“Our beautiful, courageous Ben went to be with the Lord at 1am today. He has been surrounded by friends at our home, with hymns, prayers and readings each night for this last week. It was a good entry to glory.” — John Dickson, Ben’s friend.
In 2019, Ben Shaw had a toothache. It turned out to be an aggressive cancer. A month after his diagnosis, Ben underwent extensive surgery to remove the cancer growing in his jaw. He and his wife Karen were told the difficult surgery would cure him.
But the cancer came back. In June 2020 after extensive treatment, Ben was told he may only have 12 months to live.
And now, 12 months later, Ben says he is “looking eternity square in the face”. He is dying. Yet, this week, he launched a book. It’s been many years in the making; “well before I had cancer”, explains Ben.
Now, however, his book, 7 reasons to (re)consider Christianity has an extra layer. Ben doesn’t mention his cancer for most of the book. In fact, it’s only as an afterthought – in a short ‘PS’ at the end (eight paragraphs, in fact) – that he outlines his cancer journey.
“[The cancer] has caused me to reconsider. Because you are facing eternity; looking at it squarely in the eye. And you must reassess yourself. I think everyone in my position does that. I’m glad to say, it hasn’t budged me one inch.” – Ben Shaw
“I too have had to reconsider Christianity,” he writes. “Having death on my very own doorstep has forced me to do a serious reassessment of my faith, including everything I’ve said in this book … My cancer has forced me to reconsider the integrity and credibility of my beliefs.”
At his book launch on Monday, which he was able to attend only by permission from his doctors, Ben said this reassessment has not dinted his faith.
“I’ve had such a strong faith growing up,” said Ben, a church pastor who also was lead guitarist for the well-known Australian Christian band ‘In The Silence’, with his best friend, historian and theologian John Dickson.
“[I] have been tremendously privileged to be under the teaching of so many … it should be of no surprise to you that I haven’t had to reconsider my faith. It’s blindingly obvious to me. It’s so true. It’s so factual. It’s so feasible.
“Having said that, [the cancer] has also caused me to reconsider. Because you are facing eternity; looking at it squarely in the eye. And you must reassess yourself. I think everyone in my position does that. I’m glad to say, it hasn’t budged me one inch.”
Ben wrote 7 Reasons to (Re)Consider Christianity because of his conviction that Christianity is “a message for humanity”.
“It’s not a message for a particular race, or sex or age or social group,” he said. “It’s a message for every single person, whether you’re here on your last breath – that’s possibly me – or others who are here on some of their first breaths. Wherever you are in life, this is a message for you.”
Also, “writing is easier than speaking these days,” he joked, alluding to the surgery that took part of the bone in his leg to reconfigure his jaw.
The book, as it promises in the title, is structured in seven chapters which offer Ben’s main reasons why he believes sceptics should take a second look at Christianity. These include ‘Because Jesus is the most influential person in history’, ‘Because Christianity gives a compelling answer to the question: What’s wrong with the world?’ and ‘Because Christianity is about life to the full.’
“I’m not saying that God gives me all the answers. I don’t know why particularly I have cancer at this time in my life. But I see God’s long game. I see the bigger picture. And it brings me great peace and contentment.” – Ben Shaw
“People have it in their head that Christianity is not all about life, but the end of it,” Ben writes.
Speaking at the launch on Monday, Glenn Davies, the previous Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, said Ben’s book is “like a lifeboat for people to find the saviour who can free them from their chains and the fear of death, that they might have life to the full.”
After studying at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Ben and his wife Karen moved to London, where they eventually planted Boathouse Church in Putney. Once Ben was told his cancer treatment wasn’t working, he and Karen moved back to Australia, to spend his final months with his closest friends and family.
In his final sermon to his congregation at the Boathouse in Putney, Ben said that knowing God’s “great plan” for the world has made his cancer bearable.
“I’m not saying that God gives me all the answers. I don’t know why particularly I have cancer at this time in my life.
“But I see God’s long game. I see the bigger picture. And it brings me great peace and contentment; that I am loved and that Christ died for me. I’m forgiven and I can be in relationship with God. I’ll be OK in the end. This is just a moment in a much, much bigger story.”
Ben has spoken about his cancer diagnosis with his friend, John Dickson, on Dickson’s podcast ‘Undeceptions’, part of the Eternity Podcast Network.