According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Phyllis Tickle Leaves a Legacy that is Seen, Read, Heard, and Felt

Emergent Christianity had its sociological birth in the 1990s through to the early 2010s. It was a church movement seeking to ingest a renewing spirit of faith in God that was asking all church goers to re-examine their lives, their bibles, their faiths, in conjunction with what Christianity might mean to the church today as well as to the contemporary global society of tomorrow.

It sought to re-write all forms of doctrine, church history, and church endeavor through the lens of the Spirit of God at work in new-and-strange ways during this present age. And in many of its platforms and speeches the emergent church sought to bring enlightenment to the crisis of the traditional church struggling with its identity in the postmodern 21st century. A century committed to de-constructing (not necessarily destroying) all past works and secular foundations across all institutional lines of society (including the church) before re-constructing those examined institutions in light of its newer postmodern understanding.

Much of emergent (or emerging) Christianity has been helpful in causing greater Christendom to re-examine all that it was and had preceded itself. Lengthy articles have been written here at Relevancy22 as to what-and-how emergent Christianity has been helpful to yesteryear's church of the 19th and 20th century. Mostly, Emergent Christianity sought a new expression of the Christian faith against the fundamental and evangelical church's message of condemnation and judgment upon all things not itself. It stepped out away from the traditional church and said, "No, your Jesus is not my Jesus." It broke the canker absorbing the church's liturgies, podiums, and dogmas to bring the beauty, love, grace, and forgiveness of God through Jesus in new and refreshing ways. Especially to those people excluded from the more traditional church congregation grown use to meeting with each other along culturally defined lines.

As a result, blogs went up like this one here to examine what proper church doctrine could-and-should mean by examining church history, church dogmas and creeds, its leadership, movements, philosophies, and attitudes. Throughout all of this endeavor Emergent Christians were asking of their evangelical heritage to consider what it was saying and doing rather than allowing it to push back into the folds of anger, despair, and exclusion.

No, the story of Phyllis Tickle is not that of a historical scholar, a critical academic, nor that of a rigorous theologian. But yes, she wrote as one impassioned to re-speak by re-envisioning the message of God to a broken world excluded from the life of the Divine by a fundamental-evangelical culture too interested in protecting its dogmatic borders with religious folklore gained by a more recent evangelical tradition built upon the newer doctrines (1910s and 1980s forward) of biblical inerrancy, neo-Calvinism, rejection of higher criticism and science, rejection of society, exclusionism, and mystical/magical endeavor to mention a few.

With a vigor, humor, and strength of spirit, Phyllis, as an older Christian, asked the evangelical church to re-examine its orthodox faith by returning to an orthodoxy that could ring truer in the postmodern, post-Christian times of the 21st century than the older forms that the church was clinging too. To no longer be content in living with a classical form of itself inhabiting the older forms of Greek Hellenism, Medieval theology, Protestant scholasticism, Enlightenment thinking (fraught with all of its structural and reformed underpinnings), nor 1950s modernised visages of its secular self. No, Phyllis' spirit sought to re-express the Christian faith in a language that would be readily grasped by all - both within the church as well as outside of its hallowed, polished walls.

Phyllis was the pleasant side of a vanguard of Christians asking the evangelical church to examine itself and reconsider just where it was against its knee-jerk reactions to the political, societal jargons washing across its churchly bows sailing on a sea of change lively with tempest and storm. Phyllis spoke vigorously to the emerging church of the 21st century to not lose faith, despair of change, nor give up. But to welcome brokenness, despair, and change into the Christian faith that it might break it of all that was wrong with it; to allow God to change our faith to all that must be changed in it by giving up the idols of one's youth, dogmas, and churchly traditions for the outreaching Spirit of God instead.

Phyllis' message was in its way a hard message made harder by her disciples (as shown here in the picture below). Disciples who spoke with fervor and strove for change because they knew the gospel's truths to the lost and the perishing. Wishing no longer to hold God's Spirit back however difficult it would be on the more traditional church. It was a timely message that has now provoked today's contemporary church with better questions; a larger rubric to see its Christian faith; and an expanded view of the possible when met by the impossible.

In the end, to those Christian groups which resisted the change Emergent Christianity was asking of itself within postmodern society, Phyllis was a curiosity who was tolerated but not heeded. One who wished to usher the church of Jesus Christ into a new plane of spiritual awareness and understanding of itself in relationship to its missional gospel outreach to a post-Christianal society. To offer a new attitude of hope in Christ and not fear. An attitude that allowed emergent Christian usage of their gifts-and-talents in the presence-and-power of the Spirit of God who had brought each one of His despairing disciples out of the miry pit into a land of rejoicing.

True, the trolls of an older faith do even now live and speak destruction to the faith of Jesus Christ, his message of reconciliation, and peace with one another. Who use the sacred image of the cross as a place of war and discrimination rather than as an atoning place to bury the ugliness of mankind's divisive spirit of sin. These are the ones who would surprise and attack the brokenness of the church lying upon the burning ash heaps of an Emergent faith living on through the inhabitants of a postmodern, world-wide, global church. But each generation in its turn must give an account. Both old and young.

But to today's youth (and to those "youthful in spirit") this time is now to live the grace and forgiveness, mercy and peace, healing and balm, come to you through Jesus. Let His peace become yours, and by your presence within this world of woe, even as you offer up Jesus' message of reconciliation, redemption, renewal, rebirth, and transformation, as a burnt sacrifice pleasing to the Lord of all grace, mercy, hope, and forgiveness. Be at peace then and know that God lives on in the broken things of this world. He has not abandoned it but is even now enlivening its brokenness towards His ends. It is a Godly work. A work we, as the living church, may participate in, to the praise and glory of our Almighty God. Amen.

R.E. Slater
August 6, 2015


We have been so blessed to have Phyllis as our friend. The Cathedral, Memphis, TN, "Embracing Emergence Christianity: The Church's Next
Rummage Sale." Pictured: Brian McLaren (left), Phyllis Tickle (center), Nadia Bolz-Weber (top center), Tony Jones (kneeling), unknown (far right)


“Phyllis Tickle brings so many gifts to the table that it is sometimes hard to believe there is only
one heartbeat behind them all. She is a seer, a scholar, a spiritual guide, a literary and cultural
savant, a walking encyclopedia, and a mentor to more people than there are seconds in the day.
Above all, she is a faithful lover of God and all to whom that love relates her. Reading her is
second best to knowing her, but read her you must.”

Barbara Brown Taylor








Wikipedia

Phyllis Tickle (born March 12, 1934) is an American author and lecturer whose work focuses on spirituality and religion issues. After serving as a teacher, professor, and academic dean, Tickle entered the publishing industry, serving as the founding editor of the religion department at Publishers Weekly, before then becoming a popular writer. She is well known as a leading voice in the emergence church movement. She is perhaps best known for The Divine Hours series of books, published by Doubleday Press, and her book The Great Emergence- How Christianity Is Changing and Why. Tickle is a member of the Episcopal Church, where she is licensed as both a Lector and a Lay Eucharistic Minister. She has been widely quoted by many media outlets, including Newsweek, Time, Life, The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, C-SPAN, PBS, The History Channel, the BBC and VOA. It has been said that "Over the past generation, no one has written more deeply and spoken more widely about the contours of American faith and spirituality than Phyllis Tickle."







Literary Trust Established to Manage Estate of Phyllis Tickle, Author, Authority on Religion in America, and Founding Religion Editor of Publishers Weekly

July 27, 2015

The Farm in Lucy, Tennessee, July 24, 2015 —Tickle, Inc. announces the establishment of the Phyllis A. Tickle Literary Trust for the purpose of managing the literary estate and copyrights of Phyllis Tickle. Serving as Trustees are Joseph Durepos, Executive Editor of Loyola Press, Jon M. Sweeney, Editorial Director of Franciscan Media, and Samuel M. Tickle, Jr. of Millington, TN.

Phyllis Tickle announced in May that she has been diagnosed with inoperable stage four lung cancer.

Tickle was the founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly, the international journal of the book industry. She is an authority on religion in America and has been a much sought after lecturer on the subject for two decades. In addition to poems, lectures, and numerous essays, articles, and interviews, she is the author of over three dozen books in religion and spirituality, most recently The Age of the Spirit; Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters; The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why; and The Words of Jesus: A Gospel of the Sayings of Our Lord. She is also the author of the notable and popular The Divine Hours series of manuals for observing fixed-hour prayer.

A collection of Tickle’s writings were added to the “Modern Spiritual Masters” series of Orbis Books in 2015 under the title Phyllis Tickle: Essential Spiritual Writings, selected with an introduction by Jon M. Sweeney. Sweeney is also now researching and writing a biography, Phyllis Tickle, to be published sometime in 2018.

The Phyllis A. Tickle Literary Trust may be contacted by writing: Tickle, Inc., 3522 Lucy Road South, Millington, TN 38053-7817 or rt.tickle.inc@gmail.com.


* * * * * * * * * *



A review of Phyllis Tickle's Emergence Christianity

Viola Larsen
January 7, 2013

Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters
By Phyllis Tickle, Baker Books, 237 pages

History, religious movements and ideas do not come in neat packages. As a young student going to a one room country school my understanding of the past was idealistic. That is because the text books I hoisted onto my lap, as I placed my feet on the oven door to read, were written from an ideal perspective. The authors used the ‘great men’ version of history writing. But no matter, my teacher, Bessie Stevens, tall and looming, with her gray hair in a bun, after morning devotions, read us Marxists stories of the new Russia, with a bit of historical flavor. 

Historiography, the study of historical theory or how history is written, is for the history major generally a required subject. And it breaks apart most idealism including conservative and Marxist histories.

There is the method of using ‘great men,’ mentioned above—which is great reading; there is the Annals school which has great documentation but is often boring. Try reading four-hundred pages of weather cycles, crop loss, deaths and births in the Mediterranean region. There is also cyclical history writing. That is the idea that history is made up of great cycles of events that often, in some way, repeat themselves. Phyllis Tickle in her book, Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters, is forced into a cycler mode because she sees church history, in the western world, moving in circles of renewal.

By this Tickle means that events begin to accumulate which change culture to the degree that eventually the church is forced to look again at such things as beliefs, worship, authority and structure—with an eye toward discarding some of its supposed baggage.

In both this book and Tickle’s last one, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, she points, among other events, to the Great Schism of the eleventh century, the Reformation and the “disestablishment of slavery” as cultural or social events that caused the church to begin remaking itself.

In this latest book Tickle spends some time pulling in what she sees as changing events including recent events which she believes are changing the Church. Next she looks at various groups that she now believes can be seen as members of the Emergence community. The middle section of the book is filled with photographs with explanation of various groups participating in Emergence activity. The latter part of the book deals more with what Emergence Christianity believes.

I want to look at two of Tickle’s assumptions: her inclination to subsume everything under Emergence Christianity, and the theology that Tickle believes is emerging from the movement.

In my review of Tickle’s earlier book, The Great Emergence, I pointed out that Tickle had attempted to tie a parochial movement of the United States and Great Britain to the global community by connecting it to such events as the Reformation and the Great Schism. In Emergence Christianity, Tickle seemingly corrects this by pulling in a wider girth of participants. In the earlier book on Emergence she failed to see other movements within the United States that were more apt to bring renewal and change. In Tickle’s new book she simply subsumes them under emergence by referring to them as “push backs.” In other words Tickle places all Christian movements under Emergence Christianity.

Calling it peri-Emergence times and pulling in the global community, Tickle uses Vatican II and its attending bishops who came from differing continents. She refers to Liberation theology and black theologian activist James Cone; she also mentions, in the same breath Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, their Catholic Worker and hospitality houses. (72-76)

The priest Gustavo Gutierrez, Leonardo Boff and Jon Sobrino along with Martyr Oscar Romero also become members of the peri-Emergence times. Then feminist and LGBT rights activists get added to the mix. While some of these historical figures certainly fit with a lot of Emergent ideas some are simply strains of Christianity as it has always been, living in poverty, caring for the poor and needy and suffering in the process. Tickle’s emphasis on Romero’s death and her placement of him in the mix of peri-Emergence means she fails to understand Romero’s self-identity. He once stated:

The Church will always have its word to say: conversion. Progress will not be completed even if we organize ideally the economy and the political and social orders of our people. It won’t be entire with that. That will be the basis, so that it can be completed by what the church pursues and proclaims: God adored by all, Christ acknowledged as only Savior, deep joy of spirit in being at peace with God and with our brothers and sisters.[1]

Certainly Vatican II, although offering some reforms, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin as well as Oscar Romero, given their theological foundations, would have nothing to do with the idea that they were peri-Emergence. They were all orthodox in their Christology and all pro-life in their worldview. One cannot simply gather up every Christian religious movement and person and claim them as spiritual ancestors. A gatherer of rags starts with rags, but when one gathers various materials, some shining in their reflection of light, others diminished by their inability to reflect, and suggest that they all belong to the same category—all are diminished.

In Tickle’s proclivity for gathering all Christian religious movements under her heading of Emergence Christianity she does recognize the rise of Calvinism in our own day. But failing to recognize them in their own right, Tickle identifies them as push backs against Emergence. Tickle, after writing of what Calvinism is, states:

None of this is new, of course, but neither is it revival. Rather, it is, as we have said, push-back. It is the application of one integrated body of orthodox, Latinized Christian teaching to Great Emergence circumstances. It is resistance to Great Emergence in many ways, while at the same time sharing Emergence’s etiology and essence. As such and because of its sheer size, it will be a participant in, or at the very least a potent influence upon the events and decisions that, during the coming decades, will determine the shape of Emergence Christianity in its full maturity. (189)

Tickle names Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City as one of the new Calvinist. One wonders if Keller would be surprised to find out that his identity is as a push-back to Emergence. (See note 6, 190)

Tickle attempts to explain somewhat the beliefs of those she sees directly involved in Emergent Christianity and Emerging Christianity. Yes, she does split Emergence Christianity into two movements. This is important information because it does change how one might view one group of Emergence Christianity as opposed to others. Tickle writes that there are emerging Christians and emergent Christians. Of the difference she writes:

Emergent Christianity/Village Church/Christians are aggressively all-inclusive and non-patriarchal. They are far more interested in the actuality of Scripture than its historicity or literal inerrancy. … By and large, Emerging Christianity, Church, Christians could not differ with these positions if they tried.[2] (142)

Tickle also points out that although several well known members of Emergence Christianity, Scot McKnight and Mark Driscoll, at first referred to themselves as emerging/emergent, they changed to simply emerging after Brian McLaren published his book, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith. The point for me is that there are some who reside closer to orthodoxy than others. Tickle’s theological explanations often do not resemble orthodoxy. (143)

In explaining Emergence Christianity’s theological outlook, Tickle sometimes tends, toward a monarchial view of the Trinity, the persons are simply the actions of God during various ages. After referring to the Trinity as It and explaining many of the Trinity’s actions throughout the Bible, Tickle writes:

The Trinity comes now near to the promised realization of its intention. It comes, as It said it would. And What we saw and feared in the image of the Father, What we saw and embraced as Savior-Brother, we now know as Spirit and cling to as Advocate, even as It has said of Itself from the beginning. Now, without need of image or flesh, It comes, and we receive It as in the last of creation’s ages.(208)

One of the misunderstandings here is what is implied when one speaks of the Trinity. Trinity is always Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so one cannot refer to God as Trinity without including each person. In the same way the persons are not parts. They are each fully God. They are of the same essence. The Trinity is a mystery worth understanding—which is truly paradox.

At other times in her book it is fairly clear that Tickle understands the distinctions within the Godhead, as when she writes about perichoresis, but even here she refers to the distinctions as parts.[3] (172-73) The problem for Tickle is that she sees the ages divided into different manifestations of the Trinity which is itself an old heresy. And the emphasis in the heresy is always on the time of the Spirit which is always contemporary with whichever particular person or group is promoting the theology.[4]

As in The Great Emergence the authority of Scripture is also questioned in this book in several places. Tickle first of all suggests what is needed for authority—which in itself is scary, in another place she offers what she believes will be the authority. Her idea of what is needed is:

… Emergence Christianity, hopefully in conjunction with other communions within the faith, is free to discover and acknowledge an authority based on the paradigm of the kingdom of God on earth. At the same time, however, it must also discover and acknowledge an authority, if possible, that provides for Christians a peaceful cohabitation with the political or secular authority that frames the physical life … (193)

Tickle believes that Emergence Christianity has and does use both Scripture and story as a “code.” They will also use community, in prayer, as the “agency” for finding authority within the code of Scripture and story. Tickle asks “what shall animate the union of those two and make of them a sacred authority.” (206)

The final big doctrinal issue that is addressed by Tickle as it relates to Emergence Christianity is the atonement. She calls it the bitterest question. Tickle, like some before her, writes as though Scripture has nothing at all to say about the atonement. But this is also a misunderstanding. Atonement theories are theories about how the atonement works—not about whether the atonement is true or not. And all of the theories if understood properly work together.

But evidently Emergence Christians, alongside feminist theologians and progressives consider the death of the Son child abuse. Tickle writes:

For Emergence Christianity—and here there is more unanimity than in some other areas of belief—the concept of an omnipotent and omniscient God who could find no better solution than that to the problem of sin is a contradiction of the first order . Even more repugnant is the notion that, if penal substation as it is popularly and colloquially understood today is indeed the correct understanding of what happen at Calvary, then Christians are asked to accept as Father a God who killed his only Son. (197)

Tickle is quick to explain that those who believe in substitutionary atonement would reply that it is God who sacrifices himself. But she believes that most would not understand and perhaps the better way would be to follow the views of Greek Orthodoxy. But there is a bit of misunderstanding in all of this. While Orthodox theology is more concerned to align salvation with the incarnation and the Christian's union with God, and protestant Christianity is more concerned with atonement there are overlaps. And Orthodoxy would not say that Christ did not die for our sins, however they would, wrongly I believe, insist Christ was not a substitute for us.

But the more important position is the biblical text—which includes Jesus’ death for our sin as well as our union with Christ.

For while we were helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. … But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled we shall be saved by his life. (Romans 5: 6, 8-11)

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me. (Gal. 2:20)

Here and there Tickle’s information is interesting and some of it is new. The pictures in the middle of her book with written explanations about their meaning are helpful as is her annotated bibliography. But there is so much misinformation including a rigid, twisted view of church history, that Emergence Christianity is more problematic than helpful. Church history is sad yet good, bitter with sin, joyous with saints, bloody with martyrs, glad with charity and gloriously full of the work of the Trinity. And it’s foundations, essentials and faith will not change.


[1]Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love: The Words of Oscar Romero, trans., James R. Brockman, forward, Henri Nouwen, reprint, (London: Fount Paperbacks, Collins 1989). 10 Quote found at, “Liberation Theology and whippoorwills.
[2] Tickle places all those involved in Village Church, www.emergentvillage.com as belonging to Emergent rather than emerging.
[3] Tickle states that the idea of perichoresis, the understanding of the communal relationship between the persons of the Trinity, belongs to the Greek Orthodox; perhaps it does but I first learned of this term from an excellent Reformed professor, James Torrance.



Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters
OUR RATING
3 Stars - Good
BOOK TITLE
Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters
AUTHOR
PUBLISHER
Baker Books
RELEASE DATE
September 1, 2012
PAGES
240
PRICE
$8.98
Buy Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters from Amazon
Through a series of vignettes and a 32-page photographic essay, Phyllis Tickle, former and founding editor of the religion department at Publishers Weekly, takes readers on a journey through the world of what she calls "emergence Christianity." No stranger to this terrain, Tickle's Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters(Baker) is her fourth installment on "this new thing that God is doing," her own descriptive tag from the preface. Building on her previous books, such as The Great Emergence(2008), this book offers another interim field report.
I for one am grateful for Tickle's work. Getting a handle on the present is no small task, and when that present includes something as amorphous as the "emerging church" phenomenon, the difficulty only increases. As one endorsement of the book notes, Tickle has a way of seeing and making connections among varying pockets of emergence Christianity. She weaves these divergent stories into a larger, unified one. In other words, this book helps us see emergence Christianity. The photographic essay makes that description more than a metaphor.
Tickle's historical discussions of both the distant and more recent past significantly shape her sense of the present. She starts the book by noting that significant changes tend to come every five hundred or so years, including the coming of Christ in the first century, the era of the consolidation of the church under Gregory in the fifth and sixth centuries, the Great Schism of the 11th century, and the Reformation of the 16th century. From this historical trend, Tickle deduces that, here in the 2000s, we're poised for another such seismic change. She also offers readers a handy take on the more recent past, that of the last few decades and the emergence, if you will, of emergence Christianity. Those new to the party will appreciate her back-stories in chapters one through twelve.
In chapters thirteen to nineteen, Tickle takes us along on her travels to emergence outposts in both words and, as already noted, pictures. Her travels through these "fresh expressions" of Christianity cross geo-political boundaries (though the book mostly talks about the West and Latinized Christianity) and ecclesiastical boundaries, as Anglicans and Episcopalians, Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and more come into view. She even crosses the boundaries of concrete existence as she looks at cyber-world manifestations of emergence Christianity, such as 1PSL (First Presbyterian Church of Second Life), which congregates in the world of "virtual reality."
The final chapters offer an assessment of these trends and a bit of prophecy, as Tickle attempts to decipher where emergence Christianity may go. She raises two theological issues as her book draws to a close. First comes a problematic treatment of emergent attitudes toward atonement. She begins by declaring that "Christianity, in its early days, had no theory of atonement or of its mechanics." She then proceeds to note the remarkable unanimity of emergence Christianity in rejecting the view of substitutionary atonement, seen by her as the most recent of theories. She rejects this "repugnant" theory of "God as cosmic child abuser," and adds, "Substitutionary conversation in any form is in error." And Tickle makes all these pronouncements without ever referencing or discussing a single biblical text.
But she also rather acutely lands on the question of authority, a telltale issue for emergence Christianity now and to come. Tickle envisions authority, in the emergent world, as a union between the "primacy of Scripture" as an authoritative text and the "primacy of community, of the body together in prayer" as the instrument through which Scripture's authority gets worked out. What shall animate the union of Scripture and community? In posing this question, Tickle has identified an important question on the horizon.
Emergence Good, Traditional Bad?
Though Emergence Christianity deserves appreciation for helping make sense of the current horizon, the book does not stand above some objections. First, the book offers no real criticism of emergence Christianity. Though she admits to certain failures on the part of emergence leaders and undertakings, she pulls back from more full-throated criticism. Tickle has the opportunity to ask hard questions of emergence leaders, but she doesn't. She assumes their motives are pure and, as a general rule, accepts what they say and do at face value. Conversely, she has no problem decrying the traditional church, as with her treatment of tithing and reference to the "strong odor of institutional self-interest." Her take on the emergence approach to the subject of monetary giving? "Laudable indeed." Also, she has a rather surface-level take on the cyber versions of emergence: "Church in virtuality is to church in corporeality as banking in virtuality is to banking in corporeality." Just as "the banking gets done either way," church, apparently, can get done either way. But that's way too simplistic an analysis of both virtual reality and the doctrine of the church. In general, Tickle tends to accept, if not applaud, rather than question.
My point is not that the traditional church was or is pristine. Quite the opposite. Nefarious motives and practices, and even abuses, may be abundantly found. But what is gained by the stark contrast Tickle presents of emergence good, traditional bad? Does that approach truly assist emergence Christianity to become biblically faithful? Also, while it is one thing to say emergence is a new tributary in the kingdom of God, it is quite another to call emergence Christianity "this new thing God is doing." Much like any country claiming "chosen-nation" status will act according to its own predilections under the cover of its "divine mandate," so any church movement that assumes the blessing of God will lack the necessary traits of self-reflection and self-criticism. Emergence Christianity, like any and all forms, needs an assessment that asks hard questions.
This slides into my second criticism, that the present is simply too privileged. We are simply too close to emergence Christianity to compare it to the Reformation. (Not to mention: Comparisons of Brian McLaren to Martin Luther simply need to stop.) We have no way of seeing what its legacy may be, and we should refrain from giving it a status it might not deserve. It strikes one as a rather modern idea to think so highly of the present moment and one's own significance.
More substantially, the privileging of the present affects not only the way Tickle views emergence Christianity, but also the way she reads Scripture. This gets to the heart of the matter, the question of authority. Tickle articulates the consensus view of Scripture held by emergence Christianity when she describes Scripture as "received, during discernment, prayer, and teachings, into their own beingness." This goes back to her understanding of the question of authority—the twin factors being Scripture as the authoritative text, and community as the authoritative interpreter of Scripture.
Tickle is not calling for a union of equals; she wants to give Scripture a higher place than community. But isn't she risking the opposite outcome? After all, Scripture, on her account, does not stand over or above emergence groups; it is always within the community and subject to the community. How does that not lead to Scripture on our own terms?
Of course, the people of God do participate in Scripture. It is the Living Word, and we do—or at least we should—enter into it. But how do we enter in? How do we delineate that relationship? The church cannot afford a fuzzy answer to that question. Nor can it afford a wrong answer. I'm not being an extremist here or committing the slippery slope fallacy. I'm honestly asking: How does the emergence view of Scripture not lead us to accepting Scripture on our own terms?
Of course there will always be a difference between our interpretation or appropriation of—or more importantly, our obedience to—the text and the text itself. But to do away with any distinction, to always and only see the text as in conversation with the present, is problematic.
Tickle offers a helpful description of emergence Christianity, and in that task she succeeds rather nicely. But once her book moves beyond description, she misses some opportunities to raise important questions. No one likes hard questions, but where would we be without them?
Stephen J. Nichols is research professor of Christianity and culture at Lancaster Bible College and the author ofWelcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God's Word (Crossway).