Book Review - Living a Life under God's calling: Captains of the Soul

Book Review: Captains of the Soul by Michael Gladwin

A review of Michael Gladwin’s book "Captains of the Soul" by Jonathan Bailey

(Jonathan Bailey graduated from the University of Western Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts in History, Politics and Philosophy and a Master of Teaching in the secondary years of schooling. He teaches History at Redeemer Baptist School.)

The book, ‘Captains of the Soul’ by Michael Gladwin, is the first official historical account of the formation and activities of the Australian Army Chaplains Department and is included in ‘The Australian Army History Collection’. This is an exciting book and is unique because it is an official account of Christianity in public life in Australia, written historically and based on well-documented sources.

Gladwin’s book strikes an easy balance between historical facts about Australian army operations and moving accounts of the ways in which chaplains have functioned in the midst of those operations. Each chapter follows a regular pattern that naturally progresses from details of the conditions the army were fighting in, then onto a description of the roles of the chaplains collectively, often telling of the individual efforts of chaplains in each theatre of war. This has the effect of setting the actions of the chaplains against the background of the conflicts the army was involved in, which makes the work of the chaplains stand out.

What is refreshing is the tone that Gladwin adopts. Gladwin is not pushing an agenda nor stretching his sources to prove a point. He chooses to report what is preserved in the historical record and does not try to make strained connections between the facts and the narrative that he is constructing. This makes Gladwin’s book approachable and assists the credibility of its tone.

One aspect of this work that I was not prepared for was the way it hit me spiritually. Implicit in Gladwin’s account is the idea that the chaplains were extraordinary because they were willing to go beyond their prescribed duties and make themselves available to help the soldiers with whom they served. As a teacher, that says something profound to me about how our Christianity should be expressed in our profession. There are many examples in this book of how the practical assistance given by the chaplains was the first step in a soldier’s journey of faith. That is how a Christian teacher should affect their workplace. Gladwin describes the Chaplain’s primary concern as making Christ attractive, and that is also how we should serve in our classrooms.

This book has the potential to achieve a large audience. It would easily accommodate readers who are interested in Australian army history as well as amateur or academic historians searching for particular details. The wide appeal of the work derives from the way in which Gladwin mixes the big picture history of war and world events with the personal accounts of those caught up in the middle of the mess of human conflict. Aside from anything else, this book should remind us that no matter how much the world around us goes out of control, God stands sovereign over it all and does not fail to provide help to those who seek Him.

Jonathan Bailey