by Rev. Laura Barclay
The Great Emergence, by Phyllis Tickle, is a fascinating endeavor to explain the changes that Christianity is experiencing and attempt to guess at what will define the next epoch of human history. Tickle’s thesis is that Christianity undergoes a major shift every 500 years, and that we are in the midst of one today. From the advent of Christ, to the fall of the Roman Empire and rise of monasticism, to the Great Schism between the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Churches, to the Great Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation, to the present “Great Emergence,” Christianity has adapted and restructured in order to produce new and more relevant forms of religion.
Tickle uses the history of the Great Reformation to relate the anxiety of that time to the current age. In the 16th century, religious battles and church corruption led to fractures in the church that sought new forms of authority outside of papal authority. Sola scriptura emerged, with Protestants affirming the Bible and the priesthood of all believes as the new foundation.
Flash forward to the past century. Wars with religious overtones, church corruption, new discoveries in science, people working and living in urban areas with people of all faiths and no faith, women and LGBT persons rising to positions of authority in the church are just a few emerging realities that all call this 500-year-old form of authority into question. New interpretations and questions arise from the global and post-modern experience. Historical analysis informs us of edits and changes made to scriptures over the ages, resulting in numerous translations and versions of the Bible. For several decades, the emergent movement has seen Christians form into new communities of faith and shift the foundation of faith from sola scriptura to both scripture and community. Scriptures, faith experiences, and theology are now discussed in these communities, as well as online social networks and blogs. Theological views can be refined, molded, and evaluated amongst vast networks of Christians like never before. This broad sharing of faith and ideals is both renewing and challenging our religious structures like never before. Tickle urges us to learn more and try to anticipate the trajectory of this new movement, both embracing and closely examining its progress.
This book is exciting to me because of the possibility—we are living in a time of great change, both in our faith and society. I know many persons in my generation are weary of listening to battles over proof texting certain verses, and yearn for a lived faith of justice and mercy that comes from a community of people actively seeking to follow Jesus. A shift to seeing the Bible as one of several powerful tools in our faith, instead of the only tool, seems like a freeing prospect. This doesn’t seem to lessen the importance of the text, which is being studied in these emergent communities through vibrant discussion. Rather, it seems to elevate God in our discussions that have been marred by so many exhausting scriptural battles.
Tickle notes that great shifts are taking place in other faiths, especially Judaism and Islam. We have seen this play out the Middle Eastern drive for democratic reforms, which unified Abrahamic faiths in Egypt as Christians and Muslims linked arms and cried out for freedom. As a Christian who is fascinated with the Reformation Era, I am both curious and hopeful for what this next century will bring to our different faith traditions. How exciting to work for the Kingdom of God in new and collaborative ways!
If you'd like to learn more, check out the website for the book: http://www.thegreatemergence.com/