The Great Emergence

The Great Emergence

Phyllis Tickle, Baker Books

If Brian McLaren says a book will “shape the conversation among a wide range of Christians for years to come” and if the Primate of the U.S. Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, reckons “This is an immensely important contribution to the current conversation about new and emerging forms of Christianity in a postmodern environment” — those endorsements should be taken seriously.

Phyllis Tickle is nothing if not prolific. I stopped counting her published books at about 20. She’s been mother to seven children and is married to a physician.

Her thesis in this book: Every 500 years or so Christianity has a “rummage sale”. The institutional church becomes ossified and/or corrupt and an upheaval occurs which is the catalyst for creative new directions. The first was driven by Pope Gregory the Great, who “cleaned up” a chaotic church mainly by empowering monasteries and convents. Then there was the Great Schism (1054) when the Western and Eastern churches “divorced”. Five hundred years later we have Martin Luther (and others) provoking the Protestant Reformation (1517).

The “Great Emergence” is a popular term given to the massive changes going on in the Christian church in our present day. The cultural factors behind it include the invention and popularity of the motor car, the drift of populations from urban areas to the city, the ubiquity of mass media and now the Internet, and the rise of post-modernism. In terms of authority, our post-modern age is challenging the Reformation’s mantra of sola scriptura, scriptura sola, and we’re moving to affirming “Scripture interpreted in the life of the community”.

Outcome? “By the time the Great Emergence has reached maturity, about 60 per cent of practising Christians will be emergent or some clear variant thereof.”

Her overview is more a cultural and ecclesiastical analysis than a theological discussion, which, I would think, softens the impact of it all for conservative Christians.

This is the best book I know to give to thoughtful people in your church who say “Let’s get back to what worked 50 years ago.”

Rowland Croucher


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