Black sheep and prodigals by Dave Tomlinson
Jesus called people to a way of life - but does Christianity lose its distinctive in Tomlinson's deliberations?
Black sheep and prodigals
By Dave Tomlinson
ISBN No:978-1-473-61104 7
Reviewed by: Martin Poole
Dave Tomlinson continues his reactionary writings in his latest book by stating that Jesus called people to a way of life, not a creed. “Creeds are after all only provisional attempts at truth,” and should be viewed rather as an evolving conversation. An example of where this approach leads Dave is in his examination of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. “Far too much of Christianity amounts to poking around in the bones of encrusted beliefs and rituals, instead of finding the real presence of Christ in the most surprising places and forms in the most unexpected people.”
The book then highlights some of these encrusted beliefs that are seen as religious refuse and quickly bins them. The high view of scripture as God’s word held by most evangelical Christians is shredded. The doctrine of the Fall of mankind is rewritten to become an exercise in reverse psychology by a God who wants his creation to eat from the tree of knowledge and mature or graduate from a paradise outgrown rather than a paradise lost. The idea of original sin is summarily dispensed with and replaced by a belief in original goodness, which doesn’t really explain why all humans know what it is to do wrong. The view of Jesus dying in our place and taking on himself the sin of the world - substitutionary atonement – comes under the heading of cosmic child abuse.
However if we accept that Christianity is both belief and life i.e. Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy then despite the short shrift given to orthodoxy, which many will find too much, we can discern in Dave’s teaching on living the life, that there is much to profitably reflect upon. Threaded through the book are stories of those who would describe themselves as prodigals now reunited in a vibrant Christian experience but sitting lightly on orthodox beliefs. Taking his cue from the gospels Dave robustly argues against any sort of “them and us approach”, repeatedly citing Jesus eating and meeting with the outcasts and sinners. The emphasis on the gospels rather than the rest of the New Testament perhaps accounts for the swift despatch of creedal beliefs. “A religion based on required beliefs is no longer viable”. Instead we need “a way to be in the world”.
The end result of Dave’s deliberations is, from this reviewer’s perspective, that Christianity loses its distinctive and is seen as one with any number of faiths or philosophies which endorse the so-called Golden Rule of life “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you”. Whether that is enough or a dumbing down of belief in Christ, is for the reader to judge. One thing is for sure, Dave’s black sheep wanderings will challenge your thinking!
The Revd Martin Poole is a retired Baptist minister (Penarth, Godalming and Eastleigh Baptist Churches)