What should Christians do in a situation in which they have lost the cultural consensus? How should we respond when our beliefs and convictions—once unremarkable—now mark us out as odd, even dangerous?
We should learn to behave like a vigorous, confident, and creative minority. Or so said Australian Foreign Affairs Editor Greg Sheridan to a pub full of Christians on Monday night in Perth.
On Monday 13 November, Providence Church hosted an evening in the Pub with Greg Sheridan. In recent months, Sheridan has increasingly turned his attention to questions of the future of the churches in Australia. What it will take to survive and thrive in an increasingly aggressive secular culture? How should they respond to changes in the marriage law? He has even written on the rationality of belief in God itself.
It was standing-room only as a crowd of mainly Protestant evangelicals listened to this life-long Catholic share his perspective on the best way forward for Christian churches. Fittingly enough, the night was held in an Irish pub. As Stephen McAlpine said on Facebook before the event: “A former Catholic seminarian, a Northern Irish Protestant Minister, discussing Christianity in an Irish pub. It’s either going to be an early night or our loved ones will be posting bond at 3am.”
In the event, no 3am gaol-breaks were required.
After an enlightening and energetic account of the contemporary religious scene in Australia, Sheridan offered three concrete actions for Christians in contemporary Australia.
1. Build new institutions
First, Sheridan argued we should be in the business of building new institutions.
Christian educational institutions cannot presume on future government support and subsidies. Nor is it hard to imagine a future a Christian teacher, academic or government worker might no longer be able to work in various contexts without renouncing convictions important to who they are and what they believe.
But Sheridan’s point was a positive one: There is an opportunity for Christians to build the sorts of institutions our society has lost. Sheridan pointed to Campion College in Sydney for an example. Here is a liberal arts college, going against the post-structuralist-dominated Arts faculties of Australian universities, to instead offer a more classical education based on a “Great Book” approach. This sort of initiative could be a positive gift to the suite of educational options in Australia.
2. Build strong sub-cultures that nurture Christian belief.
Or, in other words, build strong churches. Churches and Christian communities, argued Sheridan, can’t rely on the gentle tail-wind of a society that more or less thinks they’re on the right track. We should be at work building the sort of thick, distinctive communities that can actually form people with the resilience to be different—joyfully and confidently different.
3. Don’t give up trying to still influence existing institutions.
None of this, argued Sheridan, should be taken to discourage Christians from fully engaging and seeking to influence and work within existing institutions. On the contrary, as a minority in secular Australia, Christians should work confidently and cheerful in the public square. We should not expect for our views to carry the day—minorities cannot harbour such expectations. But we should, as participants in a pluralist democracy, be prepared to speak up and do so winsomely, passionately and intelligently.
Forty minutes of Q and A followed Sheridan’s talk, after church Professor Bruce Robinson gave a vote of thanks.
A Catholic, and Protestant, and Professor walked into a pub … and it was just fine.