We are all probably a little bit more postmodern than we are willing to admit. I, for instance will admit that my taste in music is quite post-modern—I listen to a little bit of everything and much of it I could not begin to tell you what it is about. We are living in world impacted by postmodern philosophy and values. To ignore this reality is to do a great disservice to our responsibility to live “honorable lives” among the unbelieving world (1 Peter 2:12). But should Christians become “postmodern” to reach the postmodern world? Dave Tomlinson, author of The Post Evangelical, says yes—evangelicalism is dying and evangelicals must become “post-evangelicals.”
In The Post-Evangelical, Tomlinson asserts that we are living in a thoroughly postmodern world where Christianity must change if it is to thrive in our present culture. Thus Tomlinson calls for an abandonment of traditional evangelicalism in favor of what he calls “post-evangelicalism.”
I have chosen this book as the subject of the first of a series of posts planned on the emerging/emergent church because it reflects early emergent thinking. Tomlinson originally released this book in the UK in 1995 when the emergent church movement was beginning to crystallize. Tomlinson released The Post-Evangelical in the U.S. four years ago in 2003. This is an incredibly interesting book because the US version includes commentary from people like Doug Pagitt (a famous emergent pastor who shares many of Tomlinson’s concerns) and Mark Galli (an editor of Christianity Today who does not agree with many of Tomlinson’s views).
Tomlinson’s book feels a little like “10 Things I Hate About Evangelicals.” For as much as he claims the post-evangelicalism provides a more compassionate alternative to cold, dogmatic evangelical churches, Tomlinson is very demeaning and cold toward evangelicals. If anything is unacceptable to Tomlinson it is evangelical churches who think they have a monopoly on the truth, yet Tomlinson seems to maintain a monopoly on the idea that evangelicals are fools. If that sounds harsh, read the book, Tomlinson wants churches to show grace toward everyone but he shows no grace toward evangelicals.
I am going to write two more articles on The Post Evangelical, in these posts I will address the two issues that Tomlinson devotes entire chapters to. First, Tomlinson asks the question, “Are post-evangelicals liberals in sheep’s clothing?,” and Secondly, “is the Bible the Word of God?” These are two important questions. The first question could be rephrased like this: “is the emergent church anything new?” In other words, is the emergent church saying anything that hasn’t been said before—is it really possible that the emergent church could revolutionize Christianity and the world? Tomlinson thinks it can—I will address this issue in my first post. The second question addresses whether the Bible is the proper foundation for Chrisitanity? Is the Bible inerrant? Tomlinson says “the inerrancy debate is a waste of time” (112). In my second post I will address Tomlinson’s view of Scripture and how this affects his theology and ultimately what Tomlinson sees as the foundation of the emergent church.