What place does the Bible have in modern day Australia? Is it illegitimate in a now secular nation or a treasured part of our Christian heritage? In a stimulating and surprising conversation Meredith gets under the skin of a text that has been read, preached and even tattooed into Australia's cultural history.
Our guest: Dr. Meredith Lake. Meredith is an honorary associate of the Department of History at the University of Sydney. Her PhD was on religious ideas of the environment in early colonial Australia and she is the author of The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History, which won the 2018 Christian book of the year.
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Bigger questions asked in the conversation
So Meredith, congratulations on winning the 2018 Australian Christian book of the year. You beat some fairly well known Christian authors, how do you feel about winning?
Whilst the book won Australian Christian book of the year - it’s not really a Christian book is it?
So, what inspired the book?
So as an historian, how did you research the book - a lot of Google searches?
Today we’re asking Meredith Lake about how much the Bible has shaped Australia. So our smaller questions to you are about the “The Bible in Australia”. Now Meredith, your book ‘The Bible in Australia’ is so comprehensive, I couldn’t find anything to ask you about except things found in your book. So in the end I just thought I’d ask you about your book. So how well do you know your own book?
History of Bible in Australia
Meredith, the story of the Bible in Australia, begins with the arrival of the first fleet in 1788. So tell us us about your research, how did the Bible shape Australia’s colonial history?
Bible in indigenous Australia
The arrival of the first Fleet and Europeans into Australia obviously raises questions as to the interaction with Australia’s indigenous peoples. What was the indigenous experiences of the Bible?
Acts 17:26: From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
How significant was this in engaging with indigenous issues?
Now you mention that the term, “Bible bashers”, actually originated in Australia - how did that arise?
Assessment of Bible and biblical literacy
So do you think that Australia is a secular nation where religion in the public space is somehow illegitimate, or is Australia a Christian nation that has been declining from its Christian heritage?
You’ve said that the Bible gets under Australian skin. What do you mean by that?
In Chapter 4 of your book, on page 283, you write a chapter on ‘The Turning point’ and start to outline the decline of church attendance and biblical literacy in Australia from the 1950’s until the present day. So what exactly was the turning point?
Implications of Bible
In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the author says, in Chapter 4:24
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
You say on page 12 of your book that in theological terms the Bible’s sacred character may be the only real basis for its significance to Australia’. What do you mean by that?
The Bible itself claims to have power - here it says ‘the word of God is alive and active’. How does this claim intersect with the findings of your research?
Do you think the Bible still has power even when used by people who don’t necessarily believe it?
How Bible has shaped individuals
We’ve talked about how the Bible has shaped Australia, how it’s shaped some notable Australians. But what about you - has it shaped you at all?
The Big Question
So Meredith, how much has the Bible shaped Australia?