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Homesteading, not pioneering...
on 19 November 2008
The Post-Evangelical is one of the most important Christian books of the last quarter-century. The title itself was probably the most important thing, but that was enough: it created a new intellectual space in which one of the most dynamic religious movements in the west is now thriving. In short, it was a pioneering book.
Re-enchanting Christianity is not a pioneering book. It is comfy, safe, a bit like sitting in a favourite old armchair with your best friends surrounding you. And that is no surprise when most of the sources contained in the book come from the previous century.
The best way I can explain my dissatisfaction is by recounting my own experiences as an attender of a radical church group called The Nine O'clock Service. The leader of the church was training to be a priest at the same time that I was studying theology as an undergraduate, and I soon began to notice that he was regurgitating his lectures in a highly unsatisfying manner. There was neither critical reflection on what was clearly new material for him, nor was there any imaginative development or application. I was surprised to see someone I deeply respected swallowing a worldview so uncritically. His neophilia eventually resulted in what I consider to have been a theological dead end.
This book feels similar. By making extensive use of liberal theologians the book may have academic credibility, but lacks any creative spark: it feels too much like a literature review (some chapters make almost exclusive use of one text, rather like a bad undergraduate essay). In addition, these sources - which may be new to many evangelicals, but are far from new to any student of theology - do not suffer the same level of criticism as the evangelical ideas the book seeks to supplant.
Many of the theologians quoted reflect the apotheosis of liberal theology (Moltmann, for example), but surely Dave Tomlinson is aware that there is now a movement called post-liberalism which questions the foundations of the liberal project just as he is questioning the foundations of evangelicalism?
I would recommend this book for any person who can use their own critical faculties and who has not studied theology themselves. However, you would probably be better going straight to Moltmann, Brueggemann et al and bypassing this book altogether.
There's nothing wrong with this book. It just doesn't take us any where new (maybe my expectations were too high?). Having done his pioneering, Dave Tomlinson has found his new home and is busy settling down.