Home » Resources » Culture Connections

The Bible in Australia

4th February 2019

by Meredith Lake, Newsouth Publishing, 2018 (pp 439) 

A short explanation of what this book is about is found in the subtitle - A Cultural History.

This book provides a picture of how the bible’s influence and impact has connected with Australian history and culture. It considers how the bible has been used and misused, and perhaps ‘not used’, in the context of the foundation and development of modern Australia. Meredith Lake has created a rare offering - a readable scholarly academic work. There are four parts:

Colonial Foundations

The opening section considers the arrival of the bible in 1788 and initial interactions in the convict era, and the overall immigrant context as the nation develops. Woven throughout the first part and indeed through the whole book are stories, and examples of connection related to Aboriginal and Islander people, especially in relation to translation and hearing the word in their own tongue, and the wider questions about indigenous theology and relationships.

The Great Age of the Bible

This part provides an excellent overview of the incredible stories of missionary endeavour and promulgation of the bible and the beginnings of the consideration of different ways of viewing the bible, its authority and status.

Bible and Nation

The third part looks at the place of the church (and bible) in Australia in the context of a consolidated Australia that was finding its own identity. A revealing chapter is the chapter on WWI and its aftermath. As it has been revealed during these WWI centenary years, the impact of this era has often been underestimated.

The final part A Secular Australia? Explores the place of the bible in the new era, looking at the changes in society and the impact of change on the church and the place of the bible. I noted quotes from people who would be known to ACC readers, including Deane Meatheringham in reference to his conversion at the 1959 Billy Graham Crusade. In this 60th year anniversary of the Crusade, it is illuminating to reflect on the differences in Australia in terms of our cultural history.

The chapter ‘The Bible in the new millennium’ vividly highlights the pace of change, especially in the context of SRE (and certainly the fact that this is now the sole area of contact with the bible for a large group of Australians), and the impact of new technology and how this relates to reading and understanding the bible.

Having highlighted this book’s accessibility and wide-ranging material, I am still going to suggest that an abridged version is needed (not the twitter form), but more an adult pocket version that summarises and yet continues the main themes and ideas. I note that Meredith produced a version of this in 2016, aimed at students and prepared for The Bible Society - The Bible Down Under.

I found the last few pages especially fascinating and helpful as they raise the context for a wider discussion. These pages form a very interesting conclusion in the context of ethics and decision-making. It is a question I have long been asking - how do people make decisions today when for many there is no association with a book like The Bible?

The conclusion takes one back to earlier discussions and ongoing themes in the book about the cultural impact of the church and its role in providing for the common good in society. This enables one to understand, consider and discuss in hopefully a helpful way the continuing role of the bible today.

Peter Bentley

Leave a comment