AUSTRALIAN SPIRITUALITY: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
March 1, 2016
This is a summary of David Turnbull’s presentation on Australian Spirituality on the 25th February 2016. A video of his presentation will be available from our You Tube site.
My personal cross-cultural journey over five decades has established my belief that evangelism and apologetics are influenced by the context and require a cross-cultural communication framework. The goal is twofold –
- Reduce the noise that prevents the hearing of the message, and
- Present the message in a manner (verbal and non-verbal) that enables the audience/hearers/respondents to decode what was encoded rather than block the message through the heavy use of filters.
Paul’s provides insights in Acts 17.
Analyzing Australian spirituality, therefore, is a vital component for the apologetic communication process. Spirituality is the preferred term rather than religion, although related. Religion is about organized beliefs and practices of a given group. To be religious does not necessarily mean being spiritual. Spirituality refers to the connection to something beyond ourselves and informs meaning and purpose in life. For understanding Australian spirituality a number of methods are available such as
- reading sociologists like Gary Bouma, Hugh Mackay and David Tacey;
- reading contemporary Australian literature;
- learning with and from people from different spiritual communities;
- research and surveys such as those conducted by Mark McCrindle;
- social media;
- films and music.
There are so many variables that make generalizing about spirituality in Australia impossible –
- individual variations and diverse expressions,
- socio-economic factors,
- multiculturalism and
- generational differences, to name a few.
What lies on the shelves of the Australian spiritual supermarket? A spirituality revolution is taking place in Australia, having started in the 1970s and gained momentum in the Internationalist era post 1985. In saying this Australia is not alone. Shoppers’ needs vary depending on how they respond to religion and spirituality. There are
- those who generally reject religion,
- those who support Christianity, and
- those who ascribe to other religious faiths and New Age related practices.
Understanding the different options must not just focus on the behaviors, but on the worldview perspectives from which the beliefs and values stem, which leads to the behaviors and visible practices.
Four main sections exist in the spiritual supermarket.
- The Christian section is around 60%, a key player at present still but has been declining since 1971. Actual church attendance is very low. The surveys of Australia reflect this decline in knowledge about Christianity and the changing scene. The other 40% is shared by:
- those within the New Age Movement,
- those within other major religions who have primarily come through immigration, and
- those who state they have no religion (about 50% of this group), possibly from a secular humanistic, atheistic or postmodern worldview.
With these changes there are some core features about Australian spirituality coming through. These include
- the privatization and individualization of the spiritual beliefs and practices;
- the development of post-tradition and post structural beliefs and practices;
- the consumer approach to the selection of spiritual beliefs and practices from the supermarket shelves;
- the desire for no accountability to a supreme being;
- the increased focus on the need for tolerance as all paths lead to the same destination; and
- the demise of the focus on mystery.
For the Christian community these changes reflect Australians making decisions about Christianity and critiquing the institutional nature of Christianity. Some questions need to be explored from within the Christian community.
- Where does the Church stand?
- Are these challenges a threat to Christianity or provide opportunities to engage?
- If the church does not engage, what are the consequences?
What then is the way forward? Being prepared requires
- a willingness to pray and seek God’s power and intervention;
- rediscovering Jesus and the Gospel;
- engaging the critique (narrative and dialogue);
- proclaiming testimonies and contextual messages;
- acting credibly and authentically with integrity;
- relating beyond our own comfort zone;
- embracing God’s activity in the world; and
- developing healthy values and resilience (breaking the suburban captivity of the church).
Is the Christian community able to rise to the task? With God there is hope but the process will be challenging and will involve renewal and all the nations working together. There are plenty examples in Scripture for us to use as a guide.
 Gary Bouma, Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the 21st Century (Port Melbourne, VIC: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
 Hugh McKay, Advance Australia Where? How We’ve Changed; Why We’ve Changed and What Will Happen Next (Sydney: Hachette Australia, 2007).
 David Tacey, The Spirituality Revolution: The Emergence of Contemporary Spirituality (Sydney: Harper Collins, 2003).
 Philip Hughes, Shaping Australia’s Spirituality: A Review of Christian Ministry in the Australian Context (Preston, VIC: Mosaic Press, 2010).
 http://www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?sitemapid=50; http://www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?sitemapid=2336; http://mccrindle.com.au/the-mccrindle-blog/spirituality-and-christianity-in-australia-today; Peter Kaldor, Philip Hughes and Alan Black, Spirit Matters: How Making Sense of Life Affects Wellbeing (Preston, VIC: Mosaic Press, 2010).
 Tim Foster, The Suburban Captivity of the Church (Moreland, VIC: Acorn Press, 2014).