Relationships, not religion. This message is at the heart of a book that gives former pub vicar Dave Tomlinson a platform to share his liberal, pluralistic views about what he believes Christianity should look like in 21st-century Britain.
The hook of each chapter is an emotive story of someone who has left a significant impression on Tomlinson, including HIV-positive Jim, reformed alcoholic Ron, community hero Jean and her disabled daughter Victoria, same-sex couple Karen and Hannah, and ex-‘Great Train Robbers’ Bruce and Ronnie.
These are fascinating choices, particularly as most aren’t practising Christians, but it is through people like these that Tomlinson regularly experiences fresh spiritual insight. There is, he says, a version of God for everybody, and we must move away from the idea that he exclusively reveals himself to those who subscribe to the brand of Christianity we believe in. ‘The kingdom of God does not exist simply among religious people,’ Tomlinson writes.
He notes that we don’t have all the answers and that it’s good to broaden our views, not only by reading the Bible, but by listening to wise people such as CS Lewis, Albert Einstein, Hans Küng, Frederick Buechner, Ghandi and even Elton John.
Dave is deliberately controversial, provocative, and will no doubt ruffle the feathers of conservative Christians, who will criticise his dismissal of doctrine and argue that his theology is woolly. Some will take offence, not least at his statement that Jesus would be ‘a vociferous advocate of gay rights’.
However, I found Dave’s style to be positive and rooted in reality. He is thoughtful, methodical and Christ-centred in his approach, rather than rash and abrasive. This book refreshed, reassured, reinvigorated and encouraged me to look far beyond the notion of ‘my’ God and make more time to engage with others.
ANDREW DUBOCK is communications manager at Viva
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