Here's how to save the Church: be radical
John Dickson chats with ‘outed’ journalist Greg Sheridan
For many years The Australian‘s Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan has been the canary in the coal mine –warning the Australian Church that it is becoming irrelevant.
Sheridan’s ongoing message to the Church in the West has been to change the way you speak to the surrounding culture or Christianity will die out.
“Christianity is in very significant statistical decline in the West.” – Greg Sheridan
Now, he is calling on the Church to embrace its “weirdness” and to use this as the basis of its public messaging.
“The first thing Christian leaders need is to be situationally aware of is the fact they are now in a minority. But being in a minority actually frees in a lot of ways,” Sheridan tells host John Dickson on the latest episode of Eternity‘s Undeceptions podcast, called “Post Christian”.
“I think the mainline Christian churches and the individual Christian activists, and so on, are much better positioned if they accept that they’re saying something which is sort of radical and strange to the contemporary culture, both at the level of transcendent belief and at the level of personal behaviour.”
Sheridan is well placed to give communication advice, after 40 years of media experience, including at The Bulletin, as well as The Australian. As a foreign editor, he is also well placed to give a post-modern perspective on the Australian Church.
“We have to face up to the fact that Christianity is in very significant statistical decline in the West,” he says. “It’s not in the rest of the world – Latin America, Asia, Africa; Christianity is on fire. There are more Christians in China than there are members of the communist party. Christianity is a wildfire through Africa.
“So this is an eccentric cul-de-sac that the West has got to. By the West I mean Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and North America. But there is simply no denying the figures.”
Until his last book, Sheridan could have been mistaken for a “friendly outsider” giving advice to the Australian Church about how it’s perceived (as, in fact, Dickson did in response to Sheridan’s essay on this topic).
However, Sheridan placed himself more squarely in the centre of Christianity with the 2018 release of God is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times (which was short-listed for the 2019 Australian Christian Book of the Year).
“It’s another thing to come out and say, I believe that Jesus Christ is my saviour …” – Greg Sheridan
While the first half of the book outlines the Church’s diminishing influence in the West, it goes on to highlight the significant role Christianity has played in the lives of our country’s leaders, including current Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former PMs Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott and John Howard.
The book also “outed” Sheridan, who grew up as a non-Bible reading Catholic.
“It was quite a thing to come out, as it were, as a Christian,” Sheridan shares with Dickson.
“So now, I encourage other Christians to do the same. It’s all right to have my jokes about your own Christian background and occasionally to, you know, raise a little cheer from the sidelines saying good on you fellows.
“It’s another thing to come out and say, I believe that Jesus Christ is my saviour …
“But I found that once you did it, it’s really not so bad. I mean, people accept, generally speaking, that you’re saying what you believe. I’ve found that to be an enjoyable experience rather than the reverse and much less hostility than I would have thought, perhaps also because it’s so novel.”
So what was it that convinced Sheridan, in these allegedly post-Christian times, to associate himself with a dying religion?
“You can’t actually hold the view that Jesus was just a ‘kumbaya’ social worker or Mahatma Ghandi nice guy, and had no normative or transcendent or religious claims to make, if you actually read what he said in the gospels …”
“I think it is good for us as Christians to be very clear about how radical our beliefs are.”