Joy Cullen: The Reverend George Cox: ‘A Man of Many Parts’, p/b, Mornington & District Historical Society, 2019

Teacher and historian Joy Cullen has uncovered a remarkablestory with her investigation into the “Renaissance life” of  the Gippsland clergyman, fire-fighting, naturalist, historian and community leader the Reverend George Cox. Cox was a parochial reader in Coalville Narracan and Mirboo North before being ordained deacon and priest in 1899 at Mirboo North and later St Mary’s Caulfield. In 1908 he returned to Gippsland and served as rector of Neerim South from 1908 – 1910 and at Yarram Yarram District from 1910 – 1915 when he enlisted in the AIF and served as a staff sergeant and unofficial padre in the Langwarrin Camp isolation hospital. Cox “retired” from the ministry due to ill health after the war but continued to serve in many effective ways in the parish of St Peter’s Mornington for 27 years until his death in 1946

What is remarkable about this man is the combination of his outstanding leadership and vocational evangelistic ministry skills which included running scout groups, youth groups, camping trips and his own outstanding tenor singing. His much loved parish ministry would be a good story in itself but Cox had two other  consuming passions.

Cox was a quite remarkable scientific field naturalist and fossil collector and his  notes and presentations on the flora, fauna and geology of both Gippsland and the Mornington Peninsula illustrated with his “powerful electric lantern with micro projection”, his formation of a children’s naturalist club and his notes and many contributions to The Victorian Naturalist are now held by the State Library of Victoria.

Quite separate from these activities Cox was an outstanding historian of early Gippsland and the  Mornington Peninsula. Cullen notes that his curiosity, research skills and energy resulted in an ongoing association with the History Society of Melbourne [Now the Royal Historical Society of Victoria] as well as the History Society of Melbourne where he read many formal papers. Cullen notes that Cox had an evidenced-based approach to history which was based on independent research (and which sometimes led into serious arguments)  and his cautious approach to premature publication demonstrated his care for accuracy and the avoidance of personal bias. A mark of Cox’s significance as a Gippsland historian was his invitation by Albert E Clark to Cox to write the Preface to his history of the Church in Gippsland, The Church of our Fathers. 

This remarkable little booklet comes with many beautifully presented photographs and detailed references.  George Cox was a true blue Aussie polymath and Renaissance man. This is a story to inspire and encourage all Gippslanders today as we continue to fight those fires, both literally and spiritually.

Timothy Keller: The Reason For God: Belief in God in an Age of Scepticism, p/b, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2009

Timothy Keller founded the extraordinarily popular Manhattan Redeemer Presbyterian Church which spawned a significant number of similar centres in New York and elsewhere. He now leads Redeemer City to City which trains pastors for ministry in cities globally.

The Reason for God is a thoughtful and demanding read in which he takes on the current Western culture of scepticism and indeed persecution of Christian faith in the Western world. The first seven chapters deal with common critiques of C21st Christian faith:

There can’t be just One true religion

How could a good God allow suffering?

Christianity is a straitjacket

The church is responsible for so much injustice

How can a loving God send people to Hell?

Science has disproved Christianity  and

You can’t take the Bible literally.

The second half of the book argues for the validity of seven reasons for faith:

– The clues in the world and in mankind that God exists

– How can we have any knowledge of God?

– The horror of human evil and inhumanity alongside the common view that the concept of sin is offensive and/or ludicrous to many

  • The key difference between Christianity and all other world faiths ..all other major faiths have founders who are teachers who show the way to salvation. Only Jesus claimed to actually be the way of salvation hiimself. 
  • The story and validity of the Cross
  • The reality of the Resurrection
  • The dance of God.

Much of Keller’s argument is based on actual conversations held with attendees, both believers and non-believers, of Manhattan Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Some chapters of this book are more difficult than others. The whole book is pitched at the level of an educated enquirer and it demands careful and logical thought. It would be ideal as a study book for seekers and it comes with careful referencing, additional detailed notes and a very useful index. I have read many books of apologetics in my life. This one would have to be in the top two or three.   5 stars and rising.

Amy Carmichael: “If”, London, S.P.C.K, 1963

This little book has been with me in times of spiritual need for well over fifty years. Born out of the pressures and challenges of Amy Carmichael’s selfless ministry in creating and working faithfully in the Dohnavur Fellowship in India, “If” is a very personal meditation on Calvary Love…the greatest love of all is not a pop song as it turns out but the love of Jesus of Nazareth for the world demonstrated on a lonely garden in Gethsemane and an even lonelier  cross on a hill outside Jerusalem. 

If”  contains a set of gently worded but spiritually demanding, honest and deeply personal questionings of our spiritual thought life and habits (many of them common and unhelpful habits). It is not attacking writing. It is a meditation, for self examination, for reflection, for self-knowledge, for self-repair and finally for the comfort that only the Holy Spirit can bring. 

The realisation that the greatest spiritual leaders and healers are after all only human and in need of forgiveness encourages us to pause, ponder and re-engage the heartbeat of our own spiritual journey.  There are books we always come back to. This one is a keeper.