Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Book Review: The Great Emergence

The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why
by Phyllis Tickle
Grand Rapid, MI: Baker Books, 2008

Phyllis Tickle's books are always intelligent and thought-provoking. Great Emergence, The: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (emersion: Emergent Village resources for communities of faith)
is no exception. Following in the footsteps of the Papacy of Gregory the Great (@ 590), the Great Schism (1054) and the Great Reformation (1517), the Great Emergence refers to the massive changes going on in the Christian faith and society at large in our present day. As Tickle puts it, every 500 years the Church has a massive rummage sale during which the old ways are cast off and a new way of being Christian comes to the forefront. As Tickle emphasizes, however, “no standing form of organized Christian faith has ever been destroyed by one of our semi-millenial eruptions. Instead, each simply has lost hegemony or pride of place to the new and not-yet-organized form that was birthing.”

Tickle offers a historical overview of the three previous upheavals, with a special focus on the Reformation as it is the transformation that immediately precedes our current era. There are parallels between the two, especially in that increased forms of communication made both possible. The invention of movable type made possible the widespread dissemination of ideas via the printed word. In many ways, this brought the Reformation into being. Everyone could now have a Bible. By the same token, modern communication advances such as the radio, television, and perhaps most importantly, the internet, have encouraged communication among different branches of Christianity and exposure to other faith traditions.

Tickle explores the many pivotal people, things, and ideas that have contributed to the Great Emergence. Among these were Darwin, Faraday, Freud, and Jung, new forms of communication, the increased use of the automobile, a rediscovery of the historical Jesus, communism, World War II, changing roles of women, the drug age and the birth control pill. Tickle doesn't pass judgment on any of these developments. She simply reports on the many changes they brought to society in general and Christianity in particular.

The last section of this book, “Where is it Going?” is the most speculative. Tickle divides Christianity into four main areas: Liturgicals, Social Justice Christians, Renewalists, and Conservatives. No one quadrant is the sole domain of any one denomination. Rather, there are Christians of many denominations in all four. In the middle is the convergence, the new way of being Christian, that is developing.

“The Great Emergence” is an excellent sociological and historical study of a Christianity in flux. It provides a springboard for much discussion.

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