Greg Sheridan / screenshot from 'John Anderson'

Christians: The Urgent Case for Jesus in Our World
By Greg Sheridan. Allen & Unwin. 2021.

In his latest book, Christians: The Urgent Case for Jesus In Our World, Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian for nearly 30 years, vividly describes Western culture as a patient in a state of wilful amnesia, who has requested that medical records be destroyed, “so they and their physicians will have absolutely no knowledge of what made them sick in the past, and what made them well.”

A bold claim perhaps, but Christians is a bold book and a compelling addition and extension to his 2018 book, God is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times.

While God is Good for You answered the modern challenge to “make faith reasonable”, Christians enters a post-modern world that seeks authenticity rather than reasonableness. In 2021, we are inhabitants of a chaotic West that Sheridan describes as at once post-Christian, Christian and pre-Christian.

To this end, Sheridan directs his considerable writing talent to bring forward the central element and stumbling block of Christian belief – the death and resurrection of the person of Jesus Christ. It is a hands-on approach, and it benefits from it.

The book has two parts. In the first, we encounter the essence of the Christian story – the commanding figure of Jesus, his death and resurrection alongside some of the main stars of the New Testament, John, Luke, Mary and the Apostle Paul. The second half shows how these historically remote figures continue to drive, direct and divide our world today – from The Beatles to Tolkien to persecuted Christians to ScoMo.

One of the strengths of the book is Sheridan’s ability to blend the theological with the journalistic. His instinct to tell stories makes Christians not just a didactic work on Christian influence but an interesting, eclectic, and compelling read, packed with examples of the enigmatic followers of the religion which continues to puzzle and outrage the world.  

From St Luke getting the “ultimate scoop” of a Christmas interview with the mother of Our Lord, to the psychologically fascinating St Paul whom Sheridan provocatively dubs “Christ’s Lenin”, or interviews with people ranging from Peter Cosgrove, former Governor General to Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, Sheridan is able to bring each of these faces to Christianity, showing that it is more than an idea – it is an incarnate religion in every sense.

Another strength of the book is Sheridan’s broad attitude to what defines a Christian, that is, one who can comfortably recite the Apostle’s Creed. By keeping it cosmopolitan, Christians will give readers insights into the wide river of those who follow the figure of Christ – including Pentecostals, Anglicans, Catholics and Orthodox.

The second half of the book focusses on Christianity’s influence in art, culture, politics, world-politics and religious leadership.

Beginning with the beautiful, Sheridan shows how Christianity still has a powerful grip on the popular imagination, from the Beatle’s smash hit Let it Be as an echo of Mary’s answer to the angel, to the appeal of the character Jane from Jane the Virgin’s as a Latino woman honestly seeking to live the Christian teaching on sexuality. From the sublime to the ridiculous, perhaps, but he makes the point that art suffused with Christian themes has a capacity to inspire, resonating well beyond its original intent. The corollary of this is a casual observation that so much modern art, which rejects the West’s metaphysical centre, is plagued by artistic mediocrity. 

There is something pleasing about a literary person sharing his insights into other authors and Sheridan’s take on Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and J.R.R. Tolkien and their Christian inspiration practically jumps off the page. 

From the beautiful to the good, Sheridan offers vignettes of quiet Christians living a life of service. He tells the story of Gemma Sisia, who’s resilience, determination and a little help from St Jude, runs a school for underprivileged children in Tanzania. We hear of Frances Cantrall, a young woman from the Gold Coast offering Australian students hope and meaning with the Culture Project, and Jenny George, CEO of Converge International a non-for-profit company offering chaplains for mental well-being in organisations throughout the world.  

Sheridan devotes one chapter to the dark reality of the persecution of Christians in China, who may be the most persecuted group in the world. In this chapter, China stands as a useful foil to show the unique difference that Christianity offers a civilisation. It is a civilising religion, which upholds the human dignity of all individuals, and which the West ushers to the door at its own peril.

In the complex political realm, Sheridan shows how Christianity is still at work in those in political life. He looks at the faith of Scott Morrison, the first Pentecostal to become a leader of a developed nation; former deputy Prime Minister John Anderson; and former Governor General Peter Cosgrove. In Christian leadership, we meet culturally savvy film-maker and Pentecostal Sammy Rodriguez; Nicky Gumble, founder of the Alpha program; and Peter Comensoli, Archbishop of Australia’s largest Catholic diocese, in Melbourne.

It is a bold move to write a book containing Christian themes. It is another thing for a book to take as its starting point the death and historicity of Jesus. And it is another thing again to write it well – but Sheridan has succeeded on all counts.

Christians is an uplifting book brimming over with hope and honesty in a time of great confusion, in ecclesial and public life.

It will appeal not just to those who are interested in Christianity, but also to those who are interested in Western culture and in what has shaped Australia and what is un-shaping it. But deeper than all this, Christians resonates due to the four words with which Sheridan closes it: “For Christ has risen”.

Natasha Marsh is a lecturer in theology and philosophy at the University of Notre Dame Australia. She also works as a freelance journalist and musician.