Christian Books

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Post-Evangelical by Dave Tomlinson

The Post-Evangelical 

(Revised North American Edition)
Dave Tomlinson
El Cajon, CA: EmergentYS, 2003
146 pages

Rating: 5 out of 10

Quick Summary: Former fundamentalist, house church leader, charismatic, and now, Anglican priest, Dave Tomlinson ( pens this work on Postmodern Christianity.  He currently pastor’s St. Luke’s Church in north London and is a self-proclaimed Postmodern Christian, and author of several books.  From this book, he grew up in the Brethren Church, which tended toward fundamentalism.  I believe that this is important to understanding his perspective.

Tomlinson writes a concise introduction to Post-Evangelical Christianity.  His reasonable chapters and good sections make for effortless reading!  Because they are so numerous, the input of the other contributors in the little gray boxes gets somewhat annoying.  His greatest contribution in this book is as a Practical Theologian and practitioner.  Many of his engagements with academic theology leave something to be desired.  Based on his experience, he speaks to a specific, smaller expression of evangelicalism, fundamentalism.

As he describes it, this work is apologetic, pastoral, and alternative.  Tomlinson reaches out to unbelievers and disenchanted evangelicals who share his struggle between culture and Christianity.  He says, “My thesis is that post-evangelicals differ from evangelicals especially in that they are influenced by a different culture than the one that shaped present-day evangelicalism” (28).  Admittedly, there is a cultural shift happening that is still taking form.  Tomlinson provides one possible approach to that cultural shift.

In summary, Tomlinson introduces his topic (ch 1), reviews recent history (ch 2), identifies the issue (ch 3), and uses psychological models to explain it (ch 4).  According to his “psych eval,” of evangelicalism, we fail at maturity.  He continues with an epistemological overview (ch 5), description of postmodernism (ch 6), redefining truth (ch 7), reconsidering God’s Word (ch 8), becoming culturally relevant (ch 9), and concluding issues (ch 10).

Evangelical Assessment: There are several criticisms that I have to make.  On multiple issues, I felt that the author’s discussion repeatedly lacked philosophical depth and historical understanding.  In reading this work, I felt that evangelicals were misrepresented!  Very often, he seemed to be addressing fundamentalists, not evangelicals.  He seems reactionary toward his past rather than informed of evangelical theology.

This can be seen in the author’s view of Scripture.  Tomlinson delineates between evangelical’s literalism and recognition of various literary forms.  WHAT?  The various hermeneutics books that I used at multiple evangelical institutions taught us to identify and interpret according to the type of literature.  Even more disturbing, his discussion of inerrancy and revelation lacks a critical evaluation of Barth and Polanyi as well as historical perspective on the issue.  He seems totally unaware of the historical discussion on these issues.

Another concern is his reinterpretation of the atonement and marriage.  While these may be studied and our scriptural view of them expanded and refined, we do not ignore and replace what Scripture does clearly express on these topics.  Yet, this seems to be the case with Tomlinson.  In mentioning my criticism, Tomlinson repeatedly gives some valuable suggestions for Bible studies that are very consistent with historic Christian teaching.

Lastly, he needs further critical evaluation and scholarly depth in the historical overview of modernism and discussion of culture.  Since both of these areas are keys to his discussion, it would have been helpful to have interacted with scholarly sources in addressing them.  He oversimplifies to the point of desecrating medieval culture and the Enlightenment.  Since his entire work revolves around Christianity and culture, it may have been helpful to consider H. Richard Niebuhr’s book, Christ and Culture, as well as more recent works. 

Who might this book interest? I think that this book would interest evangelicals who desire an introduction to the current movements within evangelicalism, but this work should only be a beginning point. He does provide practitioners with some valuable suggestions for ministry, but other books from within this movement and outside of it provide a much more informed discussion.

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