we call time on superhero films? Films which are too dark for kids the comics were originally written for, yet too dumb for any thinking adult.


    So are they childish - not something that mature people should watch?

    Superheroes - popular

    But there still seem to be lots of superheroes - and more coming. Superhero films have become incredibly popular and earning big dollars. Twenty years ago they accounted for just 1% of movie tickets sold - now they make up over 30% of sales. The most recent Marvel Avengers Infinity War movie set a new record as the fastest movie in history to reach $1 billion at the box office. Some say that the superhero genre is reaching “heights of popularity not seen since its origins on the comic book page.” Why is this so? Why do we love superhero films?

    Superheroes - battle of good vs evil

    Superhero films are escapist - but does our love of superheroes reveal something more? What does our love of superhero films reveal about us?

    "But aren't some superheroes vigilantes? For example, Batman who takes justice into his own hands - why do we still vouch for him when we're on screen?"

    Superheroes in the real world - Unbelievable?

    But what about in the real universe? Some dislike superhero movies because they just don’t make sense in the real world. In an article entitled, ‘10 reasons why I'm sick to death of superhero movies’, the author said that they don’t make sense, he said,


    One of the characters is a god. AN ACTUAL GOD. Fighting alongside an irradiated mutant and a bloke in a robot suit and someone who fires arrows. [...] Does this seem ridiculous to anyone else, Thor teaming up with some mortal humans?


    Is this ridiculous? Superhero movies depicting gods living and fighting amongst men?

    There seems to be a lot of overlap between mythology and superheroes - in Avengers. Thor, the God of Thunder, is literally lifted directly straight from Norse mythology! Other superheroes could be seen as different expressions Greek mythological heroes. So are modern superheroes ju

    • 28 min
    Comedy: Should I laugh or should I cry? | Sam Chan

    Comedy: Should I laugh or should I cry? | Sam Chan

    All I do is sit at home and watch Netflix. Kyrie Irving (Basketball player)


    We love our TV shows. Watching TV is Australia's most popular after dinner activity.

    Author Aaron Allston once commented on the difference between tragedy and comedy: "Tragedy is something awful happening to somebody else, while comedy is something awful happening to somebody else." Is this true? What makes something funny?

    Sam Chan explores comedy, cracks a joke or two and helps us see something bigger from the shows that make us laugh


    Help us keep asking Bigger Questions. Support the show for as little as US$1 per podcast on Patreon.


    Bigger questions asked in the conversation

    Sam, we’re talking today about comedy - do you like comedy?

    What have you been watching lately?

    Smaller Questions

    We’ll test you on how much you know about popular comedy TV shows.

    Comedy - what makes something funny?

    So Sam, does it surprise you that Australia’s Funniest Home Videos was one of Australia’s longest running TV comedy shows?

    Why do you think it was so popular?

    One of the reasons for the demise of Australia’s Funniest Home Videos is the rise of the Internet and YouTube and popular “fail” websites like EpicFail and FailArmy. FailArmy YouTube videos have combined views of over 4.6 billion. So why do we like laughing at the misfortunes of others?

    Is this what makes something funny?

    Do your kids find you funny?

    What about the bumbling hero? The shows that you like - Mr Bean, Jane the Virgin, Crazy ex-girlfriend - they often seem to have bumbling heros. Why do we find them endearing? What do we learn from them?

    Tragedy vs comedy

    There does seem to be a fine line between tragedy and comedy though. Some people can’t watch shows like Mr Bean because it’s too painful. He’s just too bumbling. Do you agree?

    Author Aaron Allston said about the difference between tragedy and comedy: Tragedy is something awful happening to somebody else, while comedy is something awful happening to somebody else. Is this true? Could you say that Australia’s Funniest Home Videos should be Australia’s most tragic home videos?

    Comedian and director Mel Brooks said: If I got a paper cut, that’s a tragedy. If you fell down an open manhole and died, that's comedy.

    At the heart of both comedy and tragedy is often recognising something wrong about the world. Do you think we should laugh at things that are wrong?

    But can we go too far though? Perhaps that’s where dark comedy pushes the boundaries (a comic style that makes light of subject matter that is normally considered serious or painful to discuss). Are there things which are too tragic or painful to ever make comedic?

    Laugh in the face of Meaninglessness

    It’s important to laugh at lots of things - the things that are wrong in the world - but what about meaningless - if the world is without ultimate purpose or meaning.

    Comedian and director Mel Brooks

    "I have no firm philosophical base. I believe in God with all my heart three days a week. Humor is just another defense against the universe. I don't know any more than anyone else.“

    Can we laugh in the face of meaninglessness? Do you empathise with Mel Brooks?

    If the universe is meaningless, does that make laughter better or worse?

    The Bible’s reflection - comedy and meaning

    Now Sam, the Old Testament wisdom book of Ecclesiastes, in the Bible, talks a lot about the meaninglessness of life, or the frustrations of life.

    In Ecclesiastes 1 the book starts:


    2 ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’

    ‘Utterly meaningless!

    Everything is meaningless.’

    3 What do people gain from all their labours

    at which they toil under the sun?


    Is life really meaningless?

    Ecclesiastes goes on in Chapter 3, verse 1


    There is a time for everything,

    and a season for every activity under the heavens:


    What does this mean?

    The author then goes on to give a beautiful poem about time and in verse 4 says,


    a time to weep and a time to laugh

    a time to mou

    • 28 min
    Trashy TV: Why can't we turn away? | Sam Chan

    Trashy TV: Why can't we turn away? | Sam Chan

    Anybody that doesn't like Netflix, that's like saying you hate Santa Claus. Julian Robertson (Financier)


    We love our TV shows. Watching TV is Australia's most popular after dinner activity.

    Why is Married at First Sight so popular? If reality TV was actually real - would be as interesting? What does reality TV tell us about ourselves?

    Cultural analyst Dr. Sam Chan shares about how these shows are a window to an even bigger and better story.


    Help us keep asking Bigger Questions. Support the show for as little as US$1 per podcast on Patreon.


    Bigger questions asked in the conversation

    Today we’re talking about trashy TV - so do you watch much TV?

    What about the ‘trashy TV’, you know the ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of show?

    It’s rumoured that you were a fan of Baywatch as a younger person - does that qualify as trashy?

    Smaller Questions

    How much do you know about Married at First Sight?

    Why the appeal with reality TV?

    So Sam, Married at First Sight is a show that users think is awful - it doesn’t even pass on IMDb. In fact one user wrote that the show was:

    A complete and utter waste of time. Watching this will make you want to die. anyone who watches this is either a.) crazy or b.) stupid. Beyond stupid.

    But the show was a rating juggernaut and finale - a ratings bonanza - why? Why are shows like Married at First Sight and The Bachelor so popular?

    One TV critic who wrote at the start of the 2017 Married at First Sight series said that this was the “type of TV that only exists for people who haven’t discovered that there’s actually thousands of hours of compelling, quality TV to be watched on very cheap streaming services.”

    Is that a bit condescending? Perhaps an insult to the millions who do tune in?

    Now these shows contain all the elements of great drama don’t they?

    TV critic Ben Neutze commented and said,

    “But the reason it endures is that it’s found a sweet spot for this kind of trash TV, that manages to be controversial and uncomfortable without being completely morally objectionable.”

    Is that true? We feel a bit uncomfortable watching it?

    Is it the villains? “TV critic Kerri Sackville wrote that, “Married At First Sight is awful. People there are unlikely to find love. But we love it, because we’re addicted to the villains.” Is that true?

    But how real is reality TV? American actor Hill Harter said, ‘I believe that reality TV should be called 'not reality' TV; it's fiction’. Do you agree?

    Our need for a story

    So what does this need for drama, need for villains, need for a story, tell us?

    Where do we find stories that we can connect to and be a part of?

    What about you? What is a story that you’ve found compelling?

    Why might the Bible offer a story that can help us with our quest for an overarching story?

    Why do you find the story of the Bible compelling?

    The Bible’s reflection - another wedding

    Married at First Sight is a TV show that starts with weddings and the Bible tells many stories about weddings. In fact Jesus tells a parable, or short story, about a wedding in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew - which one of the four biographies of Jesus’ life we have.

    So Sam, why did Jesus speak in Parables? Aren’t these kinds of stories a bit simple for a great teacher and guru?

    This parable we’re looking at today, might have made good reality TV. It starts in Matthew 25 by describing the kingdom of heaven like,


    ‘ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.


    So Sam, do you think this could make a good reality TV show?

    The virgins all fell asleep and then drama is created in verse 6 when ‘At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”

    Now the appearing of this Bridegroom is perhaps a little diffe

    • 28 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
35 Ratings

35 Ratings

BBlackwo ,

Helpful and interesting

I really enjoy listening to this on a Sunday evening.

shaquana flame ,

Cultural Christianity

A fantastic example of cultural Christianity, teetering on the edge of dangerous progressivism. Some brilliant talks, some really thought-provoking stuff, and some good laughs, but some of it is a bit concerning for the discerning Christian, and seems to have a slight essence of wokism.

Takyn ,

Thought provoking and fun!

A fascinating insight into people’s lives and diverse fields of expertise showing how their faith shapes the answers to questions that everyone shares. Highly recommended if you’re tired of shallow sound-bite answers and want to hear more meaty discussion that is fun and authentic.

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