July 21, 2006

This is mostly a link dump of the stuff I’ve been reading lately, but I’ll try to say something interesting while I’m about it.

The Post-Evangelical

In the pub on Friday, my spy in the ranks of the enemy told me excitedly that she’d read a book I must read also. It turned out to be Dave Tomlinson’s The Post-Evangelical. So I went and read it again to see whether I agreed with what I thought 6 years ago, when I liked the bits about evangelical sub-culture but thought his epistemology was crap.

I still think Tomlinson is at his best when he is describing the pressure towards conformity in evangelicalism and pointedly remarking on the astonishing similarity between evangelical mores and those of middle-class society. There’s nothing wrong with being middle-class, in my book, but to elevate the most caricatured aspects of it to the status of a religion is probably taking things too far. Tomlinson’s thoughts about that weren’t new even in 2000, as Pete Broadbent pointed out (apparently Pete’s a bishop these days, so there is something the Church of England got right).

I still don’t know quite what his proposed alternative to both evangelicalism and liberalism actually is. It might be something which takes those parts of evangelicalism which aren’t the middle-class bits and uses them as guidelines rather than as axioms. For example, Tomlinson tells us that post-evangelicals don’t believe in Biblical inerrancy, but do retain the belief that God will speak through the Bible.

Or it might be an attempt to make the whole thing fuzzy, using, in Tomlinson’s terms, “poetic” rather than “scientific” language. Regular readers will know that anyone who behaves like a scientist and starts asking questions about what their religion actually means and whether it’s really true must end up an atheist. In that case, perhaps the best way for religion to survive is to avoid finding the answers to questions. If evangelicals are caricatures of the middle-classes, are the post-evangelicals and emerging church people caricatures of arts students, as holyoffice tells us (you’ll need to search for “The Emerging Church”)? I suppose I’d need to ask a real live post-evangelical to be sure: is there one in the house?

While I was looking around the web to see what other people had said about the book, I came across Maggi Dawn‘s blog. She’s currently the chaplain at Robinson college, but was one of the people who worked with Tomlinson in setting up a church in which meets in a pub. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in the archives of her blog. A couple of things which caught my eye were an evangelical critiquing the idea of a personal relationship wtih Jesus, and the story of how the Christian Union at Birmingham University fell foul of Student Union rules.

Textual criticism

Rev Dawn also linked to the Washington Post story on Bart Ehrman, a university lecturer on the New Testament. Ehrman’s a former evangelical Christian who became an agnostic after studying the history of the Biblical texts. The Post does a good job of evoking what it must feel like to be in his position.

The comments on the article on Rev Dawn’s blog rapidly dissolve into the standard liberal vs evangelical slanging match (“by this all men will know you are my disciples, if you flame one another on the Internet”, as Jesus once put it). There is an interesting question she poses there, though, which is why people who have left Christianity devote so much time to criticising it instead of moving on.

LOL furriesChristians

There’s something in Tony B’s comment, I suppose: even if you’ve decided it’s not true, there’s an intellectual fascination there, and the feeling that it’d be nice if all manner of things really will be well. But there’s also something like the stuff Sam Harris talks about. Even moderate religion gives cover to fundamentalists by making belief in an invisible friend strangely more respectable than believing in alien abduction or that Elvis is alive, and by propagating the idea that criticism of a person’s religious beliefs is taboo in a way that criticism of any other belief strangely is not. The latter is a defence mechanism evolved by religions, as Douglas Adams rightly says. People who’ve left a religion have already broken stronger barriers than that, so it’s not surprising that they’re occasionally a little outspoken (who, me?)