As a pastor, context is something I try to provide for people who are walking through crisis. It’s difficult to see things in perspective when the moment becomes all-consuming. In Emergence Christianity, Phyllis Tickle does just that. She brings some welcome context to the current state of Christianity.
You don’t have to be a pastor to see that the Christian landscape is changing. Shane Claiborne and the New Monastics are living communally while engaging in ancient liturgical practices. People as diverse as Mark Driscoll, Phillip Keller and John Piper are leading the Neo-Reformation revival. Hard-to-classify groups like Darkwood Brew are bringing a jazz-infused emergent message to the online theological sophisticates. The house-church movement in North America is stronger than its ever been. Homebrewed Christianity is a leading a surge of interest in Process Theology. The list goes on …
In response to all of these options, it’s easy to fall into dualism. We’re tempted to think that Emergence Christianity (in whatever form) is either the enemy’s greatest deception or the next Saviour of the world. People in ministry (like myself) often think in terms of whether or not this expression of Christianity is a threat to our particular brand. Phyllis Tickle brings some welcome perspective for those of us charting a course through the change.
Tickle begins by situating Emergence Christianity within the broader cultural shift. Emergence Theory explains how culture is changing. In an emergence, authority shifts from hierarchical to grassroots and the “resultant structural complexity is greater than what could have been logically predicted from the structure and substance of the composing parts” (33). Christianity isn’t the only cultural institution to be swept up in this shift. You can speak of Emergent Judaism, Emergent Islam—indeed, Emergent twentieth first century life as a whole.
Since the shift involves all of life, it necessarily affects all brands of Christian religion. (Contrary to some people’s impressions, it’s not merely a collection of disgruntled white middle-class Charismatics!) We see the emergent impulse in Catholicism through the grassroots Catholic Worker Movement. You can interpret Azusa Street and the whole charismatic movement as an experiment in the decentralization of authority. What could undercut authority more than the allowing every member, through prophecy, to be a direct spokesperson for God?
Past, Present and Future
Emergence Christianity is a masterful historical study on the roots of this change, the current state of Emergence, and where it’s going next. Tickle has managed to think and write clearly about a very complex and multifaceted cultural shift. This book along with its predecessor (The Great Emergence), has helped me to understand where the disparate forms of modern Christianity are coming from and, more importantly, where I fit in.
—Phyllis Tickle, Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2012).