Tim Costello
A Lot With A Little
Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne, Australia, 2019

ISBN-13: 978-1743795521

A Lot With A Little

 

"A lively and interesting read, A Lot With A Little provides new insights into Costello's life and his calling to become one of Australia's most prominent Christian voices in the public sphere. It shows how his heart for justice has led him to some fascinating, sometimes surprising, sometimes tragic and, yes, sometimes inspiring places as he had pursued and wrestled with what it means to live out the Gospel in the world today."

Many Australians will be well aware of the public profile of iconic Australian Christian activist Tim Costello. This book, while partly about his work in the public sphere, provides some insights into the man behind the public face as it details the journey of how Costello came to be one of Australia's most recognised voices on issues ranging from global poverty and disaster response to gambling and support for the marginalised in Australian communities. And, of course, his Christian faith plays a central role throughout.

Costello warns us upfront though, that this is a memoir rather than a biography. "It is an explanation of my life thus far and, as such, is not exhaustive, nor does it draw neat themes to neat conclusions in the way of an autobiography," he writes in the preface, adding a little later that while he's aware of a "public" and a "personal" Tim Costello, he's also aware of a "private Tim Costello", "some aspects of which I have chosen not to reveal". 

Starting with a detailed look at the lives of his parents and some earlier ancestors, the book then charts Costello's journey from his "idyllic" childhood in suburban Melbourne with his younger brother Peter - whose quick-thinking would eventually lead him to serve as Australia's Federal Treasurer. In these pages he speaks of a "carefree time" - including "footy mad" weekends - in a family where his parents, who "knew the value of tribe", modelled generosity in a lifestyle that was "counter-cultural" to the materialism so common in society then and now.

Costello writes of how he has "drawn sustenance" over his journey from the Catholic faith of his father's family (although his father himself had become an evangelical Protestant) which valued family above all and saw God primarily as a Father and the Protestant Presbyterian faith of his mother's family which seemed to understand God more as a judge than a father and in which "conscience and ethical action could trump even family loyalty".

In his later teenage years, Costello says, he sensed his father steering him into "Christian service and ministry" - he preached his first sermon at age 15 and started regularly preaching in the open air at age 17. It was to be the beginning of a life of public speaking.

Costello goes on to cover his time at Monash University, his marriage to Merridie and his early years as a lawyer. A key episode in his life takes place in 1980 when he and Merridie, fuelled by "risk and idealism", head to Switzerland to study at a Baptist seminary above Lake Zurich. There, they took part in communal learning that Costello says "revived and deepened" them and "helped us understand how radical and fresh this gospel message really is".

Returning eventually to Australia with their infant daughter Claire (two sons, Elliot and Martin would follow) now in tow, Costello, ordained as an  Baptist minister, took up a position at the tiny St Kilda Baptist Church in Mebourne in a role which saw him combining pastoral ministry with the practice of law. The book then covers his time there - including his period as the last Mayor of St Kilda, his subsequent work at Collins Street Baptist Church in the city and his advocacy work including as CEO at World Vision Australia (a role which he held from 2004 until 2016 after which he briefly served in the role of "chief advocate").

Along the way we're given glimpses into his relationships with his parents - particularly his, at times, difficult relationship with his father - as well as his famous and much commented upon relationship with his brother Peter. And, of course, we're led into a deeper understanding of how Costello's experiences and encounters have inspired and changed him as well as the impact they've had upon those around him, including, importantly, Merridie and his children (the book is actually dedicated to his first grandchild, Winifred Grace). 

A lively and interesting read, A Lot With A Little provides new insights into Costello's life and his calling to become one of Australia's most prominent Christian voices in the public sphere. It shows how his heart for justice has led him to some fascinating, sometimes surprising, sometimes tragic, and, yes, sometimes inspiring places as he had pursued and wrestled with what it means to live out the Gospel, to live out Christian ethics, in the world today.

Tim Costello is a member of Sight's Advisory Board.