Charles Sturt University
PACT - Public and Contextual Theology

Book Review: Faith and the Political in the Post-Secular Age

The October 2018 edition of The Melbourne Anglican printed a book review of Faith and the Political in the Post-Secular Age which is edited by PaCT Fellow Professor Anthony Maher.

The book was reviewed by Ray Cleary and is republished here below with permission from The Melbourne Anglican.

You might like to read the related story on our website about the book launch of Faith and the Political in the Post-Secular Age here in Canberra. Father Frank Brennan's review of the book can be read on Eureka Street.

Faith’s role in public square

Faith and the Political in the Post-Secular Age, edited by Anthony Maher (Coventry Press 2018)

Reviewed by Ray Cleary

This timely book is a collection of substantial articles, accessible to everyone who is engaged in public ministry, whether lay or ordained. It will be of interest to all who take a strong stand for justice as a central component of belief in the Christian God and in the life, death and ministry of Jesus as both human and divine.

This is a book from those who teach and research in the academy and who have deep interest in the practice of public theology in the marketplace of ideas and policies.

The authors speak to the Church in its many denominations and traditions, as well as the general public. Each of the writers speaks from what is described in the introduction as a “post-secular hypothesis” and explores the contribution that Gospel values can make to building a stronger, more generous and compassionate community.

Anthony Maher in his introduction writes, “Public theology addresses the moral and social concerns not just of individuals but of structures and systems of power within governments, corporations and ecclesiastical institutions”, which resonates strongly with the revelations of the recent Royal Commissions into trade unions, institutional abuse, financial institutions and domestic violence. The outcomes of these commissions have left many Australians wondering, bewildered, angry and confused at the degree of decline in institutional integrity and the lack of a clear moral compass.

Institutions that were once revered and respected have been found wanting in leadership and practice. As a result, the voice(s) of the Church and their public engagement face a time of resistance, marginalisation and exclusion, while at the same time attempts are being made by some commentators to expunge from ethics and the social order any contribution from Christian voices past and present.

This is not to say that the Church has always got it right and a starting point for true re-engagement is not only to speak words of acknowledgement, but to accompany this with different forms of dialogue and responses. This is one theme of the book alongside the need for reflective praxis, to be well informed, to listen to the voices of the people and to be generous and hospitable in dialogue.

Bob Dixon’s chapter is essential reading for all. His analysis of the conflict between human rights and natural law highlights the tension that is present in many of the ethical debates around relationships. Frank Brennan speaks of the need for greater ecumenical dialogue and asks the question, why should government and others listen when there are significant differences among Churches on the issues that confront our community?

This is a practical book full of positive and constructive ways for engagement by Christians in the public forum. It challenges aggressive fundamentalism that denies God’s ongoing revelation in the world of today and the claim that Christians have a monopoly over ethics. It is a call to action built on the hope of God for the whole of creation and for the pursuit of economic and social justice for all.

Canon Dr Ray Cleary is Sambell lecturer in Pastoral and Public Theology at Trinity College Theological School.