28 October 2008

the great emergence

Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008).

Much of what Tickle's book is can be summarized in her own statement capturing the sentiment of Anglican bishop, Mark Dyer: ". . . that the only way to understand what is currently happening to us as twenty-first-century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale" (16).  Indeed, this is a more accurate reflection that might initially be recognized and Tickle's rendering of church and history follow along such lines.

The book itself is rather accessible, though most laity and less-than-averagely-interested clergy will find parts of it difficult to follow.  This is a shame as much of this readership would otherwise be greatly interested in the material and could certainly benefit from understanding the current climate of the church a little bit better.  So I will have to hesitate on where to recommend this as a read, though initially I thought it would be a book for many in such a position.  Further, the overall structure of the book can become confusing to the reader, especially the large sweeps through history on a thematic level.  Such a presentation lends itself to a back-and-forth telling of selective history and sometimes loses the reader (I found at certain points if I wasn't paying close enough attention I was mixing up time periods).

These critiques aside, what one does find in the book is an interesting presentation of the changing Protestant climate in North America.  Further, the evaluation of the socio-religious climate is quite helpful in understanding the whys and whats of the *emerging* movement.  Much of the bread and butter of this book is found in Part 3, where Tickle works on how the movement is working now and where it is likely to head as it unfolds.  And while the rummage sale of the church does not render the previous forms of the faith useless, it does change up the in-house decorating of what this generation of believers look like.

Although the *great emergence* is a very uncertain and unsettling process for many, Tickle does well to remind the reader throughout that these movements are necessary and vital to the overall work of the church.  She asserts that this leads to a "more vital form of Christianity" (17), that it breaks down the encrusted dogmatism of the previous generation, and that it energizes the church and leads to the spread of the gospel.  And she backs these three assertions up with the great 500 year moments in the history of the church.

My primary caveat to a book like this is that it is quite difficult to understand and properly evaluate a movement which we are currently experiencing.  With *emergent* Christianity, it seems that everyone is jumping ahead quickly to assert the significance of their approach to the faith and to be the first and best to characterize the movement itself.  Although no book can critique the current landscape without hitting some of these snags, Tickle does a really good job at navigating away from such pitfalls (she comes close a few times, but that's my critique).  It would do the *emergent* crowd well to move forward with great humility before God (some do and others don't), and not get ahead of themselves on their own impact.

In the end, this is a good book with a good message, though not without its own faults.  How emergent of itself.

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