I’m very excited to do the interview today because our guest today is Natasha Moore from the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX). And she is one of the hosts of the Life and Faith podcast, which I listened to all the time. And if you don’t listen, you really should, because it is absolutely excellent. And Natasha has done some very interesting interviews that I have enjoyed very muchly. And she came to Hobart earlier this year, and I went along to listen to her talk. And then I nabbed her afterwards and said, would you come on my little podcast? And she said, yes. So you’re very welcome, Natasha.
Thanks for coming. So we’ll start where we always start. How did you become a Christian?
So I always believed in God. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. In some ways I was quite a solemn, pious child. I kind of you know, I think I was a bit intense and I was big bookworm. And I’d read my Bible sometimes and we were sort of sometimes churchgoing family on and off. But then kind of when I started high school, I … we weren’t going to church anymore and I became more interested in other things. I just wanted to be popular and liked and, you know, enjoy things. And then when I was in year nine so I was 14 and we kind of made the decision as a family to start going along to this other church, which had a big youth group. You know, I had a friend at school who was part of the youth group her dad was the minister at this church. And that was kind of the place where I first looked around. You know, I when I joined a Bible study with a bunch of other 14 year old girls and a bit like, you know, I believe in God and they believe in God. But it kind of seems to make a difference to their life that they do. And I don’t think that’s true for me. So I was sort of figuring out what that difference was. And that was in the middle of that year. I went on a church camp where the talks were basically two ways to live, the classic presentation of the gospel from creation onwards. And everything kind of clicked into place for me. And I was like, oh, well, if this is what this is, then it’s kind of all or nothing. And so I want to be all in. And I, you know, prayed one night. It was the 17th of July, nineteen ninety eight. And I gave my life to Jesus.
It’s fantastic. Church camps are amazing. They’re really important.
And it’s so awesome that you know the actual date.
We have an anniversary, me and Jesus.
That’s so cool. And so I was there a time later on in your adult life where you felt like you had to recommit or make that decision more solid, I guess?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, you know, you’re kind of growing and changing all the time. There’s no such thing as a static faith. You’re kind of either like a few steps backwards or forwards. And I mean, the time that I think of particularly I was living in the U.K. and I kind of got to a point where I’d been a Christian for, I guess, about 10 years.
And I was like, I believe this to be true. And I also believe these things I say, like, being a Christian is not about kind of living in a particular way. It’s about a relationship with Jesus. And I believed things like, you know, God is the most satisfying thing in the world. Like, he’s the he’s where we get our joy. I like I believed these things intellectually, but I was like, I’m not really feeling that. I don’t know how much I experience that relationship if I’m honest with myself. And so I kind of went through this time of like, well, you know, I have strong desires for stuff. And like, if my experience doesn’t match that sense of God is the one who will satisfy my desires, like most fundamentally, then this is not going to stick, you know, for the long haul.
And so going through a period of like, okay, well, what does it mean to really have a personal love for Jesus and for that relationship to be a real experiential, you know, reality in my life? So that was kind of a really formative period for me as well.
So how do you go from that head knowledge to heart knowledge? Did you just like study the Bible more or was it a church thing?
Yeah. Yeah. No, it wasn’t.
I mean, it is kind of, the thing with me is I really like books. Books are really central to my life in lots of ways.
And my solution to almost anything is, oh, surely that’s a book I can read that will kind of fix this for me. Right. And like, they’re generally like, that’s not the whole answer. But I kind of. One of the things is that I started writing about spiritual disciplines.
So this was just not a feature [in my life]. You know, I became a Christian in a kind of conservative evangelical church. It was really strong on kind of like getting the Bible right and head knowledge. You know, that was really helpful and formative.
But there was kind of a sense of like, oh, if you read your Bible and you pray for a bit every morning and you go to church, then that’s like those are the those are the things Christians doing. That’s the sum total of kind of, you know, your experience of God. And, you know, digging into writings about spiritual disciplines made me go, actually, there’s this whole array of practices and habits that Christians have had, you know. Throughout the ages that I’ve just never heard about and have not been using, so it’s kind of like incorporating, and, you know, that’s sort of the appropriate word because they’re sort of bodily practices, you know, even in prayer, like physical practices, in prayer and fasting and stuff like that. There was also this book I read, which someone gave to me, it was called Stepping Heavenward. And it’s actually a 19th century novel. It’s written as this girl’s diary from when she’s 16 until like in her 40s. And I just I loved it I’ve read it like many, many times. I’ve given it to meet many, many people. It’s sadly out of print. But you can get an e-book.
But it taught me to love Jesus like I kind of it. It just really illuminated for me. This is what it was like to live just an ordinary, everyday life and to do that with just a profound joy in personal knowledge of Christ. And so, yeah, I think just at the end of the day, like whatever that looks like in terms of reading books or doing certain practices, like it’s just seeking, right? I was seeking God and he rewards that.
Yeah. It says that in scripture, he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
There you go, I knew I got that from somewhere.
And you’re a history buff, right? Is history, your thing? Have I got that right?
Literature is my background. But you know, history involved in that.
So what does working for CPX involve for you?
So my title is Research Fellow, so research is one of the things that I do. But really, I kind of do the things we do, which is I kind of spend my time reading and thinking about things I’m interested in and then speaking and writing about things that I’m interested in, which is totally amazing. So we like we’re a media company. We want to be a Christian voice in the public square that is generous and rigorous and, you know, really kind of reaching across lines of difference and being like, hey, actually, Christianity has something to say to all of life and something to contribute to the public conversation. But yeah, that conversation is worse off if Christians aren’t saying things in it because Christian faith does conduce to human flourishing. And so, you know, everybody misses out if we’re not saying gracious true things in the public square. Not everyone agrees with that, of course. But that’s what we think. And so we want to be that. And so we do things like write articles for the media about stuff that’s going on in the news or in our culture. We have a weekly podcast, Life and Faith, I do speaking around the places like when I came to Hobart and I met you. We make documentaries and write books and all kind that thing.
It’s fantastic. It’s really good. How did you come to work for CPX?
Yeah, it’s a really good question. So I went and did a PhD in English literature. Because I love books and I then was like, okay, well, I love doing this. I’m planning to be an academic. As it turns out, there are no jobs. But you know, I was applying for academic jobs all around the world and, you know, it’s a bit of a process there’s a whole kind of market, it’s very brutal. But I was like, no, no, I’m doing that. And then so I was back home in Sydney for a bit. And this job came up as a maternity cover for a year. For my colleague Justine Toh. And I was like, oh, well, I won’t get it because I don’t have any media experience, but it’d be really cool job. And, you know, I do want to be an academic, but it’d be good to get some media experience that would help with that. Help me to do that well. And so I applied and I got it. And then it turned out to be the best job in the world.
So when they asked me to stay, I was like, I think I’ll yeah, just do that.
And Justine Toh is still there as well, which is great.
She came back. And I stayed. And actually, that’s great.
Absolutely fantastic. What have been some of your favourite interviews?
Oh, that’s a huge question.
We talk to so many amazing people. It’s one of my favourite things about this job and there are a lot of really great things about this job. So even just like if I gave you three recent ones like last week and this one hasn’t come out yet, but will early next year we spoke to a guy whose real name I can’t tell you because he works undercover. We called him Investigator V. He works at International Justice Mission and he works undercover, rescuing girls from sex trafficking and young boys from slavery on fishing boats. You know, like just this amazing work. You know, he was kind of in the Marines and worked as a cop for a long time for the FBI. And now that he’s retired, he’s doing this incredibly kind of dangerous, important work in Africa and Asia. And like, just really lovely, humble, trauma-absorbing, loves God, man. That was like a really amazing conversation.
I wanted all year to do an episode about murder mysteries, about why our culture’s so obsessed with crime. I got to talk to this cold case detective.
He was fantastic.
It was so much fun. I loved it and there was so much I had to cut out of that conversation as well to fit the podcast. And, you know, he was thirty five and he was a detective and an atheist.
And he started reading the gospels and looking at them from the perspective of a detective and being like, okay, well, this is a cold case. I know how to investigate a cold case and apply those skills, and ended up becoming a Christian.
I think the other one, there was a woman called Valerie Browning. I don’t know if you remember if you listened to this one. So she is Australian but she’s for 30 years been living among the Afar people in Ethiopia. And she was formidable. Like this, very like, you know, diminutive woman full of energy, like fierce, fierce, fierce. Yes. She’s like she married a tribesman and she lives among these people. She owns nothing. She has nearly died of like snakebite and childbirth and a civil war and very critical of kind of our Western affluent Christianity. What the church here is like, what people in this society are like. There was one point where I was like, you know, are you are you not ever afraid? And she was like, oh, no, no. I put a stop to that a long time ago.
You know, fear is a useless thing. And I was like … you’re a bit confronting.
You talk to these people living these lives. And, yeah, it does kind of put things into perspective for you a little bit.
That story of her in childbirth with, you know what did she say? My uterus was clamping down. She was just there she was just like, I’m going to die.
She nearly died.
Yeah. And that, like, there’s no question of, because, you know, I kind of go, were you never tempted to play the Western card? To be like, hey, I could airlift out of here and go home to Australia and get, you know, this kind of medical care? And she’s like, absolutely not. You know, I don’t deserve anything more than they deserve. And I’ve chosen to live my life like them. And I’m not opting out. And you know, when it’s your time to die. Then it’s your time. Yeah. She was a remarkable person.
So I get to meet some, yeah, just incredible people, and get such a window on, you know, work that’s going on all around the world in all different spheres. And to see people, you know, being so themselves, like using their gifts that whole Frederick Beuchner quote, you know, about vocation, about the place God calls you to, is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. But to see that people’s gladness, like their kind of loves and gifts and where the need is and those things matching up, is just really breathtaking.
Yeah, absolutely. And I. It feels like you’re in the same sort of place in your work.
Oh, well, yeah, I mean, I do feel incredibly blessed to be able to do the work that I do, but I kind of, yeah, I don’t think of it in the same category as these people because I suppose this feels in some ways a bit parasitic that I’m like, oh, well we just tell the stories of all these other things like these.
You know, for the last few years we worked on this documentary and then I’ve just brought out the book For The Love of God How the Church is better and worse than you ever imagined, which is all about like, does religion poison everything, all these terrible things Christians have done. But also all these amazing things that Christians have done when they have been following Jesus. And, you know, looking at that, it’s like, well, I’m no Florence Nightingale or William Wilberforce.
But I get to spend my time kind of communicating to people what that looks like and what they went through. And so, yeah, my job, it’s a lot easier.
There’s a little bit less suffering involved. I know that feeling.
But it is, you know. Yeah.
So I always ask people how their faith shows through their work. But it seems pretty obvious to me you’re almost a missionary.
Yeah. I kind of I I never quite know how to characterise [it] people are kind of like, oh, you in your ministry. And I kind of go, oh, I’m not in ministry. That’s not really how I think of it.
But it is a you know, I spend my time trying to look at everything that’s going on, in our kind of culture and world through the lens of my faith, which all Christians try to do, we’re all, everyone’s looking at the world through the lens of who they are. And then being like, okay, how can I communicate that to people who see the world differently in a way that really kind of invites them in? And goes, oh, so that’s how the world looks from the perspective of someone who follows Jesus, someone who believes in God and to see how that’s a beautiful and compelling place to be.
So, yeah, faith is pretty central to what we do here.
And you talk in high schools and things as well.
I often get to speak in schools. Often I am … One of the talks that I’ve given in a few places is about freedom of speech and disagreeing well. Which is a big topic for our culture at the moment. They kind of think that saying, oh, I disagree with you means I hate you. And that makes it quite difficult to live in a pluralist society well.
So yeah, going round and being like, actually kids, this is why we need to give each other freedom to speak and to believe as we choose and how we can do that well and how actually the Christian faith offers some really great resources for doing that. So, yeah, that’s one of the talks that I give to students. And, you know, because it’s really like it’s their generation and particularly kind of at the university level where a lot of these debates are at their kind of pointyest.
So I really value the opportunity to speak to kind of, you know, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen year olds about where this is headed and give them some tools to kind of navigate that.
Lovely. I have a question here. I know I gave you before so I’m going to give it to you, even though it sounds a bit silly now. But if someone wanted to do similar work to you, what path would you suggest they take?
Yeah. I don’t know.
You know, I kind of think of that like my job as a bit of a miracle. And I could never have planned to do this because it sort of doesn’t exist outside of, what I’m part of it, but I think the best advice I could give would just be to pursue what’s on your heart, to pursue and learn to do that well.
And, you know, if you’re a Christian, you can kind of trust God that he has plans for that. And those might not be straightforward and they might not be exactly what you want or plan for.
But, you know, he’s pretty good at distributing resources and figuring out where to put his children. So, yeah, I think like going and doing a literature PhD wouldn’t have been the thing you plan to do if you wanted to work for the Centre for Public Christianity. But that’s how it played out for me. So the answer is, I don’t know.
Fantastic. I thought that might be the answer but I wanted to ask it anyway. When do you feel close to God?
You know, I think the answer to this has been changing for me. You know, I go through periods where I don’t feel close to God at all. You know, that’s not always like a central or constant element of my experience as a Christian, but I think I used to mostly when I felt close to God. It was in a personal devotional setting, like in prayer, in reading my Bible, in kind of spiritual practices. And it’s not that that’s not true anymore. But I think particularly over the last few years and in the church community that I’m in now, I think I’ve learned a lot more how communal the Christian life is. And that often, you know, I’ve had a few kind of Christian friends who have, you know, like their default is much more in the community, like the communal experience of God. And so we’ve kind of helped to bring out the opposite in each other. Often my personal experience of God and my feeling close to him, has much more been in prayer and the word and in Sunday services with other Christians that almost that’s been in the space between us more than me locked in my metaphorical closet alone with God.
I think that’s something we can learn a lot from other cultures. Is that more communal side of things we’re just so individualistic and it’s not the whole of the story.
No, not at all. Like we have, you know, we reflect God to one another. And if we’re doing it on our own, then there’s all these facets we’re missing because he, he offers himself to each one of us, I think, slightly differently and wants us to reflect that all around so you get like a fuller picture. So, you know, really encountering him in other people, and through them.
It’s a very nice picture. I like that. Not to mention all the character growth opportunities that you get in community that you don’t get any other way.
So what’s one thing about God or Christianity that you wish everybody knew?
I think I’d really like both for people who are Christians and for people who very much aren’t or are even quite hostile to it. I’d really like for people to know that whatever else it is, it’s not boring. That we have a way. Dorothy Sayers the writer and detective novelist and so on. She has this great passage where she talks about how the Christian gospel is actually the greatest drama ever staged, and that it’s amazing that we’ve actually managed a lot of ways to kind of pare the claws of the lion of Judah and tame him, like certify him meek him mild and make him a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies, and that that is not the Jesus of the gospel.
That if if our picture of Christianity or our experience of it is of something smooth and respectable and comfortable, then we’re missing most of what’s actually going on there. Because it’s not smooth and it’s not comfortable. It’s actually pretty radical and subversive.
And if I’ve kind of slotted it nicely into my life, then, yeah, there’s something big there I’m not really paying attention to. So I think, you know, I don’t want. I don’t want us to be offensive as Christians, you know by being jerks or whatever. But actually the gospel. If it’s the scandal of grace that is offensive. Like the gospel is surprising. And if people are like, oh, it’s kind of boring and not worth paying attention to. Then we’re doing it wrong.
Absolutely, could not agree more. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
You know, I never really give a talk or, you know, almost write anything without quoting my favourite author, more or less my favourite these days.
So I really feel like I should talk about her or I haven’t really been honest with you in this podcast, which is Marilynne Robinson. I don’t know if you know Marilynne Robinson.
I do not.
She’s she’s an American writer. She is a Christian. But she writes for a very secular audience. She wrote a series of novels, one called Gilead, which won the Pulitzer. And it’s just this beautiful novel about this like pastor in the middle of nowhere in the 1950s. And he’s this beautiful character. And just the picture of faith that presents is so compelling and so, you know.
It’s not propaganda. It’s just this kind of really honest picture of grace in a person’s life. And she’s written all these wonderful essays as well. So actually I have, one of her a quote from her stuck on a Post-it note up on my computer screen, because, you know, I work in media and I spend a lot of time reading things about like Christians and Christianity in the media. That can be a little frustrating. And she has a quote about how she reminds us that, like basically about people being made in God’s image, that everyone is deserving of respect.
And she says to value one another is our greatest safety and to indulge in fear and contempt is our gravest error.
To value one another is our greatest safety, to indulge in fear and contempt is our gravest error. And I just like that’s a reminder, I need all the time to be like, yeah, God loves every person, values every person so deeply. That’s how we need to treat each other, which is such a good reminder, I think, in particularly out online kind of outrage culture. But that’s what I want to do, treat everybody as worthy of respect and love.
Absolutely. I’m just thinking I’ll put Gilead on my Christmas list because I had heard about it, but. Lovely. Well, thank you so much for sharing with us today. It’s been fantastic.
Thanks for having me. Thanks for the chat.