Black Sheep and Prodigals

by Dave Tomlinson, Hodder, £14.99

Dave Tomlinson declares that his book is “for people who are fed up with black and white religion”. He appears to crave an end to any certainty in matters of faith and to banish conformity, his great bugbear. We’re informed that playing by any given set of theological rules results in a “psychology of compliance” and can only derive from “fear and intimidation”. The conformists talk about “discipleship” but they are really just seeking “the security of the sheepfold”.

Now, I’m all for freethinking, but I also realise that, within the Christian tradition, dogma is not a dirty word. Conformity, Tomlinson writes, “means never having to rethink things, never being confronted by a reality that you can’t understand”. This is profoundly insulting to millions of Christians who see virtue in their versions of orthodoxy.

Tomlinson wants a religious landscape in which “we can explore issues of faith and spirituality with openness, imagination and creativity”. Super, but since when did insisting on the fundaments of your faith preclude such an endeavour? Are we not allowed to say I’m right and you’re wrong any more? In order to respect difference we first have to acknowledge it.

The irony is that Tomlinson, by booing at notions of fixity or certainty, is following the crowd and being, well, decidedly conformist. As for his plea for a “more grown-up approach to faith”, as best as I can tell this involves conjuring up theologically naïve assaults against whatever belief comes to mind and, now and again, allowing passion to morph into excess.

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