Tag Archives: Dave Tomlinson

Black Sheep and Prodigals

Religion poses many questions that have troubled theologians through the ages. “Is there a God?” “What is the nature of God?” “What is the Trinity all about?” “Why is there a sheep on a skateboard at the front of St Marks?” [1]

A partial answer to this last imponderable was that we had a well-attended talk last night (4th Feb.) from Dave Tomlinson, promoting his latest book, “Black Sheep and Prodigals”. As for the others, and similar questions, Dave’s main theme was concerned with avoiding black and white answers. Most of us do not experience the blinding light of revelation on the road to Damascus. At best we may experience an unreliable, intermittently flickering bulb, more often off than on. Indeed, it’s a good idea to be wary of those who purport to have all the answers. This instantly creates a divide: you can’t belong to our club unless you believe what we do.

Dave was at pains to stress that none of us have exclusive access to “The Truth”. We should encourage doubts and tolerate dissention, for that is how new insights may emerge.

We had forty minutes or so of these and many other thought provoking ideas, followed by an extensive question and answer session. I’m not going to deal with all the ideas here – buy the book, it’s the one we will be using for Lent discussions anyway!

Dave finished his talk by quoting my other favourite writer on religious topics, Karen Armstrong, “Jesus did not spend a great deal of time discoursing about the Trinity, or original sin…. He went around doing good and being compassionate.”

Or, to paraphrase Dave:- there is little point in asking what Jesus would do if he was around today – discover Jesus within yourself and act on it!

“Live passionately, believe sceptically, Love extravagantly”


Bob Shatwell 5th Feb 2018



[1] It’s to look as equally cool as the sheep with sunglasses, grazing nearby.

Dave Tomlinson: The bad Christian’s manifesto

A review of a talk given on Sunday 22nd Feb. in St Marks.

If someone had told me two years ago I’d be sitting in a not overly-warm church at 6:30 pm on a gloomy Sunday in February, listening to a talk on modern Christianity and faith in general, I would have been politely sceptical. However, there I was with about twenty other people. Furthermore I’m glad I went.

Dave is an obviously intelligent person who thinks long and deeply about the reconciliation of faith and our modern technological society. He combines this with an ability to communicate ideas without resorting to scholarly erudition. He has written two books on this theme: “How to be a bad Christian” and “The bad Christian’s manifesto”. This talk was associated with the launch of the second book.

I won’t attempt to cover everything in Dave’s talk. As I found myself in agreement with much that he said, it would probably be my own less-coherent thoughts coming through, anyway. I’ll just touch on a couple of messages I took away with me. If you want more, read the books.

One was the concept of a two-dimensional existence. It’s very easy to go through life not thinking about faith and what we are doing here, and not be troubled by such questions at all. You might only get a glimpse of such a weird world when you’re asked to go along to a baptism or a funeral and awkwardly participate in rituals you don’t understand. Equally you might be a regular churchgoer never questioning why you do it, or attempting to reconcile your habit/faith with the modern world. However, if you start to plumb the third dimension, asking about belief and why etc., then maybe you are finding God, no matter what your starting point. (Indeed, God was never lost, just waiting.)

The other idea is that we all have our own ideas of God, irrespective of whether we believe in the concept or not. Your idea will almost certainly be different from mine and you might not believe in mine any more than I could accept yours. This might make us bad Christians in the eyes of those who insist on conformity of thoughts, but .. so what? The key thing is to have such thoughts. Let’s celebrate the diversity.

Basically, a very illuminating and thought-provoking talk, and somewhere in the thoughts, maybe God was having a quiet chuckle.

Bob Shatwell

Lent Books and Groups

This Lent there are several options to help you to deepen your faith:

  1. Meet at the Rectory on Tuesdays from 3rd March to talk about the book “The Return of the Prodigal” by Henri Nouwen: In seizing the inspiration that came to him through Rembrandt’s depiction of the powerful Gospel story, Henri Nouwen probes the several movements of the parable: the younger son’s return, the father’s restoration of sonship, the elder son’s vengefulness, and the father’s compassion. In his reflection on Rembrandt in light of his own life journey, the author evokes a powerful drama of the parable in a rich, captivating way.
  2. Meet at St Mark’s on Wednesdays from 25th February to watch videos from “Life on the Frontline” and then we will sit around tables and discuss questions that arise from each video. We may be old or young; healthy or infirm; rich or poor; employed or not. We may be busy or bored; optimistic or pessimistic; radically cutting edge or relatively retro. Whoever we are, as Christians, we have at least one thing in common: we each have a Frontline.
    – the place where you spend much of your time
    – the place where you meet people who don’t know Jesus
    – the place God has called you
    – the place of possibility and potential
    Often though, we don’t see ourselves, our workplaces homes, colleges and clubs in this light. But what might God want to do where we are day by day? How might he use us? How will we grow?
  3. Dave Tomlinson is coming on the First Sunday in Lent – 22nd February at 6:30pm at St Mark’s to talk about his new book – “The Bad Christian’s Manifesto” – this would be good to read during Lent. Dave Tomlinson, author of How to be a bad Christian, thinks that a lot of our overly religious, formal ideas of God need to be reinvented – and a lot of our spirituality, too. What does it look like to live well and die happy – from an unapologetically generous Christian point of view? Join Dave as he considers virtues, vices, friendship, morality, mortality – and how to make a sacrament of anything from cigars to chocolate.

Contact Lesley on 01252 820537 or revdlesley@gmail.com to find out more.