The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why

Posted: January 29, 2014 by Todd in Books, Culture, Theology
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The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why

Phyllis Tickle – 2012 (Reprint Edition), Baker

Finished re-reading August, 2013.  Best parts to re-read are chapters 1 and 5.

Brief Summary: Roughly every 500 years, the church seems to have a “giant rummage sale,” shedding off old ways of being, doctrine, and practice, adopting new understandings, beliefs, and activities giving rise to new vitality.  We’re in the midst of the latest such rummage sale, “the Great Emergence,” which rejects the church and scripture as the only religious authorities and seeks a larger role for personal experience.

Syntopical Learnings: Window from 900 BCE to 200 CE very important in human religious history.  Compare to John Hick’s 500 year and geographic religious window theory.  See page 30.  “Axial Age” and “The Great Transformation” [more…]

Part I: The Great Emergence: What Is It
According to Bishop Right Rev. Mark Dyer, roughly every 500 years the church holds a “rummage sale,” shedding off elements that have become untenable, leaving itself less ossified and with a more pure, vital, and growing self.
Chapter 1: Rummage Sales – When the Church Cleans Out Its Attic
500 years ago: The Protestant Reformation
1000 years ago: The Great Schism (over leavened vs. unleavened bread and the filioque controversy)
1500 years ago: Gregory the Great and the Chalcedonean controversies regarding Mary as theotokos and Jesus as one person with two natures or two persons, resulting in the Western/Eastern vs. Oriental Church (Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Syrian)
2000 years ago: Birth of the Church; destruction of the Temple
Page 29-30 – 500 year cycles continue in Judaism (and Islam?) with Babylonian Captivity, End of the Age of the Judges/Beginning of the Monarchy
Chapter 2: Cable of Meaning: The Loss and Discovery of a Common Story
There is an outer exterior to our religion that has to be worn down before its interior is exposed and examined, giving way to the rummage sale.
Part II: The Great Emergence: How Did It Come to Be?
Chapter 3: The Great Reformation: A Prequel to Emergence
Leading up to the Reformation there were competing popes, negotiating for authority.  Sola Scriptura dispensed with the question of which pope had authority.  This fueled literacy, which in turn fueled the Enlightenment.  Lots of other changes accompanied the Reformation, such as the rise of the nation-state, middle class, capitalism, Copernican theory, and the printing press.
Chapter 4: Questions of Re-formation: Darwin, Freud, and the Power of Myth
Michael Faraday enabled the use of electricity, giving rise to the postmodern age (even more than Darwin and Einstein).  Cores of fundamentalism became:
  1. inerrancy of scripture
  2. divinity of Jesus
  3. historicity of virgin birth
  4. substitutionary atonement
  5. return of Christ
  6. obligation to evangelize
  7. Jesus as personal savior
The rise of television, pluralism, and new understandings of “self” and their combination continued to fuel the Great Emergence, by newly questioning where authority comes from.  We can’t come to “post-Emergence stability” until we answer two questions: 1) what is the humanness of humanity, 2) what is the relation of the world’s religions.
Chapter 5: The Century of Emergence: Einstein, the Automobile, and the Marginalization of Grandma
Einstein’s “Special Theory of Relativity” lead to the Heisenberg “Uncertainty Principle.”  This further eroded sola scriptura.  The Quest for the historical Jesus, made even further progress in ending sola scriptura as the Jesus of history became disconnected to the Jesus of the Western Christian Church.  Pentecostalism gave one of the first answers to the authority question – direct experience with God (vis-a-via the Holy Spirit).  “It was Grandma…who rode hard on the preacher and his tendency toward fancy or newfangled sermons and imported theories of God.  Grandma was, in essence, a brake – a formidable one, in fact – on social/cultural/theological change. (87)”  The automobile mobilized people away from Grandma, particularly as it eroded Sabbath observance.  Marx served to transfer some authority to the state – even in places like America, the wrestling with Marxist ideas quietly expanded government control and reduced formal religious authority.  Groups like AA lead to the rise of feelings like, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.”  AA’s emphasis on the addicted helping the addicted “was the first to strike a blow right at the Pastor’s Study as the seat of all good advice, holy counsel, wisdom, and amelioration.” (93)  The Bible’s ambivilence on slavery sewed some seeds eroding Sola as did the rising rights of women, increasing divorce, female ordination, and lastly homosexuality.  Additionally, Vatican II and the questions of abortion and end-of-life medical issues have been slowly pulling the church away from dogmatism rooted in Sola.  While the Great Emergence is putting to rest the doctrine of sola scriptura, the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is even more celebrated in this new era – particularly enabled by the rise of the “information age” and all its accompanying technologies.
Women’s entrance into the work force during World War II, symbolized by Rosie the Riveter, would give Americans a new vision of what women could do, particularly the next generation of women, that would forever change the American family putting men and women on more equal footing – or at the very least creating the expectation of equality in the minds of most.  Further fueling change in the American family was the birth control pill.  The rise of working women, two-income households, and nontraditional family structures has reduced the time of “family-based religious instruction and formation.”  As mothers and grandmothers went to work, they ceased to be “principal storyteller and domestic rabbi,” with the result that the next generation of Americans “became more and more untethered” from the Christian narrative and Scripture.
Sidebar: Hegel “taught that everything had, inherent in it, its opposite…Once the two opposites in any thing had resolved their conflict, they would synthesize, and the thing they were would cease to be.  Thus all life was only a becoming, never a being.” (88)
Sidebar: “Marx’s contribution originally was to take Hegel’s Absolute and de-spiritualize it, so to speak….Government or the state becomes the presence of the Absolute on earth, and it is the duty and salvation of every person to serve the state.” (89)
Part III: The Great Emergence: Where Is It Going?
Tickle is now attempting to talk more about the content and substance of this new thing called “emerging Christianity” and not the larger context which gave birth to it.  She wishes to restrict her discussion to the North American Christian context, but acknowledges it cannot be artificially separated from similar emergings in “first-world Judaism” or from emerging Christianity in other industrialized Western countries.  Tickle singles out England, Ireland, and Wales as being “at least twenty years” ahead of the curve and suggests that they might be “very useful and…predictive…for North American observers.”
Chapter 6: The Gathering Center and the Many Faces of a Church Emerging
The definition and direction of emerging Christianity is not yet as clear as it was in retrospect with the Reformation.  Tickle identifies Walter Rauschenbusch as the earliest American perceiver of an emerging Christianity.
(Roman Catholic, Anglicans, some Lutherans, Orthodox)
Social Justice Christians (a.k.a., “Mainline”)
Conservatives (a.k.a., “Evangelicals”)
Tickle acknowledges two omissions from this table: Quakers and Mormons
Tickle says the temptation is to place entire denominations in each box and this may have been a relatively accurate exercise several decades ago, but we must now be much more fluid with individual Christian and Christian groups wholesale identification with any particular box to the exclusion of other boxes.  There’s another divide to consider as well – Christians who tend towards orthodoxy (believing the right things) and those who tend towards orthopraxy (doing the right things) along the horizontal axis of this quadrilateral; this divide is permeable as well.
There is an emerging center rising up from all 4 quadrants and across the ortho- divisions.  With more and more socialization happening in offices and other city type situations without ordained clergy or the family’s biblical tradition centering, “watercooler theology” has emerged.  In essence, this is a radicalization of the priesthood of all believers.  Divisions that had long persisted had to be talked about rather than simply persist in their own silos.  This emerging center “was no longer Protestant…it was no longer any ‘thing…’  it was…a melange of ‘things’ cherry-picked from each quadrant…without any original intention.”  Some organized gatherings coming out of this center have emerged in pubs, bowling alleys, and eventually some have developed into non-denominational churches.  The one unifying characteristic that the emerging center seems to share is “being incarnational.”  Tickle uses the term “inherited church” to name the goods being donated to the rummage sale by this emerging center.
A backlash is developing within each quadrant to the emerging center – perhaps 9 to 13% of each quadrant.  Tickle suggests the quadrilateral above has transformed into a “rose” – with an emerging center, with corners of resistance cut away at the point furthest from the center in each quadrant and with the lines dividing the quadrants able to bow in either direction.  Tickle suggests that the backlashing groups act as a “ballast” to the emerging center, holding it in place during a stormy transition.  There are another 30% in each quadrant that are neither reactionary nor clearly part of the emerging center.  Tickle divides these people into four distinct categories:
  1. Traditionalists, who are the closest to the reactionaries, but tend to accommodate to social change
  2. Re-traditioning group choose to stay closely identified with their quadrant, but seek new ways to recover original vibrancy and adapt to new cultural realities
  3. Progressives are more comfortable getting rid of old doctrines and willing to make major changes suggested by the emerging center, all while remaining identified with their quadrant
  4. Hyphenateds are the closest to the emerging center without being entirely part of it, who identify themselves with names like Presby-mergents or Metho-mergents, etc., representing a full desire to embrace both the emerging center and hold on to what is good about their own quadrant.
Chapter 7 – The Way Ahead: Mapping Fault Lines and Fusions
In addition to the horizontal line marking the division between orthopraxy and orthodoxy, the vertical line marks a division between those who adhere to sola scriptura and those who don’t.
great emergence authority chart

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