21 July 2022
An exploration of childlike faith and its ability to help us untangle our faith from Western cultural norms is among the books shortlisted for the SparkLit Australian Christian Book of the Year award.
Brisbane Uniting Church pastor Mandy Smith joins apologist John Dickson and missionary agronomist Tony Rinaudo among the authors on the shortlist.
Ms Smith’s Unfettered explores the concept of childlike faith, and how embracing our childlikeness before God allows us to untangle our faith from Western cultural norms.
SparkLit national director Michael Collie said he believed Unfettered was to the 2020s what Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace was to the 1990s.
Ms Smith said that Unfettered began as a journey and experiment in her faith.
“I was experiencing things that I needed to figure out,” she said.
She said the concept came to her while she was on an eight-week sabbatical, where she found she was unsure how to use the time wisely.
She said that in response to the passage in Matthew 18 which discusses childlike faith, she decided to spend the time listening to the childlike urges within. If they weren’t illegal or immoral, she would choose to follow them.
“It was really interesting because that just seemed really fun at first,” she said. “[I thought] I’m just going to listen to those childlike prompts [and] just for fun, I’m going to say yes to all of those things.”
But she said that her choices led to a difficult realisation.
“There are some serious grown-up habits and Western habits in me that stop me from saying yes to my joy,” she said.
“Every time I had one of these prompts, there was a shame [and] disappointment that went along with it.”
She said she became fearful that if she wanted to engage in childlike behaviours such as hugging trees, laying down in grass or dragging sticks, she would experience judgment from onlookers.
She said that she was also realising that there was a depth to the concept of childlike faith which she hadn’t previously grasped.
“I started to think – maybe there’s something really significant to [this] that I’ve never heard talked about,” she said.
She said that she wrote four different versions of the book, having realised in earlier versions that she was attempting to write an intellectual book.
“My first version was a very serious argument for childlikeness,” she said. “[But] I came to a place of realising that I had to begin with story.”
She said that she believed that children engaged with life more holistically than adults by integrating their thoughts and feelings and not believing it was up to them to fix all the problems they saw.
She said that believed the concepts of the book helped readers to realise that while their experiences and beliefs were important, they were just a small part of a bigger picture of church community, where diverse beliefs and experiences offered richness to faith.
Ms Smith said that she believes the concepts in the book offer a new way to “navigate some of the baggage of the contemporary Christian church”.
“I think that it allows us to expand our way of engaging Scripture and spirit and community because we’re not just having arguments about concepts but we’re testing what is real and true,” she said.
The other books shortlisted for the award were:
Bullies and Saints by John Dickson
The Forest Underground by Tony Rinaudo
Christians by Greg Sheridan
Raising Kids Who Care by Susy Lee
Refuge Reimagined by Luke Glanville and Mark Glanville
Adopted in Love by Rachel Herweynen
Topical Preaching in a Complex World by Sam Chan and Malcolm Gill
Spacemaker by Daniel Sih
A New Freedom by Mike Snowdon