Saturday, September 12, 2009

Book Review: The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle

It's probably no surprise to the 2.3 of you that I really enjoy reading books that I disagree with the premise. As long as they are well written and well thought out I like opposing points of view.

It may be a surprise that I really, really like reading books that say what I've tried to say, anticipate questions that I've had, and lay out a reasoned point of view that codifies my own thoughts. The Great Emergence is definitely the latter.

I've read books before that point out the appearance of radical change in church and surrounding culture about every 500 years. (Note, the first time I remember reading it was in a Pat Robertson book--please don't hold that against me.) You can look back through history, really even before the greatest of all upheavals--the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth--and find that just about every half millennium the underpinnings of society, so often reflected in the dominant religious system, are undermined, examined, rethought and reformed. Tickle refers to this as a "rummage sale", where the church and society at large take a look at the "stuff", the accouterments, of worldview and purpose, and "sell off" pieces that don't seem to fit anymore. Here is an overview of the major rummage sales as we refer to them today--keep in mind that these are broad generalizations:

  • The exodus of the Jews from Egypt
  • The anointing of a human king over Israel
  • Return from exile and eventual Maccabean revolt
  • The life of Jesus Christ
  • The papacy of Gregory the Great and the monastic movement he helped perpetuate
  • The Great Schism between Eastern and Western churches
  • The Great Reformation
  • The Great Emergence
These rummage sales are not just religious, but the intertwining of the dominant religious structures and the culture in which they reside make them broad events, impacting millions of people. Tickle describes each of these as unraveling the cord that tethers us to shore.

The unraveling happens really in response to one question: where now is our authority? In her words:

The question of "where now is our authority?" is the fundamental or foundational question of all human existence and/or endeavor, be it individual or that of a larger, social unit. Without an answer to it, the individual personality or the personality of the group at large alike fall into disarray and ultimate chaos. It is Hell where there is no answer to that question.

In our time, the Great Emergence is questioning the worldview that emerged in the Great Reformation, namely sola scriptura. That is not to say that the Bible is unimportant to emergents, but that the way we approach the Bible will be redefined. The rules we use to obey God's authority are changing.

Tickle takes some shots at defining what that emerging thing looks like, and I'll try to get to that in my next post. Until then, what do you think about this idea of where authority comes from? In my own tradition, there was in the past decade heated debate about whether the Bible is our authority or whether Jesus was our authority. Is there a difference?

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