November 28, 2011
Christianity’s Great Rummage Sales
A Review of
Tickle, Phyllis. The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. Baker Books, 2008.
Every 500 years or so the Christian Church holds a rummage sale, selling off old ideas and adopting new ones. Each of these “re-formations” comprises decades of change and results in the creation of a new vision for the Church.
So claims Phyllis Tickle, the author of The Great Emergence. Tickle was the editor of the religion section of Publishers Weekly, from which she retired. She is now a eucharistic minister in the Episcopal Church and a senior fellow of Cathedral College at the National Cathedral in Washington.
Five hundred years ago the Church underwent the Great Reformation. Approximately 500 years prior to that occurred the Great Schism, when the Orthodox and Roman Catholics broke away from each other. Another 500 years before that lived Pope Gregory I, or Gregory the Great, who instigated reforms arising from the growth of monasticism. Each of these “great” events contributed to the latest change that the Church is experiencing which Tickle calls “the Great Emergence”.
Tickle argues that each of these re-formations comes about because those uncomfortable with the institutional Church ask the question, “Where is the authority, now?” In the Reformation, Luther answered that authority lies within the Scriptures and only within the Scriptures. For contemporary Christians, however, the authority of the Scriptures has been steadily eroded over a century of critical inquiry. Furthermore, North American Protestantism has had to contend with several “assaults”, as Tickle calls them. These have included changes in attitude toward divorce, the ordination of women, and the place of homosexuals within the various denominations.
Tickle views the Emerging Church movement as the embodiment of the Great Emergence and predicts that it will mold the future of Christianity. She says that the answer to the question, “Where is the authority, now?” will be found in conversation between the various groups of Christians who are struggling with this question. Out of this conversation will arise a future Church that will be a dynamic network rather than a single institution. Tickle writes that if “the Great Emergence does what most of its observers think it will, it will rewrite Christian theology — and thereby North American culture — into something far more Jewish, more paradoxical, more narrative, and more mystical than anything the Church has had for the last seventeen or eighteen hundred years.”
This book should appeal to those who are interested in the Emerging Church movement and models of change within the Church. My biggest complaint about the book is that the author assumes that the reader already has some familiarity with the Emerging Church movement and contemporary North American Protestantism. Because I know little about the Emerging Church movement, I was hoping that this book would provide an introduction to it; in that regard I was a little disappointed. Furthermore, some Catholic readers may be confused by the use of theological language perhaps unfamiliar to them. Nevertheless, the book should generate food for thought within a wide audience on the future of the Church.