Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Review: The Great Emergence

I have been using Phyllis Tickle's prayer guides called the Divine Hours which are broken up into three volumes based on the seasons of the year (Springtime, Summer, Fall & Winter) off and on for the last couple years as manuals, guides, starting points, tethers, and sparks to my spiritual journey with God and others. It has been refreshing to pray scripture, to pray prayers that have been passed down through the hands of church, to have something to come back to when a lot of days I feel like I have nothing to give. And perhaps most importantly, they have helped me to develop a second naivete, a second chance at approaching the sacred texts of scripture informed by my knowledge from seminary (for I certainly cannot forget it or act as though I am unchanged by it) and yet move beyond an expository reading of scripture or prayers, but rather to let the words inhabit me, change me, and trigger my imagination.

But this isn't a review of the prayer manuals, but a review of Tickle's slim but momentous work titled The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why released late in 2008. This short work is a broad and introductory overview to the major upheavals Christianity has experienced roughly every 500 years. Tickle of course recognizes that there is about a hundred and fifty years of turmoil and boiling leading up to the time when Christianity erupts into something new and different, which takes another 150 years to be worked out, followed by years of relative stability, new authority, and change, until the authorities and structures are questioned and the collective story of Christianity undergoes another great change. For a brief insight think: 500 A.D. Gregory the Great and Monastics perpetuate the faith despite the fall of the Roman Empire, 1054 A.D. The Great Schism the mutual excommunication of the Roman Church and the Eastern Church of one another, 1517 A.D. The Great Reformation, and now in 2009 we find ourselves in the midst of The Great Emergence.

One of the reasons I went to The John Leland Center for Theological Studies is that they teach the important doctrines of the church in a special way, they teach them rooted in a historical context. They don't offer systematic theology classes, but rather the subjects or doctrines of systematic theology in a historical and contextual setting. It makes it more difficult, or at least makes one slow up before calling someone else a heretic, when we see that most folks throughout the history of the church who fell onto the wrong side of where the church believes actually was not trying to do something evil or wrong, or even lead the church or world astray, but rather were trying to make sense of the impenetrable mysteries of God and the world in such a way that would be helpful to others.

So I like this book a lot because it helps to put the major changes in the structure, authority, and life of the church into a historical context, making it more difficult to make a villain out of one group or one particular way of thinking. It is clear though, that in these times of great upheavals, the old guard is going to be strong, hoping to preserve the remnant of their authority and power, in such a way as to advocate the status quo, and remain traditionalists to the their core. Which is great, those folks will help to anchor the story through their long line of tradition, theology, and questions, while those in the center will be partaking in the upheaval while in communication with those in the corners preserving their current position.

Tickle's book is a thoughtful and needed historical perspective on the current state of Christianity that is accessible to readers of various backgrounds. Her state of the union for Christianity is extremely helpful in finding one's bearings amongst the great sea of change, and helps to ask some of the most important questions of our time, namely, 'Where now is the authority?' Her explorations of where the authority resided in previous time periods is examined most fully for the time period of The Great Emergence, where uncertainty, the Holy Spirit, and experience have come into the forefront of discussion and provide for illuminating insights into the current scientific, theological, historical, and philosophical landscapes.

If you are in for a brief, hair-blowing, monumental work written by my guess a late 70 year-old woman, then this is the book for you. I don't think you'll be disappointed, and you just might learn some things about yourself and figure out that you have some decisions about where you'll fit in to this whole "Great Emergence" thing. If anyone hears that Tickle is looking to have some surrogate grandchildren, let me know, I'd love to hear more of the stories and insights she has about the future of Christianity sitting around the dinner table some time.

1 comment:

faithsowers said...

solid review my friend...keep them coming. like i said to you the other day, i think she has provided the actual language in which we will begin to articulate new categories that are emerging as well.

tom