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on 9 October 2012
I read Dave's book of about 200 pages of admittedly good, clear, very legible type (with nice line illustrations), in an hour and a half on a train journey, for once truly a book I could not put down, liberating and refreshing.

It is lighter than his earlier books which I should also recommend, because unlike them, I guess this is especially for those on the fringe of the Church, those moving perhaps towards the exit and those wondering whether to come in, and, the cover says, especially for those outside "who nevertheless attempt to live in the spirit of Christianity".

It is also, I think, a book for those oppressed by the narrow, sometimes nice but too often somewhat nasty religion that has come to dominate, inside church doors, at least at the higher levels in much of my part of the world - the Diocese of Sydney and, perhaps, for example, in too many parts of the Vatican. And it is for all who think that such religion is what Christianity is all about (including those who burden too many with it).

The title itself and the cover help to make this a book one might put in the way of some of those folk, and encourage bookstores to display it (as I have already discovered).

Of course, it is not a "serious" theological study (though it is based on such study and much practical pastoral experience). Again, does it doe not touch on every major aspect of Christian faith but its chapters with their punchy headings do range fairly widely, from "Bumping into God : how to find God without going near a church" to "God is not a Christian : how to appreciate other religions without losing your own", and "Did God write anything else ? how to read the Bible and other good books". And it does not touch greatly at all on the dark evil that can readily be found in human society and human hearts outside, much more than inside, the Christian Church and other faith communities, and that we know only too well and encounter only too often. That is not its purpose.
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on 3 September 2012
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.
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on 25 August 2012
"How to be a Bad Christian - and a Better Human Being" is a rare book from an Anglican vicar. It is down-to-earth, funny and challenging. Tomlinson is more interested in people than doctrine, spirituality than religion, questioning than certainty and how we live than what we believe. The book is fully of anecdotes from his work in an inner city parish. Many of the stories are of his encounters with people who don't normally come to church, whom he meets in pubs after funerals, when people seek him out when in trouble and whom he bumps into in his everyday parish work. They are funny, poignant and moving. His thesis is that these ordinary people are often more "Christian" than those who sign up to a rigid set of beliefs and are regular church goers. He is interested in them as people, and not as recruits to his church.
The subtitles to the chapters say a lot, eg how to keep faith and ditch religion, how to find God without going near a church, how to think with your soul and how to make sense of suffering.
In this book Tomlinson comes across as a serious thinker, yet passionate about the life and teachings of Jesus. It is beautifully illustrated by artist Rob Pepper. As someone who has experience of rigid, stifling and sometimes judgemental churches, this book is a breath of fresh air, opening up a way of being a Christian without committing intellectual suicide, and and at the same time means living life to the full. It should appeal to disillusioned church goers, those who have drifted away from churches that either couldn't accept them because they didn't fit eg because of their sexuality, and those who have never been to church but hunger for a spiritual dimension to their lives.
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on 18 February 2014
I bought this having borrowed a friends copy when I raced through it during a weekend visit. Reading through it at a more leisurely pace, I again found I couldn't put it down. I would definitely recommend this if you're interested in Christianity or have been a Christian for a while, but find yourself struggling with 'churchiness,' and questioning the status quo. I found it a very liberating read, getting plenty of wisdom out of every chapter. Dave writes in a really accessible, amusing and thoughtful way, with common sense and less of the churchy words that so often get in the way of understanding (at least for people like me!) Just read it, it's brilliant!
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on 30 September 2014
I love this book. I've read it twice and dipped into it many times. I'm not sure how many copies I've bought now (10 or 12?), because I actively give them away to people I meet (of many faiths and none) who genuinely want to know what the real message of Christianity is today.
It blows away the 'religion' that Christianity has become in many places: a multitude of methods and practices and rules and regulations which protagonists claim have to be done 'properly' otherwise we are somehow failing to serve God (and insist that it's their way, or no way). That was the sort of 'religion' that Jesus himself became angry about and berated the priests and Pharisees of his own time for promoting. This book talks about love and acceptance and inclusion, whilst at the same stating clearly how the Kingdom of God may be furthered. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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on 7 June 2014
Christians (and Christianity) sometimes appears hypocritical, judgmental and anything but loving. This book cuts to the core of the Christian message of love and toleration. It recognises human frailty and uses Christ rather than "Churchianity" as its driver. I can thoroughly recommend it to Christians and non-Christians alike. For Christians, it is a guide back to the core message of Love - love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself. It is a guide to become people of the way - living a loving life and reflecting God's love to others. For non- Christians, particularly those who have been stung by a judgmental or unkind Church, it perhaps might show some of the real love that we can find in knowing Christ.
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on 14 June 2016
A Good Read
This book will liberate and delight two groups of people but it could well offend a third category.
The first people it will deeply interest are the non-church goers who sense something within them which might approximate to God. At least it is something which gently questions the normal course of life with its delights and disasters. This feeling that ‘there must be more than just history, birth and extinction’ is simply and wisely explored, illustrated with an abundance of touching and often funny stories about the lives of ordinary people. But what the questioners do NOT want is churchy religion and they certainly will not find that here.
The second kind of person who will find this book absorbingly inspirational are church goers who frequently have the thought that, if God really is the God of the universe, there must be wider ways of acknowledging this than by a Sunday morning service in our little speck on the globe.
Dave Tomlinson starts where we are and asks the sort of questions which we would like to ask but don’t have the nerve to do so. He is clearly influenced by research into faith and personality types but insists that there is a way for everyone to explore uniquely.
The people who may find this book unpalatable are those Christians who live by creedal certainly rather than by faith, who rush to defend the church rather than looking for God outside it and who see themselves as part of a kind of religious elite.
But don’t let me give the impression that the book is angry and rebellious because it is full of fun and genuine humanity. Indeed Tomlinson is a 68 year old north London Vicar who, according to his Bishop is ‘a convincing and compassionate pastor, though probably not a very good member of deanery Synod’. So he writes creatively about conventional things like prayer and the Bible and suffering. But he lights them up in such a fresh way that it seems as if Christianity has had a shower.
Do get a copy or download it or borrow mine. But do read it and let the sun shine on your faith and doubt.
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on 29 March 2016
This book chimes with my life experience of being a living 'Christian' who describes herself as not a 'churchian'. I have worked in education of children and adults as employee and informally (now retired), as teacher, and training consultant in public and private service (totally secular) over the years. My efforts to live as a Christian, wearing no cross,or other external identifier, and not talking about my faith unless pressed, have often been recognised by how I am. A number of people have approached me out of the blue and challenged me that I am a Christian, and asked me to pray for them. In fact I have prayed with a number of people in this way, and shared their tears and joys. I am not in holy orders of any description, and am an ordinary everyday person, but again and again have encountered people of various faiths, though mostly Christian; individuals confused by Church/official messages and feeling rejected by other people and institutions, yet still feeling the need to walk with God. I think what is recognised in me is the unconditional love of God for all other people, living through me. It has often been challenging; I have not always been the best, but always have a sense of the presence of God holding my hand, and supporting my efforts, and protecting both me and the other person as I do my best to share God's love. It is that love that this book emphasises, and shares with such great insight about its impact on others. Do read it. Dave Tomlinson is refreshingly going back to the basics that really matter to us in our everyday lives, searching for that missing something - our spiritual core... and giving us the real possibility of finding it. His insight is evidently honed over years of practice, full of everyday anecdotes, and is remarkable. It enriches our understanding of Christ's teaching shared in the Bible, and embedded in the context of living in the culture of the day... be it then or now.
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on 2 June 2015
‘How to be a bad Christian’ is about following Jesus, and reflecting God’s love without knowing Christian jargon, or understanding complex creeds. The author believes that Jesus was first and foremost compassionate, and entirely inclusive. He argues for a vital, living church that reaches out into communities, sharing the message of Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to do his work.

Specific chapters deal with topics such as living in the present, seeing God in suffering, appreciating the good in other religions, and thinking with the soul rather than accepting blindly what pastors might teach. His views on reading the Bible would undoubtedly make conservative eyebrows twitch; yet much of what he says makes a great deal of sense.

He introduces the concept of ‘spiritual intelligence’, and 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 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.

It’s a thought-provoking book which I would recommend to anyone, whatever their faith or lack thereof. Even if you don’t agree with it all, there's plenty to discuss if you keep an open mind.

I'd give this four-and-a-half stars if I could.
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on 9 April 2015
If books provide us with anything it has to include moments when you come across an author who both encapsulates how you feel about the world but also prods you further to explore new ideas. Dave Tomlinson kicks the church doors open to encourage a more diverse and imaginative view of faith, belief and Christianity. He provides a harsh reflection on the stifling restrictions of the church, stripping Christianity down to what I understand are its simple principals. (This for me was the literary equivalent of hearing Billy Braggs first LP or seeing him live for the first time.)
He tackles a range of issues which might prove obstacles to many people embracing Christianity. Prayers, adherence to the bible, fundamentalism, and how God might allow suffering. (This was the only chapter that I still struggle with) All in less than 230 pages. He provides simple but heart-warming anecdotes and experiences from his years as a vicar to support his arguments, and they leave you wishing you’d been there. A store security guard needing an on the spot confession, new age punks and home counties pensioners embrace to mourn a lost one, a gay couple finding a place in a church of tolerance and love.
The book comes with an abundance of references which will inspire enquiring minds to follow them up; he offers practical tips on Mindfulness, Enneagrams, websites and organisations. There are countless phrases which for me sum up a vision of a world which could be far happier, warmer, and fairer and most importantly fun. “Listen to your life”, “Thinking with the soul”. “Letting your life speak”. His style is not pious or evangelical in the strict sense. This is not one of those horrendous glib self books found in the USA. This is someone who took the church into pubs, cites Moby and Nick Cave as moments of inspiration. He encourages debate and challenge.
I would urge schools to make this book key to the national curriculum and leave copies in prisons and rehabs, and serialise it on TV. If you feel you are often “sleep walking on the inside”, and want to “let your life speak”, then this book will speak to you.
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