How to be a bad Christian (by Dave Tomlinson)

I don’t recall where I first saw this book - probably it was a recommendation from Amazon based on what I had previously read and liked. I knew nothing about the author, Dave Tomlinson; he’s a somewhat controversial but very compassionate Vicar who lives and works in London, attracting people into his church who would not normally go anywhere near a religious group.

‘How to be a bad Christian’ is a wonderful title. I gather it was inspired by another book about how to be a ‘bad birdwatcher’ without jargon or expensive equipment. Essentially, that’s what this book is about: how to follow Jesus, and reflect God’s love without necessarily knowing any Christianese or complex creeds. The author would undoubtedly be considered ‘liberal’, probably even heretical by fundamentalists, as he welcomes anybody to his congregation, no matter what their background, language or sexual preferences. He believes that Jesus was first and foremost compassionate, and entirely inclusive.

Quoting Scripture as well as giving examples from his extensive experience, Tomlinson argues for a vital, living church that reaches out into communities, offering grace and forgiveness to all, sharing the message of Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to do his work. He believes that rather than beginning with the traditional evangelical viewpoint of everybody being sinners, doomed to destruction, it’s far more important to offer love and care, to draw people to the God who loves them. He makes some excellent points: this is, after all, how Jesus operated most of the time.

Specific chapters deal with topics such as living in the present, seeing God in suffering and other difficult circumstances, appreciating the good in other religions, and perhaps most importantly, thinking with the soul rather than accepting blindly what pastors and traditions might teach. His views on reading the Bible would make conservative eyebrows twitch; yet much of what he says reflects some of what I’ve been thinking, and makes a great deal of sense.

Critics have said that the author is preaching a 'works-based' religion, but that's not the case at all. He's inviting his readers and those in his congregation to follow the way of Jesus, which consists of loving God and loving those around us - whatever their culture, class or appearance.

I was particularly interested in the concept of ‘spiritual intelligence’, something quite different from logical or emotional intelligence, and also separate from being ‘religious’ or indeed having faith of any kind. Atheists, Tomlinson claims, can have very advanced spiritual intelligence so long as we are prepared to listen, and accept their points of view, and explain our own without jargon and condescension. He also recommends the Enneagram, a personality system that looks at our motivations and stresses, rather than preferences and learning styles; there’s a brief appendix outlining how the nine different kinds of people tend to think.

There were one or two places where, I felt the author almost crossed the line into over-liberalism into the idea that truth is different for different people. Yet his faith shines through what he says, even when he’s tearing down the walls of much of what is done and said in the name of Christianity. Moreover, the book was written, at least in part, for those outside even the fringes of the Christian life, who are perhaps asking questions or issuing challenges; particularly those who see a lot to attract them in Jesus, but very little that appeals in the church.

It’s a thought-provoking book which I would recommend to anyone, whatever their faith or otherwise. Even if you don’t agree with it all, if you keep an open mind there’s much to discuss, and plenty of issues which many modern churches seem to ignore.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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