Onward Christian (Happy, Friendly) Soldiers

The days are long gone since the average church goer sang “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war”, and that’s probably a good thing.

But after reading Greg Sheridan’s new book: God is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times, I warm to the idea of being a warrior. A happy, friendly warrior I might add.

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Sheridan is the Foreign Editor of The Australian newspaper, and this latest book was launched in Canberra by the Prime Minister (INSERT SOME OBSCURE BACKBENCHER’S NAME HERE) a few weeks ago. 

And it’s a great book, full of interviews with major Australian politicians, pithy insights, honest admissions about the Church’s failures, intellectual conclusions and a wonderful overview of the history of Christianity in the West and why it’s worthy of celebrating (and keeping).

Former Opposition Leader, and now Governor of Western Australia, Kim Beazley, writes of it: “A beautiful piece of writing. It is subtle in argument, generous in its breadth.”

And Sheridan concludes his book with a rousing call for Christians in these hardening secular times, to fulfil the task of being a confident and creative minority.  He finishes with these words:

Finally, in all this, Christians should be happy warriors, even friendly warriors.  They need to be as determined as their enemies, but much kinder.  All of this is no easy task, but Christianity wasn’t meant to be easy.  Not having a shot is the worst alternative.  As G.K. Chesterton remarked, anything that is really worth doing is worth doing badly (as opposed to not at all.  

There is no formula for success. But Christians have the single great advantage that they are trying to tell the truth.

Keep trying.

I confess to having no small interest in the book as Greg came to Perth last November to, among other things, interview me and my church planting mate, Rory Shiner, for this new book (you can find us on the well thumbed pp277-283 in my copy, proving the theological maxim that the definition of sin is the heart turn in on itself).

What struck me when Greg was here in November, and again throughout the book, is just how robust he is about stating the truth in the public square, with neither fear nor rancour.  At an event we put together in a packed pub, he implored the mainly young crowd to not be afraid to push into conflict; to meet the challenge head on that the Christian framework was facing.  But to do so with grace and a steady hand.

In other words, be happy, friendly warriors.  As determined as our enemies, but much kinder.

What I like about Greg’s book, and it is written by a self-confessed ropey Catholic, is how he avoids the shibboleths of the many Christian books on the state of Christianity in the West that bend the bookcases in Koorong, but which, unlike his book, will never see the light of day in the book-chains, and certainly won’t be launched by the Prime Minister.

He’s open and honest about the state of play.  He doesn’t downplay the fact that we will have enemies, or that we currently do, and he sees clearly that there is a growing hostility towards the Christian faith that no amount of good works, acts of social justice, claims to love a person beyond their sexual identity, will ever appease.

There are some people you will never appease.  They’re called your enemies.  Don’t be more pious than Jesus.  You have enemies, and if you stick with him in this increasingly hostile age, you will gather more.

That was important for a room of, mainly, young evangelicals who are just starting out in the professional world to hear.  Their heritage was mostly the types of churches in which in-your-face-enemies did not exist.  Too often they’ve been bred on a diet of being nice on the surface and it will be okay.  And when it isn’t, it’s disconcerting.  I want there to be a bunch of happy, friendly 50 year old Christian warriors who are willing to say to those young people facing the front lines “We’ve got your back.”

Be determined.  Stick to your guns.  Hold the line: it is not hateful, evil or toxic to do so.  Your enemies, after all, will stick to their lines.  It’s called being determined.  And you can both out-determine them, and out love them even while they hate you.

Determined as your enemies, only much kinder.

The irony is that, despite the loss of a song such as Onward Christian Soldiers, we live in the age of the warrior; the keyboard warrior who can spite vitriol, the eco-warrior, the culture-warrior, the political-warrior – they’re all there and they are just as determined.  What they often lack is the kindness that comes from the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

We are to be the happy, friendly warriors, who, as Greg has discovered in the 25 years of the cut and thrust of foreign affairs and political intrigue, are a rare commodity, but a much needed one.

Greg’s going to be back in Perth for a local launch of his book in a couple of weeks.  The event was booked out in no time.  Seems like he might have struck a chord.

I will review the book in toto in the next week or so.