empowered by the spirit for mission

Re-Enchanting Christianity by Dave Tomlinson

Dave Tomlinson’s book Re-Enchanting Christianity is fascinating. I might not agree with all of it but I find it thought provoking.

Dave Tomlinson’s journey into a second naivety

Dave’s spiritual journey is an interesting one. After being one of the leading figures in the house church movement of the 70s he became very disenchanted with a lot of the trite oversimplification of the Christian faith that he encountered in some charismatic and evangelical quarters. This led him towards the Anglican Church, to establish an alternative worship community Holy Joes in the 90s and to write about his unease with evangelicalism, particularly in the light of today’s postmodern culture, in The Post Evangelical.

In Re-Enchanting Christianity he continues this journey. But where the Post Evangelical outlined his disenchantment Dave Tomlinson is now much more positive. Taking Paul Ricoeur’s idea of ‘second naivety’ he sees his deconstruction of faith as a precursor to a deeper more mature faith. Rather than staying at a level of taking everything at face value as difficulties come we begin to look more deeply and have to cope with knocks to our faith and the ensuing doubts. Though some have turned their backs on God at such points Dave outline’s a way forward. A synthesis of doubt and faith, he argues can lead to a second innocence of a new simple faith and love for God embracing this issues more comfortably.

Re-Enchanting Christianity points out how the church can be relevant today. In a time when people are no less spiritual what is needed Dave argues is an inclusive faith that addresses people’s spiritual needs without seeing them as potential converts. Hence the church can be a place where people can come with their doubts and questions and be accepted where they are at. If we are all on a spiritual journey learning and growing together then the invitation is simply to travel with us.

Isn’t this just liberal theology?

There is much that is challenging and liberating that rings a chord with my spiritual yearnings. However I wonder if this is as creative and original as it claims or is Dave’s path towards greater latitude and tolerance one that many Anglicans have trod before? On one level you could see Re-Enchanting Christianity as simply a literature review of a few liberal texts which he uses to question some precious evangelical doctrines. But Dave denies taking a liberal stance instead he refers to himself as “progressive orthodox”. Also Dave is not just an intellectual but has a wealth of pastoral experience. He draws from his experiences as a parish priest in North London, and is able to convey some deep ideas in a very down to earth manner.

After carefully reading of this book again I have concluded that Dave Tomlinson does hold fast to the central doctrines of Christianity despite what some reviewers have said. He accepts the Trinity, the central place of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the necessity of the experience of the Holy Spirit. While he maintains the idea that Christ atones for our sins but rather than taking a penal substation view he takes a view more akin to the Christus Victor model and has a great sympathy for the moral example idea. While this may be a position that is becoming increasingly acceptable among evangelicals it is some of his other doctrinal interpretations – such as those of the virgin birth and Jesus resurrection – that may be open to being misunderstood and be dismissed as going to far by many evangelicals. He also has an annoying habit of throwing in comments that appear to be there just to shock evangelicals.

Or is it kingdom theology?

Despite these problems there is much to commend in this book. For instance Dave is passionate about the importance of a kingdom orientation to Christian mission. God is interested in empowering the whole person, their interactions with the community and wider society. But that does not mean that God has abandoned the church – far from it. He sees the church with renewed hope as a group of journeying towards God by for example rediscovering the meanings in rituals and liturgy. He sees God’s heart for the church is to be a community that is open to and warmly embraces the world which it finds itself. As Christians we are to have a positive influence in this world by for example caring for the earth, making poverty history, combating AIDS, supporting fair trade, opposing prejudice and standing up for peace and social justice.

Engage with this book – don’t just accept it

Overall I found Re-Enchanting Christianity an interesting and inspiring read. But it was not a book that I could just relax and enjoy. I found myself engaging with the book, arguing with the author, sometimes reassessing my own thoughts on issues and other times just flatly disagreeing. Unless you are prepared to do this don’t read this book.

July 24, 2012 at 6:00 pm Comments (0)

What If Greenbelt And Spring Harvest Merged?

What would it be like if these two major Christian events merged? Spring Harvest tends to attract the evangelical charismatic types whereas Greenbelt emphasises missional living, social justice and a less in your face approach to Christianity. So this got me thinking that result of the merger might be rather CharisMissional.

Greenbeltdid once explore a partnership with Spring Harvest developing a Youth event called Freestate during its financial difficulties in 1999. However was abandoned andGreenbeltmoved to its new site at Cheltenham Racecourse from which it has moved from strength to strength.

How Do Greenbelt And Spring Harvest Differ?

Greenbelt is one of the major Christian Festivals here in the UK. Over the August Bank holiday weekend they have bands, speakers and lots of other activities in the grounds of Cheltenham Racecourse. It’s more of a music or arts festival than a Christian conference as such.

Spring Harvest, on the other hand, is one of our major Christian conferences. It is more focused on teaching and preaching with speakers and times of worship with some big names leading the meetings. It runs in Butlins over the Easter holidays.

I think a big challenge would be that Greenbelt’s faith base is wider than Spring Harvest’s. Although Spring Harvest have appeared over the last few years to embrace more of the social justice element and generally don’t appear as conservative as they have done in the past. They are still really evangelical in their stance and I think they might struggle with Greenbelt’s inclusiveness.

I suspect if this idea were to work some compromises would be necessary. SoGreenbeltmight have to lose some of the more liberal elements and not mind being overwhelmed by the evangelical charismatic element. In return Spring Harvest might have to tolerate some acts and speakers that it would otherwise not have invited. This can present some challenges to evangelical types but the wider perspective can be stimulating and if not overdone might not really be a problem especially to the more discerning.

What Might The Merger Look Like?

The new merged event could be called ‘Green Harvest’ or even better still ‘Springbelt’! I would suggest two half weeks or five days with each one having three full days and the first day starting in the evening and the final day ending in the afternoon. It would be great to do it on a Butlins site with all the facilities including chalets but also have room for extra camping so that each even could cater for about 10,000! They could run over the Spring Bank half term or the first week of the school summer holidays. But one big challenge would be to secure extra space around Butlins. It would be a shame to lose the Butlins facilities but if this wasn’t possible it might mean looking for another venue such as a really big caravan park with plenty of space around it or use a showground.

As a Springbelt week would be bigger than Spring Harvest all the normal Spring Harvest sessions could run but in addition the extra space around Butlins we could bring Greenbelt’s Main Stage and Performance Café in. Having teaching and worship session happening at the same time as the music is something that is already done at festivals such as Creation Fest. What such a merger would bring would be greater choice for Spring Harvesters but less choice for Greenbelters. This might not necessarily be a bad thing for Greenbelters as I’ve often found the choice in Greenbelt’s programme a bit too much.

One week Springbelt could have the Tiny Tea Tent and another week the Chai Chapel and some of the Greenbelt caterers to help Butlins cope with all the extra food needed. One of the stages in Butlins could also be used for Underground – the dedicated hard rock venue and if needed more tents could be erected for other teaching venues for whoever needs it.

We could still have the children’s sessions but if they had less and/or made them more optional and more all age activities and worship then they would be freer to explore the site.

It would be great to see Spring Harvest’s PRAYERhouse and GODSpace merged with Greenbelt’s alternative worship venues providing time for prayer and led worship services over most of the days.

Just some wild speculation. What do you think?

, ,
July 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm Comments (2)