The Bible in Australia by Meredith Lake

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A Secular Australia?

As someone born well past the genesis of colour television, I have no real appreciation for the experience it would have been to suddenly view everything on my screen in a technicolour palette, when all I’d known before was black and white. Something that is now so ubiquitous would then have been a gear shift, adding visual and no doubt emotional depth to every show. Reading part four of Meredith Lake’s The Bible in Australia, it appears that in the same era that colour was introduced to our screens, so too did the identity of the Bible on Australia take on a more diverse nature, with the expressions of its significance becoming more and more colourful. With this fourth part being titled “A Secular Australia?” we are taken through an examination of this period in which the theological Bible does undeniably lose its prominence in the everyday household but remains under the nation’s skin in unexpected ways.

 In the first of these three chapters, “The Turning Point”, Lake canvasses the post-war era, along with the spike in church affiliation and devotional Bible reading that came with it. This brings colour even to our own historical reading of the 20th century – while we might simply paint it as a period of slow, steady secularisation, unwavering from this one trajectory, the picture of the two decades post-war suggests otherwise. The cultural boom that came with increased migration, the unprecedented influence of American evangelicalism through the Billy Graham Crusades, and the diversification of our own nation’s evangelicalism through the introduction and growth of Pentecostalism all came together to produce an upturn in that trajectory. A collision of cultural factors seems to have created a mid-century Australia in which the Bible retained significance, in more varied iterations than before.  

 Yet as many of us would be aware, this upturn away from secularisation only stayed its course for so long, soon turning a sharp corner at the advent of post-modernism and the sexual revolution. Lake describes this in the second chapter of part four, “Re-Imagining Australia”, which in part illuminates a renewed approach to bringing the Bible to bear on a nation finding its feet all over again, treading out a new, more diverse path. It was particularly encouraging to read of efforts made in contextualising the Bible to Indigenous identity and sensibilities. While in some scenarios there seems a little too much scope for producing a pluralistic faith, the re-imagining of Biblical communication and transmission speaks volumes of the desire to access the Bible around Australia. What’s most commendable is the boldness of those who took on this work, who applied their own creativity to the task of contextualising the word of God to pockets – both indigenous communities as well as many other groups – of a nation that had become far from homogenous.

The Bible in Australia closes with “The Bible in the New Millennium” – a chapter which showcases both the relegation of the Bible to the fringes, as well as stories of the unexpected ways that the Bible still takes root in the lives of real individuals. Where the secularisation of Australia is undeniable, it is not wholesale. That is, while fewer bedside tables give a Bible pride of place, Lake highlights how much a look to the arts and to the lives of everyday individuals reveals that the Bible remains very much under Australia’s skin.

While it can be challenging to look around and see a nation that appears disinterested in the Bible, or even opposed to it, a reminder to take from these closing chapters is that while our nation has been itching at an uncertainty about who we are together, the Bible has continued to take on a more and more colourful identity in a range of contexts. And while the privileged position of being the basis for Colonial nationhood is a distant memory, the Bible continues to do its work, show its power and take root in the lives of individuals. So for us, the challenge is to put this relevance and significance of God’s word on show in our own diverse lives, that the forgetting of the Bible in the public square might not spell the end for the Bible in Australia.

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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.

Rachael CollinsComment