The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, by phyllis tickle.
in a recent video post by doug pagitt, he talks about the relationship between the terms “emergence”, “emerging church”, and “emergent” (or emergent village). the emerging church, as many have come to use the term, is a subset of a greater shift that has been happening in our culture for the last couple hundred years. the emerging church is, one might say, the ecclesiological implications (or at least the discussion of those implications) of the grander shift taking place in our broader mindset, both in academia and in the popular conscience.
phyllis tickle engages this discussion at both levels — giving us much of the historical reasons for, and milemarkers of, this greater emergence. she weaves a discussion of the emerging church throughout. but this is not a book about emergent village; and, to be fair, tickle writes about the emerging church in the broadest terms possible, including vineyard churches and calvary chapels as indicative of the shift.
i heard phyllis give a talk on this content at one of our national youth workers conventions last fall. it was stunning. it blew people away, to the extent that she received a long and loud standing ovation that showed a level of respect for both who she is and what she said. of course, she really ticked a few people off also, which one should expect from any hearty discussion of change in front of a large and diverse audience. but for me, and many others present, it was one of the most memorable talks i’ve heard in years, and has shaped my thinking and discussions since. knowing that this book was coming, i’ve been extremely eager to read it, and was thrilled to get my hands on a pre-pub copy of the manuscript (the book releases in october, though amazon seems to have it in stock already).
tickle is a recovering academic, and this is no lightweight book of observations and anecdotes: it’s a sweeping analysis of sociological, cultural and religious shifts. tickle contends that the church seems to transition through massive changes about every 500 years, as a result of changing worldviews in the culture at large. she posits that we’re a good ways into one of these epochal hinge-points; and following the language of “the great schism” and “the great reformation” for the last two hinge-points, uses “the great emergence” for this shift (though the term is not, as she acknowledges, hers).
because the book is a cultural analysis, and not a theological treatise, there’s not much to anger anti-emergent people in this book. they might not agree with the cultural analysis, i suppose; and tickle’s pro-emergence leaning (clearly, she sees this shift as positive, not neutral or negative) isn’t masked. so some might choose to be dismissive on that count (we all have our biases). but the case is well made — we’re clearly not a part of the same worldviews that existed prior to darwin, scientific discoveries of relativity, postmodern language deconstruction, and a variety of other factors that have (in tickles language) so severely pocked the cable of meaning that connects our religious thought and practice to its mooring.
truly, the great emergence is one of the most important books written, to date, on the shifts happening in the american (and worldwide) church — particularly protestantism, but all of christianity also. it’s must-reading for anyone who desires to be an active participant in the shaping of the church today, whether at a local level, or at broader levels of discussion and practice.
i’m smarter because of this book. i understand more. i am better equipped to both enter into dialogue about the church today, as well as to live out my calling as a practitioner of the church of jesus christ in the real world.