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The Bad Christian’s Manifesto

Dave Tomlinson

Dave Tomlinson

Rev Dave Tomlinson has been challenging the assumptions of Christians and non-Christians alike since the release of The Post-Evangelical almost two decades ago. Last year he published ‘How To Be A Bad Christian‘, inviting people to think again what it means to follow Jesus. Now, a year later, he continues the conversation with ‘The Bad Christian’s Manifesto‘ 

Buy ‘The Bad Christian’s Manifesto’ for just £10.99 (RRP £13.99)

 

How does ‘The Bad Christian’s Manifesto’ relate to ‘How To Be A Bad Christian’?

As the titles suggest, both books are aimed at the same readership – people who want to explore ideas about God and faith but find that conventional churchgoing Christianity doesn’t really work for them. The difference between the books is that the Manifesto focuses more specifically on people’s notions of God.

Basically, the kind of God who is like the ‘man upstairs’ controlling everything and randomly intervening in human affairs no longer makes sense to most people. So when folk say to me, ‘I’m not religious, I don’t really believe in God but I do think there is something there’, I tell them to forget ‘God’, forget religious jargon and translate that ‘something’ they can believe in into terms that make sense to them. This can, however, be a daunting prospect – which is where the ‘Manifesto’ comes in. It’s intended to be a guide for people going through the process of rethinking God stuff.

Buy 'The Bad Christian's Manifesto' for just £10.99 (RRP £13.99)

Buy ‘The Bad Christian’s Manifesto’ for just £10.99 (RRP £13.99)

Do you think it is time the Church gave up any exclusive claims to God?

Absolutely. People are not helped by claims that we know God and they don’t, or that in order to ‘find’ God they must listen to us. The best we can say is that this is how we understand God, and to share that with humility – and with the expectation that other people have things to teach us about God. God is not a Christian, a Jew or a Muslim, of course not. It’s legitimate for us to make claims for how we know God, but we must not go on to say that, therefore, no one else knows God. God is a mystery beyond all human words and concepts – and greater than the experience of any one individual or community. The whole earth is full of God’s glory, and I’d say that includes other communities, cultures and traditions.

How do you deal with the inevitable conflict between the official Church of England position on equal marriage and your own position?

The Christian tradition, like any other living tradition, is a conversation, a debate, a downright argument, even. It is not a static set of beliefs and propositions. So I expect the Church to be a ragtag collection of views and ideas. It’s always been that way (at least we don’t burn each other now!) The point is not to discover total unanimity, but to learn to live with difference. So far as I am concerned, we should treat equal marriage as we do divorce: accept multiple integrities and allow each parish priest her or his own discretion on the matter. No one wants people to be forced to marry same sex couples, but those of us who wish to should have the freedom to do so. I find it utterly unacceptable that same sex marriage is now legal but only the Church of England cannot conduct them. This must change, and I will do everything I can to help it to change.

You tell some very moving human stories in the book – do you see Christianity functioning better in the practical rather than theological sphere?

I am a theologian. I love theology, and I see theological discourse as a crucial part of the life of the Church. But theology should never be abstracted from the realities of daily living; the two belong together. My Bad Christian books may be relatively light on abstract theology (very deliberately so) but I can assure you they come out of a lifetime of reflection on the meaning of Christian faith. Based on the example of Jesus in the Gospels (and every other great religious teacher in history), I reckon that orthopraxis always takes priority over orthodoxy – how we behave is more important than what we believe.

Coming, as you do, from the House Church movement, do you still see being a part of the Church of England as a conscious decision?

Not being a cradle Anglican, it’s always been a conscious decision to be part of the Church of England. And there is plenty in my mind that contests that decision. The Church is a conservative institution, and my natural instinct is in many ways anti-establishment. Yet far more imaginative and radical thinkers than me have found a home in it and used it as a launching pad for ideas that have powerfully impacted both the church and society. Indeed, one of the most attractive features of the Church of England is its very breadth of tradition and theology that accommodates such people. When the Bishop of London accepted me as a candidate for ordination he said that I would find the Church of England very frustrating, and be critical of many things, but he went on to say that the Church would, no doubt, benefit from my criticism. It is that kind of generosity of spirit in the Church of England that continues to attract me.

How do you see the future of the Church of England?

I think it faces a choice between remaining a generous coalescence of traditions, spiritualties and theologies, and becoming a more sectarian movement where most people are expected to conform to a similar view of God, scripture and church discipline and practice. At its best, the Church models community where there is space for all; at its worst it sinks into mean-spirited sectarianism.

However, in the end, I am far less concerned about the future of the Church of England (or any other church) than I am about the impact of the kingdom of God on our world. Jesus showed no interest in starting a new religion or building a mega-church; his obsession lay in spreading a culture of hope, liberty and justice – a programme of personal and social transformation that he called the kingdom of God. I believe there will always be communities of people that will be effective agencies of this vision and agenda, witnessing to its source and energy in God. Whether the present structures and patterns of church will be able to morph into the kind of communities required for the task in the future remains to be seen.

What change do you hope the book will achieve?

I trust the book will give fresh hope and vision to those people in the church who feel disaffected by the church, or dissatisfied with their experience of Christianity. More importantly, I hope the book will enable people who may never come near a church to discover the God who is already present and active in the depths of their life, and for this to contribute to a fresh movement of spiritual renewal in the world.

Buy ‘The Bad Christian’s Manifesto’ for just £10.99 (RRP £13.99)

 

There is something in the words and melody of hymns that touches us as human beings

Pam Rhodes has been a regular feature on British TV screens thanks tot he enduring popularity of ‘Songs of Praise’ on the BBC. Having found success with her stories of fictional Curate Neil Fisher, she has now released a set of 40 devotions on some of her favourite hymns, as she explained to Aslan Christian Books.

Buy ‘Love so Amazing’ for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99) Love so Amazing CD for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99) or both together for just £16.98 (Combined RRP £22.98)

Pam Rhodes

Pam Rhodes

Why do you think hymns have connected with people in the way they do?

I imagine the hymn writers were prompted by something happening in their life, and they pour it all out in beautiful phrases. When those words meet just the right music you never forget it. That’s why even people who suffer dementia can remember hymns that were so formative when they were first learning about their faith in churches and schools. When we wake up feeling something like the hymn writer may have felt there is something in those words that touches us as human beings.

I do worry that these won’t be there for future generations unless we can show them what a wonderful resource they are.

There are many hymns that can help people through various times in their lives, even if they do not generally consider themselves religious. Why do you think this is?

It is because the words of the hymns are written by human beings and are about the human experience. I think that is what touches people – something in the depth and beauty of those words connects with something in our soul and it doesn’t matter what your religion is or what it is that makes you connect that way.

Buy 'Love so Amazing' for just £7.99 (RRP £8.99) a CD with all 40 hymns is also available

Buy ‘Love so Amazing’ for just £7.99 (RRP £8.99) a CD with all 40 hymns is also available

How did you come to the selection of 40 hymns that are included in Love So Amazing?

It could have been any number. We came to 40 because the publisher asked me to write a Lent book, which is normally written on passages of the Bible. Other Lent books I had read were very theological and I thought I wasn’t in that league! So I asked if I could do them based on hymns – they were very interested in that. The number 40 remained, although it isn’t a Lenten book, and it feels like the right number.

Whittling them down to 40 was quote difficult. I went for the ones with the strongest stories, which tended to be the older hymns. There are some more modern ones in there but I went for the hymns that people are most likely to love and know well.

Which hymns would you say hold the most meaning for you?

I do like Eternal Father, Strong to Save because I grew up in a naval family and in various schools I was always standing alongside people with family members at sea and not in contact for weeks at a time. I like some modern days hymns as well, such as the writing of John Bell from the Iona Community. I remember the impact of hearing A Touching Place where he wrote absolutely up-to-date modern words to a traditional Scottish melody. I can recall thinking how hauntingly memorable and touching it was to sing, even though the words are quite graphic.

Do you think worship music written today holds the same wide cultural relevance that we find in older hymns?

I really think it does! There is good and bad in both the traditional hymns and modern worship. There are some awful older hymns, but equally there are some very repetitive modern songs that lack content and theology that people want. However, there are some wonderful modern song and hymn writers as well – people such as Stuart Townend.

Buy 'If you Follow Me' for just £6.99 (RRP £7.99)

Buy ‘If you Follow Me’ for just £6.99 (RRP £7.99)

Songs of Praise continues to be popular; why do you think this is?

The thing about Songs of Praise I like is that it has something to say to everyone regardless of their own faith. We have very moving interviews in the programme with ordinary people who speak so candidly about challenging times in their lives. If you get someone talking about bereavement from personal experience, looking back to see what caused their doubt and what helped, talking about their own pain in bereavement, it doesn’t really matter what faith (if any) the person watching has.

There are very few programmes that have ordinary people talking about the real issues we all experience. There is a lot to be gained from the fellowship of knowing that you’re not alone.

You are also writing some fiction titles

I love novels that are based in Christian communities, with people who maybe don’t get everything right but still try to be good Christians. I started writing a trilogy about a young Curate in a Bedfordshire country town called Neil Fisher, so the first book was called Fisher of Men. A Curate normally spends three years in their church so each of the books is set in a different year of his curacy, with recurring characters, a love interest and lots of things that will make you laugh or cry.

The books seemed to really capture the imagination of people, and the books have done really well both here in the UK and also in America which was a surprise, so they have asked me to write some more. I am now writing the next one where he has gone off to his new parish, but he has taken a Christian cruise where we can meet some of his old parishioners and some new character providing some fun, moving moments and insights into character’s lives.

Buy ‘Love so Amazing’ for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99) Love so Amazing CD for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99) or both together for just £16.98 (Combined RRP £22.98)

Buy the latest Neil Fisher novel, ‘If You Follow Me’ for just £6.99 (RRP £7.99)

Walking Backwards to Christmas

Bishop Stephen Cottrell

Bishop Stephen Cottrell

The Christmas story is familiar to almost every person in the UK, with the Nativity retold in schools and churches, and on TV and radio every year. Using the innovative device of telling the story backwards, starting with the prophetess Anna and finishing with the promise of the coming Messiah in the Old Testament, Bishop Stephen Cottrell offers a new way to encounter the familiar passages of scripture.

Buy ‘Walking Backwards to Christmas’ for just £6.99 (RRP £7.99)

This is an unusual way to tell the Christmas story – what gave you the idea to do this?

The idea for telling the story backwards came in a flash when I first saw the painting by Albert Herbert that is on the cover of the book. Firstly, it combines the story of Moses and the burning bush with the story of the nativity, and secondly there seems to be a movement across the picture from left to right starting with Joseph or a shepherd (or is it Moses himself?) and then moving to Jesus moving to the Christ Child, Mary and the burning bush. Because it is such a well-known story, I thought telling it backwards might help people approach it differently and allow themselves to be surprised by what is so easily familiar.

Buy 'Walking Backwards to Christmas' for just £6.99 (RRP £7.99)

Buy ‘Walking Backwards to Christmas’ for just £6.99 (RRP £7.99)

For someone familiar with the Nativity, what might they learn from approaching the story the way you do in this book?

I hope that someone who knows the story well will enjoy reading it backwards, since this approach allows you to peel back the layers of the story and makes the purposes of God from the beginning the end point for this particular version. So it places Mary’s decision to say “yes” to God at a much more climactic point, though the book delves deeper taking us back to Moses and the burning bush and the revelation of God’s name.

Do you think it is still possible for the casual church attender, already overly familiar with the gospel passages read at this time of year, to find a deepening of faith through the rituals of the Christmas season?

I think a casual church attender who is already perhaps over familiar with the Christmas story will find this book particularly helpful and will enable them to enter more deeply into the rituals and customs of the Christmas season.

Do you think in these post-modern times people are more willing to be moved by ancient stories, regardless of how they treat them historically?

One of the problems for the teaching and proclamation of the Christian faith today is that although people do not know the Bible story very well at all, they hang on to the vague idea that they do know what it is all about. This is particularly true of the Christmas story when – as I say – the story itself remains familiar. I think people can still be moved and impacted by the story. But we do need to find ways of telling it afresh. I hope my backwards telling of the Christmas story will capture the imagination of churchgoer and non-churchgoer alike.

How does a Bishop find the time to write as much as you do?

People often ask me how I find the time to write. The honest answer is, I am not quite sure. However, the evidence is overwhelming that I do. I seem to churn out at least one book a year. I am not one of those highly disciplined people who get up at six o’clock each morning and spend an hour writing. I think the only helpful answer I can give is that all of us find time in life for the things that really give us joy. So if you find great joy playing golf or growing petunias or doing a crossword you will find time for it no matter how busy your life has become. For me, writing is a joy. It has always been something I have done. I think I wrote just as much before I got published as I have done since. For me, the real joy of my writing is not seeing the finished product of the book (though this is always a fulfilling thing) but the actual act of writing.

How do you hope people might use this book?

This is a book that I hope people will simply sit down and read like they might read a novel. It tells a story. It is not intended to be a study guide. It doesn’t come with any particular set questions. But since I am aware that book clubs and book groups are very popular nowadays. I do include in the introduction the suggestion that having read it a few people might sit down together and share their reflections. I also know that a similar book I wrote on the cross called, The Nail, was used by many churches in their services. The chapters in Walking Backwards to Christmas are slightly longer and so the whole thing does not lend itself to becoming a service quite so well, but I do suppose that the chapters could be used in worship and could be read out as meditations or as part of a sermon. But chiefly, and as with all the books I write, I simply hope people will read them.

Buy ‘Walking Backwards to Christmas’ for just £6.99 (RRP £7.99)

Rob Parsons: wisdom to live by

With his insightful books on many of the important aspects of everyday modern life – from parenting to finances – Rob Parson has blended his skilful storytelling with practical advice. Much of this, and many of the lessons he has learned in life, is distilled in his new book, ‘The Wisdom House‘.

Buy ‘The Wisdom House’ for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)

Rob Parsons

Rob Parsons

How much of this advice do you wish you had when a young man?

The honest truth is that I wish I’d had all of it. I passionately believe that these lessons are vital whatever age we are, but if we are fortunate enough to have somebody share them with us when we are young, at least we have a chance of putting them into practice. And, of course, perhaps we can be saved some of the pain that comes with learning ‘the hard way’. 

Do you think you could have written this book earlier in your life?

No – I am sure that I couldn’t have. I didn’t hear – let alone learn – some of these things until I was way into my mid-life. And although we have given the book the subtitle ‘Because you don’t always have to learn the hard way’, that’s exactly how I learnt many of these myself. In the chapter on debt I talk about how I cried one day because of the mess I’d got my family into. And some things that I heard about when I was young I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. My mother shared a principle with me when I was a small boy: ‘It’s always right to do what’s right.’ I remember her saying that as though it were yesterday, but it wasn’t until much later that I witnessed the sheer carnage that takes place when we neglect that truth. In fact, the essence of The Wisdom House is that those who are older share a little of the wisdom they have gleaned over many years.

Buy 'The Wisdom House' for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)

Buy ‘The Wisdom House’ for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)

How much of this wisdom is particularly ‘Christian’ and how much is just common sense?

I believe that God is the author of all that is good – including wisdom. The Bible talks so much about pursuing wisdom, and it is because, when we do, we find something of God himself. It’s true that there are lessons in this book that seem particularly ‘Christian’ – for example, ‘The Long Walk Home’ or ‘Other Worlds to Sing In’ – but I have written them in a way that makes them very accessible to all kinds of people, whatever they believe or don’t believe. And as for those chapters that may not seem specifically Christian? Well, I’m not at all sure that it is possible to tap into truth of any kind – even what people call common sense – without drawing on the wisdom which has come to us through the goodness and kindness of God. But I wrote this book for everybody. I believe it is a gift that you could give to a friend or family member whether they are Christians, have a different faith, or none.

The real battle seems to be remembering these principles when life gets tough. How does one do that?

Perhaps one approach is to practice the principles in small ways all through our lives. For example, I talk about coping with the fact that ‘life’s not fair’. Maybe we will have to face that fact in our first job, in an early relationship, or when we see our youthful dreams shattered, but the truth that life’s not fair is something we will have to grapple with at all stages of our lives and in various circumstances. Once we grasp an understanding of the principles involved, we are better able to face all kinds of situations –including the very tough ones.

A lot of the lessons in the book seem to be about character. Is that a lost ideal in the modern world?

When we consider someone who has applied for a job with us, we often think of the three Cs – competence, chemistry and character. The first considers whether they have the skill for the job, the second whether they will fit in with the team, and the last the kind of person they are. Now I am sure it is not always true – I would rather be operated on by an excellent surgeon who is a scoundrel than an incompetent one who is a saint – but, generally, nothing beats character. And that is so because over the long haul there will always be situations where the first two are simply not enough, and we have to draw on deep reserves. It is at those times that people of character are vital – those who have values that matter to them, and who are able to weather storms that others perish in. I’m not sure if character is a lost ideal in the modern world. Perhaps, at heart, it is something we all know and appreciate when we see it.

How do you hope this book is used?

Well, firstly, I hope that people will enjoy reading it! I have written it in bite-sized chunks – and actually, with a few exceptions, you could read the chapters in any order, dipping in and out of the book as you want. But we are also working on at least two other ways the book can be used. We will be producing discussion group material – perhaps taking a lesson or two a week. This would be perfect for a house-group or reading group. And we also want to produce a course that can be used in sixth forms and colleges.

Buy ‘The Wisdom House’ for just £10.99 (RRP £12.99)