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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
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