28 May 2024

An honest look at a Christian navigating politics: Plans for Your Good

Picture: iStock

Jon K Newton

12 May 2024

Scott Morrison. Plans for Your Good: A Prime Minister’s Testimony of God’s Faithfulness. Nashville: Thomas Nelson US, 2024.

I only slightly knew Scott Morrison when we both attended the same church in Sydney’s south, when he was a new backbencher. I was there for his big speech as Prime Minister to our denomination’s conference in 2021. But I also remember the “miracle” election in 2019. It seemed to me that Scott was enjoying every moment of the campaign, interacting with ordinary voters who knew almost nothing about him, not hiding his Pentecostal Christian faith, and taking advantage of his opponent’s mistakes. It was a different story in 2022; by then his opponents had successfully damaged his credibility, especially with women. People will debate all those events of 2018-2022 for a while to come, as they should.

Read more: ‘This is about people not politics’: A personal reflection on the Voice

But readers should not expect this book to add a lot to such debates. It doesn’t fit neatly into the usual categories. It’s not really an autobiography, though it does contain snapshots of the author’s life. It’s not really a political memoir, though the author does tell stories from his time in politics. There are no “hatchet jobs” on his political rivals. The author only occasionally defends himself against his critics or boasts of his achievements. It’s subtitled a “testimony,” which gets closer. Perhaps it’s most like an extended sermon series, full of Bible stories as well as stories from the author’s life, illustrations from all sorts of places, and spiritual truths and advice. Many questions you might like to have asked are not answered, as earlier reviewers have pointed out. Some controversial events are passed over briefly or ignored. The intended audience seems to Morrison, Plans for our Good be evangelicals, especially American evangelicals, judging from the way Australian customs and practices are explained and the reluctance to use the word “Pentecostal”.

Nonetheless this is a valuable book. It’s full of interesting stories, relevant applications of the biblical material discussed, and insights into the authors’ life, and with a powerful spiritual message for readers. The section headings give a clue to the topic of each section, expressed as questions: Who am I? How should I live? and What should I hope for? Each chapter also is headed with a question, for example, “Why do you worry?” begins chapter six, which is a message on anxiety. It starts with an episode from the movie Bridge of Spies, continues with the author’s experience leading Australia through the COVID-19 pandemic, retells his teenage brush with a peer’s suicide, speaks of his government’s response on mental health, proceeds to biblical stories related to anxiety, explains Paul’s “steps to peace” (Phil 4:6-7) with a further illustration from Scott’s meetings with Queen Elizabeth II and finishes with the story of an outback painting! Other chapters follow a similar structure. Throughout the book, while no doubt trying to leave a positive picture of his time as Prime Minister, the author’s primary stated goal is to testify to God’s faithfulness and to invite the reader into a life journey with Jesus Christ.

Read more: Voice a matter of justice, reconciliation: Christian leaders

Even though this is not an autobiography, you will learn quite a lot about Scott Morrison from this book. He grew up in a Christian environment, gave his life to Jesus as a Christian camp (aged 12), found his life partner in church and has apparently never strayed from the Christian path, though he admits to making lots of mistakes, some of which are identified in this book. He is a very happily married man: his love and admiration for his wife Jen shines through the book as a major theme. The story of her infertility and the birth of two miracle babies is one of the most moving chapters. He is an active believer who engages in prayer, Bible study, and local church life. He was a leader of an interparty prayer group in Australia’s parliament, he had a group of Christian pastors praying for him during his political career, and he prayed about every Morrison, Plans for our Good decision he had to make as Prime Minister. He also has a balanced view of God and politics, not claiming God’s imprimatur on his decisions and accepting God’s will even when he lost the 2022 election. As he says, “our duty is to align with God, not to conscript Him to our own causes and ambitions”.

His comments on some political opponents, especially Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, are gracious. He shows genuine gratitude for the people who supported and advised him. He portrays himself as someone willing to make hard decisions even at cost to his own popularity and expresses pride for key achievements such as managing the COVID-19 crisis, standing up to China, and creating the AUKUS alliance. He presents as a man with strong convictions, but not an ideologue, and committed to respectful disagreements. As he says, “our task and even expectation in such a complex world is not necessarily to agree, but to disagree better. This is not something our Western political environment is doing very well…”.

There are some fresh stories that surprised me. Morrison reveals how his doctor prescribed antidepressants when he was going through the COVID-19 crisis. He reveals the names of some world leaders who became close friends, even mentors: Mike Pence (Trump’s vice-president), Shinzo Abe (Prime Minister of Japan), and James Marape of Papua New Guinea. He tells his side of how the AUKUS alliance was struck and how Australia pulled out of a huge submarine deal with France, rebutting President Macron’s version of this saga strongly but graciously.

Read more: How faith groups helped push gambling onto the NSW election agenda

This book won’t fill in all the details of Morrison’s time as Prime Minister, answer all the critics or make everyone like him. But for Christian readers, it raises good questions about how we handle life challenges and how Christians can participate in the political process. And for all readers there is an honest look at a Christian navigating the challenges of politics and a challenge to follow Christ.

Morrison, Plans for our Good

Dr Jon K Newton is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Pentecostalism at Alphacrucis University College Melbourne.

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