What is it about this book that made it meaningful? It is not the cultural understanding. It is not the intellectual or psychological or theological insights. It is not the moving stories. These are there but they're not the heart of it. It is the profound ordinariness, the prosaic tenderness, the love.
For me, this book doesn't reframe what Christianity is (but it may for some); it offers no earth-shattering psychological practices or hidden relational truths but ,nevertheless, I felt scales subtly falling from my eyes. It is quietly, truly revolutionary, offering hope and challenge like an open hand.
On the surface, it is another (there are dozens published annually) "How to" book but it is not one that presents you with endless strictures, contortions or spiritual practices to "find yourself", "arrive" or, worse, "succeed." It doesn't promise happiness but offers integrity. In the words of one of the chapters, it offers an opportunity to "be the person you were meant to be."
The chapters deal with aspects of life (and Christian life) like guilt, fulfillment, suffering, forgiveness, justice and prayer. Rejecting rules and righteousness, Tomlinson presents Christians in the Bible as "people of the way" and the way is simply integrity, struggle and love. The way of living comfortably (but not indulgently) in your own skin. So Tomlinson replaces a homophobic hide-bound church with an inclusive community where people get by by living graciously. Tomlinson detests moralistic, life-denying judgemental Christianity (and parts of the Bible) whilst affirming responsibility, love and challenge.
Tomlinson also grounds Christian experience in everyday life: prayer may be an inner yearning, tears or laughter as much as words specificaly directed at God. An atheist may feel patronised to learn that Tomlinson interprets his laughter or tears as prayer but he sees people as reflecting God's goodness and depth and clearly wouldn't try to foist that interpretation on anyone-Tomlinson is equally clear that God couldn't care less whether someone acknowledges God or not.
Many of the most moving stories concern non-Christian parishioners befriending, and sometimes burying, the lonely. By contrast, he presents a Captain in the Salvation army who was disowned by his children and church for coming out as gay and a guilt-ridden gay Catholic who hung himself because he couldn't live with his "mortal sin."
"How to be a Bad Christian" is about finding your "soul", your calling and in it finding fulfillment and, therefore, Christ. At the heart of this book, Tomlinson suggests that God is on our side, wants us to enjoy life, live compassionately and be ourselves. It is a profoundly gracious book which challenges us to face ourselves.
Reminiscent of M Scott peck, Tomlinson sees humanity as something good and true. He suggests that individuals go (in tthe deepest sense) "with the flow" of their souls. This isn't an effervescent, romantic or New Age warm fuzzy but a call to radical and gentle self knowledge based round the person of Jesus (whilst ackowledging the truths and riches in other religions).
This book forcefully rejects Christian dogma in favour of the spirit of Jesus offered in the New Testament, 2000 years ago. For me, drifting from a post-evangelical to a post-Christian, it has re-enchanted me with the depth and compassion of Christ and the World.