:: Tuesday, January 01, 2002 ::
Quite. Perhaps we should ascertain what Jesus Himself had to say about the matter:
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40 NIV)
The Lord seems decidedly less skeptical than post-evangelicals. Then again, what would you expect from someone who said, "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32 NIV) He believed truth was knowable and efficacious, not merely a cultural phenomenon. The accusation of naive realism typifies the postmodern mindset, as web author Andrew Lilico expounds:
As Lilico points out, postmodern thought insulates itself from the
burdens of rational discourse simply by branding such discourse as irrelevant by
definition. Thus, a condescending disapprobation of absolute and propositional
truth inevitably takes on absolutist and propositional qualities of its own.
This allows non-scientists such as Tomlinson to assert that "it is now
impossible, from a scientific point of view, to insist that the world was
created in six twenty-four-hour days,"
with total disregard for the thousands of scientists who disagree with him. The
point here is not about who is correct, but whether the matter is settled. Contra
Tomlinson, it is not. Maintaining the theme, he tackles our knowledge of God
along with truth:
If absolute truth is synonymous with the being of God, and he is entirely ‘other’ than ourselves, how are we going to gain access to such truth…If our language is inherently ambiguous in its attempts to describe external realities and therefore unable to contain unequivocal truth, how can we refer to any truth as absolute? The concept is just not useful to us.
With the echoes of Karl Barth lingering in the first statement, one is not surprised to find Barth praised as "the first truly postmodern theologian" a few pages later. That may be so, but let us turn to Paul for an evangelical response. Romans 1:19-20 addresses the "otherness" of God:
Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (NIV)
Tomlinson continues expounding on epistemology:
…our faith need not hinge on everything in the Bible being historically factual.
From there, only a few letters need to change and "everything" becomes "anything." That is the inevitable result of this mindset, as faith is exalted to the point of fideism and factuality is disregarded, but let us never forget 1 Corinthians 15:14 and Paul’s bold assertion:
And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
There are historical facts that cannot be compromised without destroying Christianity.
Post-evangelicals appreciate the subtle approach, making much ado of art projects, sacred spaces, and stories that avoid the confrontational smug certainty so detested in evangelicalism. This delicate artfulness is illustrated by Tomlinson’s section title, "Inerrancy – A Monumental Waste of Time!" It begins:
"I have no intention of arguing extensively against this doctrine; I simply marvel that anyone should think it plausible or necessary to believe in such a thing."
Conveniently, one need not wrestle with opposing views if they simply may be dismissed as implausible. As expected, Jonah once again comes under attack in this section, and fringe evangelical John Stott receives praise for doubting that parts of Job are God’s word, for rejecting the Genesis account of the Creation as literal, and for recognizing
the importance of literary genre, stating that passages which are, for example, clearly poetic should not be judged on scientific grounds.
I challenge Tomlinson to cite a single evangelical scholar (or layman, for that matter) who disagrees with that quote. Knocking down the straw man may be gratifying, but it does nothing to establish one’s prowess in the arena. On the back cover endorsement of The Post-Evangelical, Graham Cray writes of Tomlinson:
He raises pastoral and theological issues which must be faced…
Ignoring the ironically absolutist propositional nature of this statement, one remains struck by the incongruity of Tomlinson being lauded for sprinting past Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson in order to valiantly pummel the straw men of his own creation.
Once coherence in the realm of truth has been abandoned, the way is wide open for pseudo-insightful claims such as this pontification on music:
…a so-called secular album may, on the surface, be criticizing or even ridiculing Christianity, and yet at the same time be conveying a deeply Christian truth.
In light of post-evangelicalism's premises, we can rest assured that the "deeply Christian truth" won't carry much content or authority, if any, but will be characterized primarily by its depth, which most likely will be synonymous with unintelligibility, if I’m any judge of how this plays out. Jeremiah 2:13 comes to mind:
My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (NIV)
Postmodernized Christianity appears to be leaking rather badly.
Finally, we get to some solid exegesis near the end of the book. Post-evangelicals are not afraid of grappling with theological terms like "sin" after all! Tomlinson explains Paul’s comments:
'whatever is not of faith is sin' (Romans 14.23), by which he means that it is probably more important that we are true to our convictions than whether our convictions ultimately prove to be correct or not.
Yes, that must be it. Sincerity covers a multitude of sins. We must be true to our convictions, obscurantist though they may be, striving for relevance in our world as we jettison the evangelical baggage of inerrancy, middle-class morality, propositional truth and naïve realism. The clarion call of post-evangelicalism resounds:
the time has come for us to climb out of the little boat of our settled certainties and join Jesus in walking on the waters of uncertainty and vulnerability.
Stories and word images are powerful—one can almost sense the increasing tightness in the Creator’s throat as He takes that first tentative step on the waters of uncertainty, modeling incarnational vulnerability for all of us to emulate. Here indeed is a Savior for the 21st century—an uncertain pilgrim with no clear direction, reveling in insecurity and eager to embrace all fellow travelers on the broad road of ecumenism.
No thanks. I will cheerfully remain mired in my pre-post-evangelical morass, naively consulting God’s Word as my infallible guide to life. That doesn’t mean I refuse to deal with postmodern issues—there are nuggets of truth and valid criticisms to be found within the refuse, but one does not have to embrace postmodernism in order to reach out to postmoderns any more than one has to embrace Satanism to reach out to Satanists.
A debt of gratitude is owed to Dave Tomlinson for boldly setting forth what spawns when postmodernism unites in unholy matrimony with Christianity. Too many authors tiptoe around the issues, desperately seeking acceptance and relevance on the cutting edge without facing the ramifications of what will inevitably result. The Post-Evangelical boldly unveils the truth in all of its repulsiveness.Closing note: I do not wish to convey the wrong impression with those comments that might rightfully be construed as satirical. My views would not stop me, if ever in South London, from stopping by the pub where Tomlinson and his Holy Joe’s church group meets in order to hoist a pint and dialog on these issues. Of course, being an evangelical teetotaler, my pint would remain full late into the evening, at which time I would donate it to the bystander who appeared the thirstiest.
Thanks to my good friend Steve Sanchez for inflicting this book on me. Happily, he passed it on as a skeptic towards its message.
 Brian D. McLaren, A New Kind of Christian (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001), back cover.
 Dave Tomlinson,The Post-Evangelical, (London: Triangle, 1995), 35.
 Ibid., 38.
 Ibid., 56.
 Ibid., 96. See also pages 69 and 106.
 Tomlinson, 73.
 Ibid., 98.
 Ibid., 110.
 Ibid., 97.
 Ibid., 105.
 Ibid., 105.
 Some might argue my use of "fringe," but once you deny the infallibility of Scripture and the eternal punishment of the lost you can’t be considered mainstream.
 Tomlinson, 107.
 Ibid., back cover.
 Ibid., 133.
 Ibid., 137.
 Ibid., 83.
:: Randy Brandt :: Comments ::