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EMBRACING EMERGENCE CHRISTIANITYPhyllis Tickle on the Church's Next Rummage Sale
By Phyllis Tickle Tim Scorer
Seabury BooksCopyright © 2011 Tim Scorer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSESSION 1
ESSAY ONE BY PHYLLIS TICKLE
1. Most discussions, to be of any use to us at all, have to begin with some kind of common vocabulary or mutually-understood definitions. This discussion is certainly no different; and we must start with at least a few terms that are central to our over-all subject of Emergence Christianity.
2. Emergence Christianity is a global phenomenon, present in parts of both hemispheres and on every continent. In point of fact, as an operative and highly visible part of Christian expression, Emergence came last to the North American continent. Session One is going to refer to Emergence Christianity, then, as present in the latinized world, a term that is much more accurate and far less offensive than others like Western World or First World. Latinized refers to the cultures and countries who received Christianity through the Latin, as opposed to the Syriac or Greek language, or were colonized by those who had so received the faith, or were colonialized by those who had so received it.
3. The word emergence that keeps appearing everywhere these days originally had a far more focused and specific meaning than it presently enjoys in popular conversation. That is, Emergence (or Emergence Theory, to give it its full name) is a principle of the natural sciences. It studies and describes the non-hierarchal ways in which living creatures and their societies organize themselves, describing phenomena like the difference between a beehive and an anthill; the former is ruled by its queen and the latter by a communal operation in which no one is in charge and within which a queen is of use only as a breeder of more ants.
4. Wherever Emergence appears in nature, it always also involves a shift toward increased complexity. In fact, Emergence Theory as such was first discovered and formulated in the latter part of the 19th century in an attempt to understand why Darwin's principles of survival of the fittest and natural selection did not explain phenomena like human consciousness, let alone anthills. It is, then, the leap to an increased complexity, greater than that which could have been predicted from an organism's constituent parts, named both in the science lab and in sociology. The use of the term to name the huge lurch forward in complexity that characterizes both our times and the Church living and operating within them is, in other words, both a logical and a very informing choice, once we understand its history.
5. Emergence Christianity, while it names a new, more complex, and non-hierarchal form of Christianity, is not a monolith, any more than was the Protestantism that preceded it or the Roman Catholicism that preceded them both, or the monastic and episcopal Christianity that preceded all three of them. No one ever thought that all presentations of Protestantism are the same, one with another. We recognize Lutherans as being distinct from Presbyterians and both of them as distinct from Methodists, even though we are equally comfortable calling each of them "Protestants." That is, we recognize their separateness while at the same time recognizing their shared sensibilities and defining principles.
6. In the exact same way, Emergence Christianity is frequently referred to as a conversation. That generalized, nonspecific definition is a way of saying that, though there are several distinct expressions of Emergence, they nonetheless hold in common certain principles and characteristics. For the purposes of our discussion, then, we must recognize that there are emerging expressions of Emergence and there are emergent ones, missional expressions and neo-monastic ones. There is deep church and Fresh Expressions of Church. There are house churches and even cyber churches. There are also the hyphenateds—those who have Emergence DNA deeply rooted in them, but who yet wish to retain the corpus of their natal tradition. They originally referred to themselves as Presby-mergents or Luther-mergents or Metho-mergents or Angli-mergents, thus gaining for themselves their unusual name. Now the hyphens have more or less disappeared, and the words appear un-hyphenated as Presbymergents or Luthermergents, Methomergents, or Anglimergents, the hyphen living on now more in memory than in print. There are also responses to Emergence Christianity like today's neo-Calvinism and accommodations to it like Alt Worship.
7. Session One presents the great upheavals that have occurred in Latinized Christian culture and Christianity. It will outline as well the periods—or progression of periods—that are internal to each of those turnings. In general and with a variance of no more than a decade or two, each of the 'Greats' follows this internal pattern.
8. First, there is that moment in which the new way of thinking and being seems, almost abruptly, to have arrived at last as the operative and dominant part of the general and public conversation about the way things are. Thus we refer to the Great Reformation as having begun on October 31, 1517, even though we know quite well that there were years and decades of events that led up to Luther and his 95 Theses. In the same way, observers seem content now to think that the Great Emergence will be dated in history from the events of 9/11. Whether that be true or not, we can safely say that there is that defining moment when we recognize we have shifted into a "new" world.
9. Shortly after we recognize that the ground has seriously shifted beneath us and a new day has dawned, we realize as well that those changes and shifts have been creeping up on us for a very long time. Actually, they have been more or less roaring up on us for about a hundred and fifty years. That period of 150 years is called by its colloquial name of tick-up, or in a much more dignified way, as the peri- as in the peri-Reformation or the peri-Emergence.
10. What that hundred and fifty years of peri-that precedes each upheaval does is simply to chip away, slowly but inevitably, at the bases of authority that had accrued since the last upheaval and had given stability to both the Church and the culture in which it functions. As a result, the first century or so after our recognition of a dramatic and pervasive new way of being is spent trying to answer a very fundamental question: Given this shift, where now is our authority?
11. Once that question is answered, there follows a period of approximately 250 years in which we all more or less agree where authority is lodged. We may not like the answer—in fact, more and more of us usually don't—but we all agree that that authority is the authority, for better or for worse. And then, having gone through the whole process, we come back to the fifteen decades of peri- and commence again to disestablish that which our recent ancestors had so painfully set in place.
BEFORE THE SESSION
Many participants like to come to the group conversation after considering individually some of the issues that will be raised. The following five reflective questions are intended to open your minds, memories and emotions regarding some aspects of this session's topic. Use the space provided here to note your reflections.
What kind of time are we living in as Christians?
What place does the Bible have today in your relationship with God? How is that different than when you were half your present age?
How do you feel about being in a time of such dramatic change both in the culture and in the church?
Looking at change through the long lens of history can be a consolation in a time of dramatic change. To what extent is that true for you?
What are the essential concerns of your life today that you want to be able to address in the context of membership in a faith community?
OPTION 1: BIG PICTURE
Take time to introduce yourselves to one another both by name and by completing this stem: The three words I would personally use to describe the spirit or zeitgeist of the time through which we are living are
Session 1 introduces the theme of Emergence that we explore in greater detail in Sessions 2-6. For this reason, in this session we paint the topic with broad strokes, establishing the overall topic and terminology used throughout the series. Phyllis Tickle's opening essay is helpful in this regard. Be sure to read it before going on. Listen to roughly the first 12 and a half minutes of Phyllis's presentation on the DVD up to the point when the moderator invites questions from group members.
Group Response to the Teaching
As a group, complete the following statements as a way of affirming your grasp of the broad strokes of Phyllis Tickle's teaching:
The metaphor of Bishop Mark Dyer that represents the kind of time in which we find ourselves living as Christians is ...
A word that is used both within Christianity and within the culture to identify the historical era which began in about 1842 and for which the events of September 11, 2001 were a significant marker is ...
The length of time that seems to be a given between these great historical upheavals in the latinized part of the world: The name given to the last great upheaval in which Martin Luther played an essential role is ...
In confronting the power of Roman Catholicism, Luther challenged the authority of the curia, the papacy and the Magisterium and proposed a new authority which is represented in these two Latin words:
Within the greater cycle of change there is another timeline that includes a one hundred and fifty year period during which the established authority is eroded. This period that Phyllis refers to colloquially as 'the great tick-up' is also identified by the four-letter prefix ...
Many individuals and communities of Christians in all denominations identify themselves as emergents, but at the same time desire to remain within the body of their own tradition. Because they adopt a hybrid name that includes both their denominational identity as well as their emergence identity they are known as ...
Phyllis reckons that it takes about 100 years in each larger historical cycle to answer the key question of ...
The rise of the nation state, the formation of a middle class, the birth of capitalism, and the arrival of Protestantism, all emerged from that period of European history which is known as the ...
These cycles of history can also be seen extending back before the birth of Christ through 500 years of Jewish history to the time of exile known as ...
OPTION 2: HERE WE ARE AGAIN!
From your perspective, what are the clearest trends in latinized Christianity today?
Phyllis Tickle is very clear about the patterns that repeat every time humanity goes through one of these "great" 500-year historical reconfigurations:
Every time the dominant and challenged form of Christianity does not cease to be.
Every time the expressions of the old way have to drop back and reconfigure to make space for new.
Every time the faith itself spreads and grows both geographically and demographically.
Every time there are many expressions of the thing that is emerging.
Every time there is one resounding question to be answered, and it is always the same question: Where now is our authority?
Group Response to the Teaching
What evidence do you see, both locally and globally, that we are living through such a time as Phyllis is describing?
OPTION 3: THE CHURCH AS INSTITUTION
If you were able to ask Phyllis a question about what she has presented so far, what would it be?
Play the DVD from where you left off at around 13 minutes to 24:45-25:00, just before the moderator initiates a change in the conversation. Here group participants respond to Phyllis and ask clarifying questions. Notice that the issues raised by the group are all concerned with authority, order, hierarchy, rules, structure and church as institution.
Group Response to the Teaching
As you listened to the members of the small group and to Phyllis's responses to their questions, where did you feel particularly engaged; in other words, where did their concerns connect with yours?
OPTION 4: THE BIBLE AND EMERGENCE THEOLOGY
In what way is the Bible a reflection of God's presence in human history?
Phyllis Tickle says on the DVD:
Luther, when he said Sola Scriptura, shouldn't be blamed for what happened, namely Protestant inerrancy. There was no way that Luther could have foreseen Protestant inerrancy. What we mean by inerrancy is the belief that the Bible is absolutely, word for word, the word of God: historically accurate, consistent (if you don't read it!), and to be taken as a piece of history.
I love emergence theology. I'm persuaded by so much of it. It's brilliant theology! One of the places I find it most appealing is that emergents will say, "Absolutely, the Bible is the word of God. It is God among us, but it is articulated in human speech and you cannot reduce God almighty to human speech articulation. It's worth to us is its actualness. To argue its historicity is to confine down to the limitations of our own intellect. How dare we! What is the arrogance that allows for that position!
Group Response to the Teaching
What is the distinction that Phyllis is making between the inerrancy of Scripture and the actualness of Scripture?
When has the Bible been "the word of God" for you?
OPTION 5: SPEAKING OF IMPACT
What is the impact on you personally of what Phyllis Tickle is presenting in her teaching?
Play the remaining DVD segment from about 24:45-25:00 where the moderator asks, "How is this conversation impacting you personally?" Below we offer the five reactions of the members of the group, including Phyllis:
China, on finding context and building legacy:
I'm in awe of how this conversation is adjusting me to my place, internally as well as in relation to my surroundings and to where I am in my life. It helps me see where I am in the course of history and why I'm feeling all the things I'm feeling and have felt for years. I've been figuring out what I'm going to impart to my children and what my legacy to them will be. What are they going to need to continue on, to understand these concepts about church and God, and to know how they are going to fit in?
Kim, on learning to listen to know who we should be:
My gut is churning! What really did it was when you talked about those 'Emergence' churches saying, "Well, we may not be here in 10 years." I fall to my knees when I hear that because that's the question I keep coming back to in terms of the church I work for and love. It's very hard for me to think about 'not here' and yet there's a part of me that knows I need to be in this listening mode.
China and I were in a group together not long ago and they began to talk about how they wanted to come together as a community. I said that I wanted to bring my teaching, but they replied, "No, we just want to be together!" So, I find myself having to listen a lot. It's hard because, as an American, I want everything now and I want to have the most numbers! That's what we've always been brought up to expect. We're looking at the whole and asking, "What are we and who should we be?"
Excerpted from EMBRACING EMERGENCE CHRISTIANITY by Phyllis Tickle Tim Scorer Copyright © 2011 by Tim Scorer. Excerpted by permission of Seabury Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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