EFAC Australia

Book Reviews

Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind

So how did we get the culture, structure and morality of the Western world? Where did it come from? For many of us there is a vague feeling that many of the good things we appreciate in the West started in Ancient Greece but came to fulfilment in the Enlightenment. At that point in history humankind awakened to its own sweet reason and became aware of self-evident truths such as, for example, “all men are created equal”.

Not so, says eminent historian Tom Holland in his tremendously written book, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. These so-called ‘self-evident truths’ are not self-evident at all. Having written extensively on Ancient Rome and then having turned to Islamic history, Tom Holland has swum in different historical cultures, cultures that show no indication of seeing the self-evidence of such truths as Thomas Jefferson wrote about. Christianity is the towering force that has shaped the Western mind and continues to have impact even in institutions and societies that have long rejected, or even spurned faith. It is from Christianity that springs all the many concepts we have long taken for granted, such as women’s rights, freedom, science and secularism just to name a few. Many a Christian has suggested as such but Holland, who interestingly, is a bit slippery about his own conviction of faith, writes with passion and persuasion.

God is good for you: A defence of Christianity in troubled times

Christianity in Australia is in crisis. Greg Sheridan is a committed Catholic layman deeply concerned about Christianity’s demise and wanting to offer hope. A journalist by trade and writing on international affairs for The Australian he has a handle on the state of Christianity across the West as well as insights into other faiths.

Sheridan moves deftly between popular culture and academic engagement to understand what has been happening in Australian society. He charts the increasingly negative way Christians have been portrayed in films and television through recent decades. He is not afraid to tackle key theological issues—he critiques the New Atheism from an orthodox Christian position, he explores the issue of eternal judgement and its attendant questions, he sets out a Christian apologetic for evil and suffering and the sins of Christians, he offers a defence of the Old Testament as inspired literature and worth a read. As well, he puts the case for Christianity producing the progress of Western Civilisation. This chapter title says it all, “What did we ever get from Christianity—apart from the idea of the individual, human rights, feminism, liberalism, modernity, social justice and secular politics?”


I was compelled to read Damascus after hearing its well-known Australian author, Christos Tsiolkas, speak at the Perth Writer’s Festival. Only knowing Tsiolkas as the author of the controversial, bad-language-peppered novel The Slap, I was bracing myself for the session to be an atheistic, disdainful, mocking critique of biblical Christianity; at best annoying, at worst blasphemous. How wrong I was.

Tsiolkas spoke with warm humility about his persistent, genuine fascination with Christianity that he has had throughout his life. Having been raised Greek Orthodox, in his teenage years he was invited by an evangelical friend to study the Bible. He was drawn to the love and graciousness of Jesus, and Christ’s care for the outcast.

However, his growing awareness of his own struggle with homosexuality drove him away from the faith, which he believed had no place for him. Today he still rejects the “Christian myths” but continues to have an abiding attraction to Christian ethics and the Bible, which he understands is the foundation of Western civilization. (I was shocked at his rebuke of a young audience member at the Writer’s Festival, who claimed never to have read the Bible so was unsure if he would be able to understand Tsiolkas’ new novel. Tsiolkas, without hesitation, replied that such ignorance of the Bible as a foundational cultural text was pathetic. A non-Christian gay man defending Bible reading – I was gobsmacked!).

Reading Romans with Eastern eyes: Honour and shame in Paul’s message and mission

Here is a book I can highly commend to all as it has provided for me one of the freshest renewals of reading Scripture I’ve had for some time. The Romans Road is a well worn path and the flow of thought, turns of argument, illustrations and complications are familiar territory for me as they will be for many of you. My highlighter and notetaking tends to gravitate towards the same passages whilst I might move across other parts a little more swiftly. This is for good reason and the great history of Western exegesis is something I will continue to give thanks to God for. But it turns out that same gravitational pull has kept me from seeing the full picture of Romans. It turns out I needed some Eastern eyes to help me.

Jackson Wu’s book, Reading Romans With Eastern Eyes does exactly that. It begins with an education in what it means to view the world through Eastern eyes and then applies those eyes to Paul’s letter to the Romans and beyond. The book is not a commentary. It doesn’t go through the entirety of Romans line by line. It draws out some of the most significant insights that this perspective brings. Yet at times it does take the reader sequentially through detailed portions of Romans with the voice of a commentary. It is an uncommon and very valuable book in that regard.

ComeLetUsSingCome Let Us Sing: A Call to Musical Reformation
Robert S. Smith

Reformation. That’s a rather strong word isn’t it? Are things that bad in Australian Evangelical congregational singing that we need reformation? I suspect different readers will have different perspectives on this. Some churches have grabbed the ball and run with it in the last decade or so, seeing wonderful development of music ministries and young, gifted musicians engaging in this high-profile component of church life. Others have tended to take a more conservative approach, but have still worked to clarify their theological position with musicians and congregations, encouraging growth in music ministry where possible. Across the board though, what many churches have achieved is improvement in relation to the cringe factor. Where I visit, things seem to be better than they used to be in terms of how the music is led, how bands and small ensembles are being used, and how creativity is achieved in musical arrangements.

Still, having said all this, I am not surprised at Rob Smith’s call to reform. I feel that many Australian Evangelical churches may be missing the wood for the trees when it comes to congregational singing. I say this having worked full time as a music director in a large church for 12 years, seeing much growth in music in that time, but also an ever-growing need for growth in myself as a leader among the people of God. Ironically, we have grappled deeply with some aspects of the theology of gathering and singing, and yet, in a lot of churches, congregations still don’t seem to be singing. Or at least they don’t seem to want to be singing. The interesting qualification to this is, of course, that during the season of COVID, many evangelicals have deeply missed singing together (where it has not been possible) and have craved the days of opening our mouths together in song.

Supernatural: What the Bible teaches about the unseen world—and why it mattersSupernatural

There’s nothing like your first year as an incumbent to send you scurrying to the Christian bookstore, desperate to upskill yourself in the many issues pertinent your new congregation’s life. Relationship counselling, grief and loss, deconstruction of faith, power dynamics, family systems, staffing for growth, managing a team, persistence in prayer—I’ve felt the need to learn and grow in all of these areas, and more. A specific need in my new context has been confidence in engaging with the unseen or supernatural realm. My faith heritage hasn’t been closed to such things, but I always want, as I suspect you do, as much Biblical support for my ministry methods as I can get before I’m willing to roll something out “from the front.”


Enter Supernatural by Michael S. Heiser. The clean, modern cover claims: “What the Bible teaches about the unseen world—and why it matters.” Michael Heiser was FaithLife Corporation’s (Logos Bible Software) Theologian-in-Residence but apart from that, he doesn’t have a particularly remarkable pedigree. Supernatural is one of three short books distilling his original academic work The Unseen Realm (Lexham Press, 2015). The longer book is not inaccessible and does provide good background, but it still doesn’t answer every critique you might have of Supernatural, or its fellows, Angels (2018) and Demons (2020). However, Heiser also has a very generous web presence, with full text of many academic articles freely available for those wanting to explore further.