The Bible in Australia by Meredith Lake
Seeking the Good Society
If you’re a Christian in Australia today, it could be easy to pick up Meredith Lake’s The Bible in Australia and assume that its pages contain something of a eulogy. We feel the place of the Bible in our country’s cultural conversation shrinking, with it viewed as irrelevant or even harmful. So surely any history of the Bible here would ring of its imminent end, save for a persistent presence in the hands of only niche fundamentalists? Yet as I read through The Bible in Australia, it prompts reflection on not just the past but also the future.
In the book’s introduction, Lake puts forward that “the Bible has mattered to Australia under three main guises – the globalising Bible, the cultural Bible and the theological Bible.” That is, the Bible has been part of what connects Australians to the world, has influenced the way of life and foundations of society here, and to some has become a means of knowing God. With each of these observations, Lake reinforces that the Bible is under Australia’s skin more than we realise. But what does this mean for our time, when the globalising influence of the Bible is dwarfed by so much more that connects us to the the world? And when the cultural influence of the Bible feels like little more than a figure shrinking on a distant horizon? While as Christians we would be committed to this concept of the theological Bible – a text with power to transform lives by enabling us to be reconnected to God through Jesus – culturally, the Bible is becoming well acquainted with the margins. Despite covering the time when the Bible was perhaps at its most prolific, Part Two: The Great Age of the Bible, has shed a pertinent light on how we might approach public life in the future, as Bible-believers.
In the second chapter of part two, “Seeking the Good Society”, Lake canvasses some charitable endeavours of Christians past. At the fore is a century of Bible-believers making entrepreneurial steps towards helping both the neighbour in front of them, but also more broadly, the thousands of neighbours in need by establishing the first charitable institutions in Australia. What struck me in reading this, followed by the final chapter of part two, “Re-Evaluating the Text”, is the question of how we ought to draw upon these histories now. There is a great deal of inspiration and encouragement to be found in the pages of “Seeking the Good Society”, containing story after story of Bible-believers making strides towards the good of others.
Moving to “Re-Evaluating the Text”, there were echoes of our time. Alongside the conversation around the relationship between science and the Bible, this chapter illuminates a time when an evangelical stance on the authority of scripture fell out of vogue for some. While we are in a far different position in our society now when it comes to discussions of the Bible’s validity or the place of the church, Lake’s description of this re-evaluation in the late 1800s got me thinking about our own defence of the Bible in society. So often we end up appealing to events like those portrayed in “Seeking the Good Society” to argue that the West has Christianity to thank for so much of what’s positive in our society. This becomes our argument for the right of the Bible to retain a place in culture. But could we fall prey to relying on the good done in the past – prompted by real inward renewal through the word, which led to action – to stake a claim for the public place of Christian opinion? We’re foolish to hear of the tremendous good done by Christians of past generations and only conclude that society should be slower to dismiss an institution from which it has benefited so much. Doesn’t our response to this history stop short if it stops there? Instead seeing the good in our heritage, we should open our Bibles, continue pursuing the renewal that prompted this good, and set about continuing such work that commends the Lord we proclaim.
Meet Lauren Mahaffey
Lauren serves at Summer Hill Church as an Assistant Minister, with a focus on sharing Jesus with children and youth. Her spare time is usually all about catching up with friends and family, nerding out over podcasts, running, and cooking.