Black Sheep and Prodigals - An antidote to black and white religion

black sheepBlack Sheep and Prodigals - An antidote to black and white religion
Author: Dave Tomlinson
ISBN: 978-1-473-61102-3
Price: £14.99
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Year: 2017
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton.

This is a book for those who are tired of being told what to do and what to believe by institutions practising what they preach and what they preach is punishment for non-compliance. As the title suggests, this book speaks volumes in a mere 240 pages of very accessible, sardonic and sometimes risqué writing.

For those who think that theology only comes in weighty tomes by Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Aquinas, Dave Tomlinson will be a breath of fresh air - perhaps some of the air which Pope St John XXIII hoped would enter the Catholic Church when he announced that he 'wanted to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in'.

Tomlinson is from the Anglican tradition who founded 'Holy Joe's', a church in a pub in Clapham for disaffected church goers. His book explores why people are tired of the official narratives of Christian Churches about the fallen state of humankind and the theology of satisfaction - God wanting the blood sacrifice of Jesus as atonement for sin. His chapter titles, on the face of it, seem quirky and irreverent but he then proceeds to unpack deep issues of what it means to be a follower of Jesus today rather than an adherent to sets of rules which offer only simplistic binaries i.e. 'I am right and therefore you are wrong.' 'We will be saved but you will end up in Hell.' He explores the meaning of Resurrection and Ascension in a way which speaks to the sceptic without diminishing the Kingdom of God. As he wryly puts it: 'I believe in life before death - the afterlife is above my pay grade!' One of the most profound sections of the book tells of his meeting with Hans KŸng, whom Tomlinson describes as 'one of the greatest Christian thinkers of our time' and 'a rock star in the world of global theology'. As we know, KŸng fell out of favour with the Vatican authorities on, among other things, the ordination of women, the welcome of divorcees into the Church and his support for priests who had left sacred ministry in order to marry. Over dinner, Kung explained about his 'global ethic' summed up as:

*    No peace among the nations
*    Without peace among the religions.
*    No peace among the religions
*    Without dialogue between the religions.

All of this based upon the golden rule shared by ten of the World's Faiths: 'In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you'. It is as simple, complex, easy and difficult as that!

Ironically, I picked up my copy of Black Sheep and Prodigals in the bookshop at the Discovery Centre at Portsmouth Cathedral when attending an ordination there recently. I think this theological gem should be required reading for every seminarian and member of the clergy, although of course that would be prescriptive and doctrinaire and I would not want that! Neither, I suspect, would Dave Tomlinson.

Bridie Stringer, St Mary's University, Twickenham

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