Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why

Phyllis Tickle has written a very short and superb book that touches on a spotty yet vast array of influences that have helped to forge the current climate in which the church and world find itself presently.
A primary metaphor for Tickle is that of a garage sale. She makes a claim, and then through a variety of choice descriptions, goes on to show that about every 500 years the Church undergoes dramatic changes. The first transformation was under the auspices of Gregory the Great, then the Great Schism, The Reformation/Counter Reformation and now - The Great Emergence. In her metaphor, she suggests that in these transformational times the Church has a garage sale exercise - that is some of the things it has held in high regard for 500 years or so, are re-imagined, seen as not so exciting and put out for sale.
If you'd like to see how Gregory the Great and Grandma are related, or Freud and Fords - this book is for you. It's an extremely concise history of Christianity/philosophy/culture.
Upon painting the background she deals with the questions proposed in her subtitle. The how Christianity is changing is described in two major arenas. The first major change is in the arena of authority. This question, which the reformation/counter reformation sought to nail to the wall, is evidently like jello and no nail will hold it firm. Tickle's observation is that the answer to the question at present in post-modern churches is in the "scriptures and the community."
This is contrary to the reformation/counter reformation. The text of scripture is understood not to be authoritative of its own accord, due in part to seeing it not as a divine prescription, but as a divine story, describing contextual things. Thus one can't simply transfer across times. It also calls into question the counter Reformation projection of community as stemming from a hierarchical model. In the emergence, community is free association networked community, more libertarian.
The question of authority and its answers consequentally deal a death blow to the segmentation of the church world, especially the quadrants of description or the distinctions of separation. She describes how a Robert Webber, could teach at conservative Wheaton College and yet be a liturgical Anglican, or how a Rick Warren could be a leader in social justice issues.
The old distinctions Tickle sees as being significantly marginalized and in effect being a counter weight of necessity to the emerging world.

I loved reading this book and would recommend it to you.

4 comments:

Sara said...

What does she have to say about the Orthodox Church?

Duke said...

Sara

Tickle does speak of the Orthodox Church. Primarily in the early pages as she describes the separation between east and west. She also makes a distinction between Orthodox and Eastern Christianity. I didn't follow her distinction.
Because of the early stages that Orthodoxy is in in the Americas, she doesn't see it taking a major role in forging the future, however she does admit that its force is advancing.
Given this scant attention to orthodoxy, and her surprising appeal to Quakers, you may still find her resonating with someone like Frederica Mathews-Green. Her appeal to the Quakers is that from their beginning they have held scripture and community together the source of authority, anticipating that the Spirit indwells both. Having served in a Quaker communion for a couple of years I wish her assesement was spot on.
I think she would have found more resonance if she would have taken her cues from Orthodoxy.

Sara said...

Ok well...(Here's the part where I give you a hard time), I'll read this book when you all become Orthodox! You should read a few of the 1 star reviews on Amazon...

Duke said...

Sara

An author you might like, similar to Frederica Mathews-Green is Marva Dawn. At the present I'm reading her work on Romans 12, "Truly The Community." She reflects Tickle's ruminations in her perspective of scripture. It is surprising that both of them continue under the protestant banner.