Meredith Lake's Cultural History of the Bible in Australia Wins Top Book Award - Hope 103.2

Meredith Lake’s Cultural History of the Bible in Australia Wins Top Book Award

Our conversation with author Meredith Lake is one of our favourites. The book we spoke about tells the story of the Bible's widespread influence in Australia's cultural history, It has just won the 2018 Australian Christian Book of the Year!

By Stephen O'DohertyFriday 17 Aug 2018Open House InterviewsCultureReading Time: 4 minutes

Listen: Author and historian Dr Meredith Lake in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty. Image above by SparkLit

The Bible in Australia—a Cultural History by Dr Meredith Lake has been awarded Christian Book of the Year 2018.

The award is an activity of SparkLit, a non-profit dedicated to “advancing God’s Kingdom by empowering Christian writer, publishers and distributors around the world”.

Through The Bible in Australia historian Dr Meredith Lake documents the impact of the Bible on Australian culture since its arrival with the First Fleet.

Meredith demonstrates that Australia’s many cultures are steeped in knowledge of, belief in and critique of the Bible, and that it has continued to shape the debates that make Australia what it is today.

A contested book

As Meredith recently told Open House the Bible arrived arrived as a “contested book” with a rich history of discussion, debate and argument.

“Europeans had been grappling with the scriptures for centuries by then. It came wrapped up with their ideas, conclusions, debates and arguments. So the Bible comes not just as a book that everyone agrees on but is already a focus of a lot of deep reflection.

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“There’s the preacher calling people to salvation and repentance in the atoning death of Jesus for their sins. But there’s also convicts with Biblical tattoos on their bodies and officers of the First Fleet who don’t really believe it is the revelation of God for the whole world.

“There’s the Governor who uses the New Testament to tell the convicts to work hard or they wont eat. It’s wrapped up in his ideas of social order. So it’s already a many splendoured thing when it arrives in Australia,” she said.

It’s already a many splendoured thing when it arrives in Australia

First nation people

Of course when the Bible arrived in the 18th century, it came to a land already rich with the world’s oldest culture and steeped in spirituality.

“That’s one of the great themes of the story of the Bible in Australia—how it has been part of that contact of cultures between Europeans and Indigenous Australians. It’s a complicated, often very tragic story.

Researching the book, Meredith was fascinated by the story of Abaroo, an Aboriginal teenager who lived with chaplain Richard Johnson and his wife for eighteen months.

“She saw him reading the Bible [and] was introduced to the whole technology of writing and books. He tried to teach her the Lord’s Prayer. She rejected it returning to the bush.

“But her son was the first Indigenous convert and preached to his own people. He came to a very different conclusion about what the Bible might mean in this difficult period of invasion and cultural contact. Those themes—of everything from rejection to acceptance to reinterpretation—those themes have endured right through the history of the Bible with Indigenous Australians.”

The common good

Meredith’s book is also the history of those for whom the Bible was formative, their achievements in laying the foundations for the nation.

“The Bible has lifted peoples sights beyond the horizon of self interest… to think of something larger than their own well being and consider the common good. Australians have always argued over what is the common good and how you work towards it”.

She cites the development of charitable organisations and even businesses as an example.

“It was evangelical Christians who founded the first charities. They believed that was part of how you loved your neighbour.

“A generation after that there were evangelical businessmen who thought that the best way to solve poverty was to start a savings bank. What is now Westpac was started by evangelical Christians, the same group who formed the Bible Society. [They thought that]  maybe if you could encourage the poor to save that might be a solution for them.

“A generation later again there’s people like William Guthrie Spence, perhaps Australia’s greatest ever union organiser, who thought that actually it’s not about thrift—Jesus doesn’t talk about thrift—what we need is wage justice. As [Jesus] says in Luke “a worker is worthy of his hire”  and founded unions to campaign for greater rights for working people.

“So the Bible produces the Benevolent Society, a bank, the trade union movement. It’s not one answer to the question of poverty but it stimulates all these different responses among Bible readers to try and crack that problem that we still have with us now.”

The Bible in Australia—a Cultural History by Meredith Lake is published by New South Books.

To hear our Open House interview with Dr Meredith Lake click the arrow near the top of this page. You can also subscribe to Open House podcasts in iTunes and they will appear in your feed.