This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series: ‘The Post-Evangelical’ (Tomlinson)
Chapter 4 of Dave Tomlinson’s The Post-Evangelical is entitled ‘Longing to Grow’. In this chapter, an attempt is made to explain the evangelical ‘problem’ in terms of a couple of psychological models. ‘The problem’ for Tomlinson, as is becoming increasingly clear as the book develops, is that evangelicals are way too sure of themselves and need to grow up and start doubting things.
A couple of stories are given of people who started off as evangelicals but (you guessed it) became disillusioned with evangelical certaintism and found no welcome for their doubts and questions. “They just seemed so content with a faith that asked no questions,” one of them told the author, “Everyone calmly accepted whatever the leaders said…They appeared threatened by the level of my questioning.” Unfortunately, Tomlinson does not tell us what kinds of doubts and questions were being expressed, and so we are not permitted to judge for ourselves whether it was the evangelical stalwarts who were being difficult or, indeed those who were asking challenging questions. We are just expected to think (unquestioningly) that certainty is a Bad Thing and that doubt is a Good Thing.
Four Stages of Spiritual Growth
The first of the two models that Tomlinson invites us to consider is Scott Peck’s four stages of spiritual growth. Tomlinson describes the four stages as
Putting it simply, evangelicals, with their concern for concrete answers, are stuck at Stage 2, and find it difficult to cope with the scepticism of post-evangelicals, who are moving to Stage 3. It is at stage 4 is where things really come together, ‘not with the simplistic certainty of Stage 2 but with a more intuitive sense of wholeness or inter-connectedness’.
The second model that Tomlinson appeals to is Eric Berne’s theory of Transactional Analysis. This model describes three modes of behaviour – Parent, Child and Adult. Not surprisingly, Tomlinson thinks that evangelicalism is characterised by Parent/Child interractions.
Evangelical leaders behave as Controlling Parents, dictating exactly what people should believe and how they should behave. Their fear of error and uncertainty has led to a near-obsession with doctrinal correctness and ‘proper’ behaviour.
Rank and file evangelicals, on the other hand, adopt Compliant Child behaviours, even if they exhibit well-developed Adult modes of behaviour in other areas of their lives. Evangelicals do not take kindly to those who raise questions about doctrinal belief or ethical behaviour. Evangelical culture, accordingly, is laden with taboos, many of which owe more to middle-class respectability than to real holiness.
What is required is an awakening of the Adult, leading to experimentation, inquisitiveness, creativity and questioning. A mind renewed in this sense will be: open to new thoughts and fresh ideas; altert to creative possibilities; reflective, in the sense that the mind is not merely accumulating information but questioning received assumptions and popular prejudices; and holistic in the sense of incorporating emotion, intuition and mystery as equal partners with rationality.
I do not doubt that psychological models such as these can make some contribution towards understanding attitudes and behaviours – including religious attitudes and behaviours. But, apart from a couple of brief references to the notion of law as taught in Romans 7 and 8, Dave Tomlinson makes no attempt to provide any biblical or theological analysis of the issues. The issues are theological more than they are pysychological, and therefore require theological, more than psychological, analysis.