This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series: ‘The Post-Evangelical’ (Tomlinson)
My reading on the emerging church has taken me back to Dave Tomlinson’s The Post-Evangelical. First published in the UK 1995 (but not until 2003 in the US), this book is regarded as something of a seminal piece amongst a number of emerging church people. It gave a voice to the disillusionment with evangelicalism that many felt.
You can read Dave Tomlinson’s own account of the writing of this book here. You can see reviews here and here. Graham Cray, Nigel Wright, and others have discussed issues arising from the book in The Post-evangelical Debate.
I plan to offer, in this series of posts, a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book together with some critical comment.
The book sets out to describe and explain why it is that some people are looking for something beyond evangelicalism; to provide a pastoral response by reassuring such people that they are not alone; and to explore some of the post-evangelical possibilities.
Chapter 1 is entitled ‘A Symbol of Hope’. We are soon introduced to one of the major problems of evangelicalism. It is too dogmatic. It requires people to believe and not to question or doubt. It is good at introducing people to faith in Christ, but poor at helping them to progress to a more mature experience. Such maturity would entail, for example, a greater openness to alternative theologies and perspectives. It is immature faith that wants certainties. Grown-up faith embraces doubt.
What is this evangelicalism that people are questioning and moving beyond? Its beliefs include a commitment to the gospel of salvation, personal faith, evangelism, and the supremacy of Scripture. But it also has an entire sub-culture, with it own social attitudes and behavioural expectations which people enter when they become evangelicals.
To be “Post-Evangelical” is to accept many of the assumptions of evangelical faith while moving beyond its limitations. Post-Evangelicals are motivated in part by personal frustration and hurt arising from their experience of evangelicalism. They tend to be irritated by the prevailing evangelical customs with regard to worship, music, and language, and by evangelical attitudes towards the rest of the world and political assumptions. They question the reliance of evangelicalism on modernity and its assumptions, and favour the assumptions of post-modernity. They seek an enrichment of spirituality by drawing on ancient Celtic Christianity, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. And they want to understand their faith, but free from the certainty and absoluteness of much evangelical theology.
Chapter 1 closes with a biographical note. Dave Tomlinson tells us that he grew up in a Brethren Church, but then experienced a charismatic renewal and worked for twenty years in the house church movement. Contact with those who attended the Greenbelt Arts Festival showed him that there were many who no longer attended church but still retained their faith. Along with others, he began to experiment with a rather unconventional church – Holy Joe’s – which meets in a South London pub on Tuesday nights.
This chapter introduces us to some of the leading themes of the book, and, indeed, of the emerging movement. The supposed failings of evangelicalism, and the attractions of moving beyond it, will be elaborated as the book progresses. I would just say at this point, with Nigel Wright (The Post-evangelical Debate), that what Tomlinson disparages as evangelical certainties could equally be regarded as evangelical convictions – and that changes the tone of the discussion rather considerably.