Monday, March 25, 2013

Book Review: Phyllis Tickle, Emergence Christianity

Phyllis Tickle. Emergence Christianity: What it is, Where it is Going, and Why it Matters. (Baker Books, 2012; available for Kindle.)

Phyllis Tickle’s earlier book, The Great Emergence, was an important conversation starter all around our Presbyterian Church. This conversation was encouraged when Tickle was the keynote speaker for the theological reflection seminars offered by our Office of the General Assembly along side of the 2010 meeting of the General Assembly. The thesis of the Great Emergence is now well known. The Christian Church has cycled through a series of huge transformations every five hundred years. The last one, the 1500s, was, of course, the Protestant Reformation. Now we are in the midst of a new Great Emergence which is shaking the foundations of the established church and ushering in a very new expression of church in our culture.

In her new book, Tickle picks up again her historical theme but this time focuses specifically on American Church history. This is the good book which carefully tracks the history of the new, emerging Christianity in American history. Tickle pulls together some history and the many different pieces of the current, diverse practices into a good story and a compelling thesis that Emergence Christianity is here to stay.

Here is, in my opinion, her thesis statement about the characteristics of this new Emergence Christianity. She unpacks each of these characteristics in a full and clear way:

“Of the several general characteristics that the Great Emergence and Emergence Christianity hold in common, these of deinstitutionalization; nonhierarchal organization; a comfortable and informed interface with physical science; dialogical and contextual habits of thoughts; 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 – these undoubtedly are among the most characterizing.”

There is something new happening in the church. What is it? What is the relationship between the new, emerging thing and our established church? In what ways can the emerging church and the established church touch and support one another? In what ways can they learn from one another? For those of us immersed in and committed to the established church I believe this is an important conversation. Tickle’s overview of the new thing that is happening in our midst is informative and helpful. There is a deep tone of courage and hopefulness in her writing. There is nothing to be afraid of; God is doing a new thing in our midst.

I will cherish the opportunity to have more conversation around Tickle’s new book with other church leaders.