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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Emergence Christianity" (Phyllis Tickle)

TITLE: Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters
AUTHOR: Phyllis Tickle
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012, (242 pages).

This book adds to the growing collection of Christian books on new forms of Church and Christianity that use the words, "Emerging," "Emergent," and "Emergence." These words are arguably associated with Eddie Gibbs, Brian McLaren and Phyllis Tickle respectively. Eddie Gibbs use the "Emerging churches" label in a book of the same name, a description of the new forms of churches that call themselves 'emerging.' Next, Brian McLaren is the defacto face of the "Emergent Church" which is essentially described in his book, "A Generous Orthodoxy" that appears to be all forms of Christianity to all Christian. It is more of a celebration of a new kind of Christian in a new kind of Church that is more embracing. Tickle describes such churches as welcoming people to belong first, behave next,  and believe finally. This is in contrast to many traditional congregations that work on a "believe/behave/belong" sequence of acceptance.

"Emergence Christianity" is not about the emerging church. It is about an emerging mindset. The author uses three questions to frame her book.
  1. What is Emergence Christianity?
  2. Where It is Going?
  3. Why It Matters?
A) What Is It?

Tickle gives readers a fascinating historical tour that is based on blocks of 500 years, just like her previous book, "The Great Emergence." She writes about the Great Reformation that is far beyond Martin Luther Protestantism, to include political, cultural, and social changes through the past 1500 years. She argues that it is the underlying culture that has shaped the face of religion.  For Tickle, it is the Great Reformation that rocks the former to change to what is now the era of the Great Transformation. It is also the history of the Great Reformation. Detecting some change, Tickle tries out at several different vocabularies before settling on the term "Great Emergence" to describe the the cultural mindset of this age. Like McLaren, Tickle also weaves in two extremes with a hyphen.  Her historical survey of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, the house churches of Iona, Taize, Catholic Workers, missionals, to Neo-Monasticism, the cyberchurch, and the modern megachurches sets the stage for her key thesis: The Great Reformation for our era is emerging into one that is comfortable with the tensions of many seemingly opposing views. In other words, Emergence Christianity has to do with a "centrality of mind-set." The characteristics are:
"of deinstitutionalization; nonhierarchal organization; a comfortable and informed interface with physical science; dialogical and contextual habits of thought; almost universal technological savvy; triple citizenship with its triple loyalties and obligations; a deeply embedded commitment to social justice with an accompanying, though largely unpremeditated, assumption of all forms of human diversity as the norm; and a vocation toward greenness..." (137)
B) Where Is It Going?

Emergence Christianity is something that is still evolving through communities of change, and rising out of a "spiritual but not religious" climate. It embraces the different forms of worship and is not hemmed into any one kind of structure. Tickle affirms the three initiatives of Emerging Christianity.
  1. Shift from church to Kingdom focus
  2. Shift from pastoral/teacher/evangelistic to apostolic/prophetic
  3. Shift from market-based behaviour to kingdom-shaped economy.
She calls both the Emerging and the Emergent Christianity as subsets of "Emergence Christianity." She tries to make a distinction between them. Things like Emerging being more patriachal, traditional, than Emergent ones. She also calls McLaren's Ten Questions as a "mother hen" of Emergent Christians. Hyphenateds are very divergent and represents a highly inclusive form of church.

Philosophically, Emergence Christianity marries science and the humanities. It is suspicious of "metanarratives" but welcomes "micronarratives." It insists in one central story rather than many. Grace is more important than morality, and right action begins with the gospels.

C) Why It Matters?

Emergence Christianity is coming faster than we think. That is why churches need to reconfigure according to their local contexts, adapt to needs, and to realign with kingdom goals for their purpose. It will be more progressive and accepting of opposing views. In fact, Emergence Christianity will increasingly clash with conservative evangelicalism more and more. The EC is important because it is increasingly being called upon to lend a credible voice to the culture at large. The finality of it all is love, that will drive conversations from human to human.

Tickle makes it clear that "Emergence Christianity" is not a new kind of church, but a movement mentality (North American context) that can shrink or grow, begin or end, far reaching and also potentially impactful. The basic assumption of church is one of people rather than institutional places. It is organized by consensus. It is "open source" that requires appropriate discernment and guidance of ordained clergy. Emergence Christianity is one that is inclusive and diverse in worship. Informal and social, it places a heavy emphasis on community life. They practice a form of liberated worship but are anchored in tradition and orthodoxy. It is not easily restricted by forms and structures, but aims to allow the exercise of spiritual gifts by all members. It readily combines orthodoxy, both Eastern and Western. Sacraments are open. So is their readiness to adopt technology.

My Thoughts

Tickle is more of a bird's eye chronicler of some major happenings throughout history. It is not a bull's eye treatise that tells of what is happening exactly. Things are more vague than clear. It is basically to demonstrate how change is still happening today.  The author is able to sense that something is going on, but her conclusion lets her down. Perhaps, it is the nature of a "Emergence Christianity" that is increasingly more like the Aquarian form of being more "spiritual" rather than "religious."

The first half of the book is an extremely brief overview about changes happening throughout in the first 1500 years. There are also lots of references to the modern church movements which inject modern relevance into the text.  The second half of the book gets more tedious as I sense Tickle trying to make sense of being all things to all people. She goes easy on her critiques, preferring to be as inclusive as possible with her observations of the differences between the Emerging and the Emergent Church. At best, she is able to draw in the wide variety of groups and perspectives. At worst, it can confuse. Etymologically, the words 'emerging,' 'emergent,' and 'emergence' can be too academic that the layperson will be challenged to make sense of how different they are. Tickle attempts a big bite. Unfortunately, I think she has bitten on something too big and too difficult to lock down into a 242-page book. Perhaps, the nature of Emergence Christianity is by itself vague. Perhaps, Tickle has been somewhat influenced by the Age of Aquarian mindsets, that parallels spiritual-but-not-religious with emerging-but-not-conventional. At best, it is a proposal of how things are going to look like. At worst, it may lead readers to visualize something that is not really concrete to start with. I try to like this book, but I think the book is unfortunately too vague. When one tries to be many things to many people, it loses its very own identity that instead of emerging, it may very well be submerging.

Ratin: 3.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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