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'Honest and unflinching': Anglican wins Book of the Year

For the Love of God takes home Christian Book of the Year award

By Stephen Cauchi

August 17 2020
For the third year running a Sydney Anglican academic has taken out the Australian Christian Book of the Year award, with Natasha Moore winning for her work For the Love of God: How the Church is Better and Worse Than You Ever Imagined.

Dr Moore, a research fellow at the not-for-profit media company the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX), wrote For the Love of God with CPX colleagues John Dickson, Simon Smart and Justine Toh. CPX also published the book and produced a documentary and discussion guides to accompany the book.

The judges wrote that For the Love of God was “an honest and unflinching response to the question: Would the world be better off without Christianity?”

The book was a “bold yet balanced appraisal” of the “best and worst of what Christians have done over two millennia”, they wrote.

“Natasha Moore and her collaborators confront the failure of those who claimed to follow Christ but were responsible for the Crusades, the Inquisition and the abuse of children. 

“The ease with which Christians through the ages have ignored both the teaching of Jesus and the dissenting voices of contemporary prophets is a caution. The authors also show how – when they obey Jesus – Christians have contributed to what is beautiful and beneficial in culture and society. 

“In a time of social media echo chambers, fact-free opinion bubbles and divisive culture wars, this sort of fair and generous commentary is invaluable.”

Dr Moore, who attends Christ Church Inner West in Sydney, accepted the award at an online presentation on 13 August.

The $3000 award – presented by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge Australia, also known as SparkLit – is usually presented at St Alfred’s Anglican Church in Blackburn North.

Macquarie University Professor of History Stuart Piggin, who attends the Anglican parish of Hunters Hill, and American historian and Baptist Robert Linder won in 2019 for their book The Fountain of Public Prosperity: Evangelical Christians in Australian History 1740–1914.

They were shortlisted in 2020 for the book’s sequel, Attending to the National Soul 1914-2014

Sydney University historian Meredith Lake, who attends All Saints’ Anglican Church in Petersham, won in 2018 for her book The Bible in Australia.

Dr Moore told the online presentation that despite being a long-time student of Christian history, research for the book had unveiled many surprises. 

Christians had done both “extremely terrible things” and “totally transformed how we in the West think about the sick, the vulnerable, how they ought to be treated, how every person should be treated”.

English social reformer and nurse Florence Nightingale – a “kickass Christian I really admire” who died 110 years ago to the day – exemplified the latter qualities, said Dr Moore.

She said one of the book’s aims was to “encourage a humility” among Christians.

“It’s very easy to get defensive when people are like, ‘Christians are terrible, they do all these things, the church has done all this harm. 

“It’s really easy to go ‘That’s not true, you’ve got that wrong, that’s a bit exaggerated’. Whereas actually Christians should be people who can say, yes, we messed up, we’re really imperfect and often there’s a lot of darkness to our hearts and our histories.”

Christians “go to church every Sunday … and confess their sins. It shouldn’t be difficult for us, of all people, to say yes, we’ve messed this up.”

Conversations in public life about history or other topics were not marked by humility or concession of points, noted Dr Moore.

“So it’d be great if Christians can lead the way on that a little bit more than we do already.”

Dr Moore said that an IPSOS poll taken in 20 countries in 2017 found that 60 per cent believed religion did more harm than good in the world. In Australia, the figure was 63 per cent.

For the Love of God would be a good gift for someone who belonged in that category, she said. It was a book for everyone, not just Christians.

“Ultimately we want to point people back to Jesus … here’s the tune that he wrote, sometimes Christians have played it atrociously and it’s really hard to listen to but … it remains, we think, the most beautiful tune that’s ever been written”.

The other books on the shortlist of 10 were Is Jesus History? by John Dickson; I Will Avenge by P. Howard Smith; A Lot With a Little by Tim Costello; Metanoia by Anna McGahan; Not Home Yet by Ian K. Smith; Science and Christianity: Understanding the conflict myth by Chris Mulherin; A Short Book About Paul by Paul Barnett; Where to Start With Islam by Samuel Green.

Daniel Li from Victoria won the 2020 Young Australian Christian Writer Award with his manuscript Being Mulaney while Phoebe Worseldine from Victoria won the 2020 Australian Christian Teen Writer Award with her composition Through Smoke and Flames.

The judges were Darren Cronshaw, a pastor at the Auburn Life Baptist Church in Melbourne and Professor of Missional Leadership with the Australian College of Ministries; Barney Zwartz, a senior fellow with the Centre for Public Christianity and media consultant to the Anglican Primate of Australia, Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier; and Judith Nichols, who has a doctorate in classics and ancient history and coordinates women’s ministry at Dalkeith Anglican Church, Perth.

To view the award night presentation, visit http://sparklit.org/awards/