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My Year in Books – Rory Shiner

This year offered some rich pickings in books. Just to glance at my bedside table, I can see Sam Chan’s magnificent Evangelism in a Skeptical World, Tim Winton’s (yet-to-read) novel The Shepherd’s Hut, and Glynn Harrison’s excellent A Better Story: God, Sex and Human Flourishing. As a Christmas gift, Yuval Harari is set to both fascinate and frustrate me again in 2019 with his latest, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

I hope to plug some gaps in my grasp of the literature around secularisation in 2019, with Peter Berger’s A Rumour of Angels, Brad S. Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation and Graeme Smith’s A Short History of Secularism also on the bedside table—each at various states of the reading process.

I’m calling 2018 the Gala Year for Studies in Australian Christianity

For an overall theme, I’m calling 2018 the Gala Year for Studies in Australian Christianity. Three high-selling, well-written, warmly-reviewed and deeply researched books illustrate the point:

The Bible in Australia

The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History, by Meredith Lake is a vivid and energetic account of the surprising story of the Bible’s role in Australian society and Australia’s cultural imagination. The moment you read the title you think, “How has that book not been written yet?” It’s such a self-evidently brilliant question to pose. What’s more, Lake manages to exceed expectations by making the answer even more fascinating than the question.

God is Good for You

God is Good for You, by the prominent Australian journalist Greg Sheridan is a punchy, buoyant report on the current state of Christianity in Australia. Written from the perspective of an orthodox and ecuemenically-minded Catholic, Sheridan gives the classical arguments for the existence of God and the credibility of Christianity a fresh lick of paint. He then canvases the wider story (for both good and ill) of the role of Christianity and the churches in Australian society.

A chapter on the religious faith of Australia’s political leaders tells the story of Sheridan and Malcolm Turnbull setting each other a wager via text message as to who could smuggle a reference to an obscure theological point onto the ABC’s Q&A. Turnbull suggested a reference to the Apollinarian heresy, but settled with Sheridan’s suggestion of a reference to Duns Scotus. Sheridan won—comparing the government’s tortured explanations of its budget with reading Duns Scotus’s explanation of the Immaculate Conception.

The last few chapters focus on some positive signs of life in the Australian religious landscape—including some very generous accounts of pentecostal and conservative-evangelical communities. And the book is worth every cent for its last chapter alone, “A Bold Minority.” In it, Sheridan gives a chipper, robust defence of a Benedict-option style repositioning of Australian Christians for the years ahead. The joyful, Chestertonian vision of the happy warriors is palpable, and the vision instructive.

The joyful, Chestertonian vision of the happy warriors is palpable, and the vision instructive.

The Fountain of Public Prosperity: Evangelical Christians in Australia 1740–1914

Finally, to use a word that is overused in book reviews but warranted in this case, Stuart Piggin and Robert Linder’s long awaited volume The Fountain of Public Prosperity: Evangelical Christians in Australia 1740–1914 is magisterial. The product over over twenty years of research, the book meticulously traces the role of evangelical Christianity in the lives, institutions, events, and movements of Australia from colonisation until the First World War. It a scholarly work, but written to be read well beyond the confines of academia. The investment in reading will be richly repaid, with a renewed vision of what a fertile force evangelical faith has been and can be in Australian society. This book is a magnificent achievement, and ought to be read as widely as possible.

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