Move on! In recent times, you have come across posters with this advertising text everywhere. The British theologian Graham Tomlin would probably put a smile on his face. The message of the posters is exactly how the church should present itself to the outside world: inspiring, stimulating and a place where the right questions can be put on the table.
Contemporary mission and culture
Graham Tomlin was born in 1958, the son of a Baptist minister. That he will later play a role in the church in various places is not at all a matter of course. In his teenage years, Tomlin says goodbye to religion and declares himself an atheist. In the mid-1980s, however, he began to study theology. In 1987 he was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church in England. From this house, Tomlin develops further as a theologian with the main theme of ‘simultaneous mission and culture’. He combines that with his love of the history of theology, such as the Reformation. And then a red line appears in his thinking about the importance of the church over time. Tomlin is principal at St. Paul’s Theological Center at Holy Trinity Brompton. It is the place where he further nurtures and shares his ideas, contributing to the reflection of Alpha course theology that arises there.
Relevance and attractiveness
The Anglican Church recognizes Tomlin’s important role in the church’s search for a new meaningful place in society. In 2015, he was confirmed as Bishop of Kensington by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He will not stay in that place for long, in August 2022 he will resign his seat to lead the newly established Center for Cultural Witness of the Anglican Church. It drags drive by Tomlin, who will again and again question the church about its relevance and appeal. Because those who have been through unbelief, like Tomlin, know what really matters and what makes it worth believing.
How do we know Graham Tomlin from?
Tomlin became known in Holland when his book The provocative church was translated in 2008. The title of the book turned out to refer not only to the church, but also to the content, and in many congregations it resulted in a fascinating but sometimes spicy conversation about the attractiveness of the church. One can describe a church that stimulates, like Tomlin’s theological thinking behind the worldwide popular Alpha course. Tomlin asks the critical questions behind the course. Because why would you as a church invest so much time and effort in a course that should interest people in the Christian faith? Well, says Tomlin, not because we want to convince people of our own rightness or our own beliefs. The church is not a place for people who are right and try to convince others. It’s not a healthy church anyway. The church is the place for the good life with God, the place where you can taste the kingdom. Tried and tested by his own journey of discovery, Tomlin is honest enough to note that in many congregations that is not yet the reality, and that many churches may even be places where you don’t want to take another with you. . IN A spirit of abundance, which will be published in the Netherlands in 2012, Tomlin expands his thoughts by focusing on the work of the Spirit and the people who make up the church. Anyone who thinks they can do the job through a quick brainstorm and an action plan and thus want to become an attractive municipality will be disappointed by Tomlin. A church that really wants to matter is a church that also wants to be surprised by where the Spirit takes you and that doesn’t decide everything itself. It could be easy pious words, but with Tomlin there is a sincere desire as the Lord’s congregation to actually expect that from the Lord.
What can we do in the local church in Holland with his ideas?
Graham Tomlin helps you wake up as a municipality. His question, whether you as a church are still stimulating, even provocative, can in itself be a question that arouses approval or conversely opposition. Consent because you as a municipality, perhaps unconsciously, have been fretting for a while about the importance you as a municipality have for your environment. Or irritation because it’s a question you prefer to keep away from you because it might be too loose if you let the question get to you. Still, it’s good to take an honest look in the mirror sometimes. Who are we as a municipality? Who are we able to touch by what we say and do on Sundays and at other times? And: are we actually still affected by our speech and action? A good starting question for discussion on this topic might be the title of Chapter 6 of Graham’s book A church that stimulates: is my church worth visiting? A question that should lead to a fascinating conversation, especially if you know how to conduct the conversation with several generations in your municipality. You could take Alpha’s call as a great challenge: to shape your church in such a way that you can say with full conviction together as a congregation: join us!
Meet Graham Tomlin
A number of Tomlin’s books have been translated into Dutch. Some familiar titles:
A church that stimulates
The book that Tomlin became known for in Holland, in which he pleads for a church that does not try to preach the gospel with cheap words, but a church that tries to be a place that challenges, questions and inspires people from a sincere commitment. .
A spirit of abundance
A church that wants to take its place as a recruiting community also looks to the work of the Spirit. A book that helps to reflect again on the basics of our faith and being a church.
Using the seven deadly sins of pride, greed, lust, jealousy, care, anger and sloth, Graham Tomlin shows that sins are more than just “mistakes”. They can get in the way of us being human, towards God, each other and ourselves. In Tomlin’s words: they stand in the way of a heavenly life, and thereby we prevent others from gaining insight into the heavenly life. Tomlin wants to turn it around: Those who try to avoid the pitfalls of these deadly sins can touch the heavenly atmosphere. And this is where a stimulating church begins, with people trying to live in imitation of the Lord through their own inability.
Read more in the theologians’ series profiles: