I’ve followed Phyllis Tickle for some time, the preeminent chronicler of all things emergent. As a scholar and guru of the religious publishing world her eye has been keenly trained on trends and developments in the Christian world. In particular she has researched and lectured in the phenomenon known as emergence Christianity. In short, emergence is the idea that seismic shifts in western Christianity take place every 500 years or so. We are in one of the big rummage sales right now, and have been for several decades. Everything is up for grabs and the form of Christianity, as we know it, is changing before our eyes. We are in what is called “the fifth turning” in that cycle of cycles.
Her latest book, Emergence Christianity (Baker Books) is part history of this movement and part projections based on that history. In the same way that Brian McLaren might be called the Martin Luther of the Emergent movement, Tickle is its historian, the grand old lady of this movement’s analysis and encyclopedic in her grasp of particulars.
What does that mean? It means that there is a struggle with old structures and new form, a search for trustworthy authority sources, church outside church in unusual places, house churches, ancient roots and current modes, Jesus unshakeled from institution, reclaiming the spirit, finding God in the world, presuming diversity, finding new ways to belong, serving as a way of life …
What amazes me is not that such a movement is unfolding before our eyes, but that most mainline Christians are oblivious to it. We are oblivious because we are so accustomed to what we know. But even that is changing. Every time I am in a church conversation now and the topic changes to how we might keep our own people happy by keeping things the same I know the ship has sprung a leak. Conversations like that assure the eventual demise of the church. Fortunately, those are not the only things that are thought, felt or shared. Relevant vision for the future is just as strong, at least in my own context.
I believe that we disregard the signs of the great emergence, this religious yard sale, at our own peril. God is not in jeopardy, nor is Jesus. But the shape of his beloved flock is. And that both concerns me and fills me with excitement.