BookA Lot with a Little, by Tim Costello (Hardie Grant, 2019)
By John Carrick
August 17 2020Tim Costello’s latest book A Lot with a Little is an engaging read. Tim’s memoir piqued my interest on a number of fronts. The familiarity of being based mostly in Melbourne and the insight into the family that shaped two great Australian leaders: Tim and Peter Costello – both of whom went on to lead in seemingly different paths. The media has often mirrored Australians’ intrigue with the brothers’ relationship and indeed aggravated our curiosity with some sensational headlines. Tim writes candidly about their familial relationship and often honours his brother’s achievements and integrity, at one point stating: “Many people have said to me … what a loss it has been to have Peter gone from our national politics. I totally agree.”
I relished reading how Tim’s faith has informed his life and work. Almost every page bears testament to how Christian hope has enabled Tim to continue to fight the good fight. For example, when reflecting on his tireless campaign against pokies, Tim recalls one of his children saying: “Dad, was there ever a campaign you won?” Tim reflects on this question: “Even in their eyes I seem to be a perennial loser. But I have a spirituality that says faithfulness, not success, is the measure.’’
An enduring thread is Tim’s spiritual journey and theological development. Tim inherited the faith of his parents, yet he describes their faith in contrasting terms. His father, Russell, was a strong evangelical bible believer whose priorities clearly focused on the life to come. Tim’s mother, Margaret, on the other hand, tended to a liberal Christian faith. Russell saw the world as evil with temptations to be overcome; whereas Margaret understood the world to be essentially good and that Christians should try to do good in it alongside God. Tim remarks: “Dad’s theology seemed to start with the fall and sin, and Mum’s with Genesis 1 where earth was a garden.” Tim credits both his parents with having strong opinions but acknowledges that his Dad “had the stronger convictions”. And it was his father’s convictions that first guided Tim’s faith. Russell had come to faith as an adult, his conversion was dramatic, yet Tim, having been raised in such a strong Christian household, was not able to relate to such a dramatic conversion. Tim’s own spiritual journey commenced by merely taking the faith of his parents, specifically his father’s, but at one point Tim realised that additional depth was required for his faith, that he must reflect deeply. The strength of Tim’s memoir is the way he tracks the development of his own theological thinking.
Another interesting aspect of Tim’s memoir was the attention he gives to the effects of his ministry on his children Claire, Elliot and Martin. Tim made choices that took him away from home often and had him in the media campaigning against various issues and being labelled a “do-gooder”. Additionally Tim and his wife, Merridie, showed hospitality to a great variety of people during their time in St Kilda. This meant that the children experienced the coalface of ministry among some of St Kilda’s street prostitutes, local residents of boarding houses and others from local government housing. Tim writes openly about the effects of ministry and also provides an epilogue that outlines where Claire, Elliot and Martin are and their own passions. While the ministry cost the family, it seems clear that over the long term, Tim and Merridie’s choices have instilled lasting values in Claire, Elliot and Martin.
What I would have liked to read more of was an encouragement for evangelicals to rediscover their heritage of social action. Tim clearly sees certain evangelicals, of his father’s persuasion, as lacking the drive to do good in the world beyond gospel proclamation. I would have liked to read how Tim has nuanced the particular evangelical faith of Russell. More could have been made of Tim’s rediscovering social action and justice as an evangelical heritage. Certainly Tim notes Charles Finney as one such example but there are many more.
There is so much more I have enjoyed about Tim’s reflection, such as his insightful political comments, his global perspective and his wisdom regarding human rights needing to be anchored to a faith in order to endure. I will be referring to Tim’s memoir and no doubt quoting from it in my own preaching for time to come.
The Revd John Carrick is the Lead Minister at St Thomas’ Burwood and a chaplain at the Burwood Campus of Deakin University.