In her book, The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle seeks to answer three questions of the emergent movement present in the church. Those questions are: What is it? How did it come to be? Where is it going?
What is it?-She frames it as a rummage sale, citing Reverend Mark Dryer who has observed that “every five hundred years the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity; whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that the renewal and new growth may occur.” (16) A rummage sale occurs because the common imagination of the group and the story of the community have suffered damage. Former rummage sales dealt with the issue of Scripture and the authority of the Church.
This current rummage sale that awaits the church is the Great Emergence, following the Great Reformation, the Great Schism, the ascension of Gregory the Great to the papacy, and the coming of Christ. It is meant to give the answer to the irreparable damage given to sola scriptura and to find a new sense of authority.
No justification is given to why these dates are chosen over other dates in Christianity other than the fact her choosing. She fails to interact with any of these dates beyond naming them, excepting the Great Reformation. Because of this, her work became suspect in my mind.
How did it come to be?-Previously stated, it began with the dissatisfaction surrounding sola scriptura Tickle states the flaw in this authorial stance when she notes that if five people read the same document, there will probably be three different interpretations. This led to the rise of denominations and Tickle states that “denominationalism is a disunity in the body of Christ and, ironically, one that has a bloody history.” The origin of this history is surveyed through the Renaissance, the fall of Constantinople, the rise of Protestantism, Gutenberg, and the challenge of Copernicus to the institution of the church. This made the church more willing to accept Scripture being the new source of authority, but not for very long.
She cites Darwin, Faraday, Freud, Jung, Einstein and Heisenberg as those that began to compete with Scripture as the narrative in popular thought that began to sway the minds of the populace through mediums such as radio, television, and the internet. These ideas began to question the foundation of such things as the soul, God, prayer, self, and knowing. Fundamentalism is portrayed by Tickle as the fallback position for those who wish to retain the idea of sola scriptura. This, coupled with literary deconstruction, led to the conclusion that “all writing—be it sacred or secular—has no innate meaning until it is read and, therefore, has no meaning outside of the circumstances and disposition of the reader.” This led to the quest for the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith since “the divine authority of Scripture was decentralized, subject to the caprices of human interpretation, turned into some kind of pick-and-choose bazaar for skillful hagglers.” (82)
This section of the book is fair and accurate except for the totalizing way she views denominations. It is clear that little or no thought is given by Tickle to interact with the positive contributions that denominations have brought to the church.
Where is it going?-Tickle gives us a hint as to where this can be found in her mention of the contributions of the Pentecostal movement of speaking in tongues to the emergent church. She states that when “forced into a choice between what a believer thinks with his or her own mind to be said in the Holy Scripture and an apparently contradictory message from the Holy Spirit, many a Pentecostal must prayerfully, fearfully, humbly accept the more immediate authority of the received message…Pentecostalism, in other words, offered the Great Emergence its first, solid, applied answer to the question of where now is our authority.” (85) This sounds dangerously close to going down the same slippery slope that Montanism and Tertullian went down.
I do not have the space to put in her diagrams but essentially there will be a gathering center where denominational lines will be blurred and groups will arise such as the emergers,” “emergents,” and the “hyphenateds". Theonomy and Orthonomy were explored as principles of truth in the emergent movement. Orthonomy is defined as a kind of correct beauty. Tickle states that “it means the employment of aesthetic or harmonic purity as a tool for discerning the truth.” Theonomy is the belief that “only God can be the source of perfection in action and thought. The question, or course, is how best to pierce through to His meaning.” (149-150) Tickle finally says what is the authority for the emergent movement and she cites what she calls "networked authority” or also "conversation." Where this movement is going cannot be charted but this is the face that this movement will take, according to Tickle.
Overall, this work was a piece of historical sholarship, and since it was a rather poorly done piece of historical scholarship I do not recommend it to others.
First, it is conversation that has driven the movement of the church through time, this working out what is all meant by the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. At the conclusion of her work, Tickle has done nothing more than state the obvious. Second, there is Tickle's bias towards the emergent church. I am someone who could be called a soft-emergent but this work of Tickle's came across as nothing but a power grab for the emergent movement. Her choice of historical events makes this work seem like a meta-narrative, the totalizing way she views denominations is unfair, and the divisiveness she fails to see that congregationalism will bring to the church could all be cited in support of this. Third, if her foundational truth of the 500 year rummage sale is rejected, as it should be, her work falls apart.
My heart broke when I read this book. It was well written, popular, and about the emergent church. I thought I was going to love it and found my assumption was wrong. If you do read it, please do not accept this work as the sole voice for the emergent church. There is a gap between the scholars and the pew and this must be addressed by the church, and is something the emergent church does very well. The gap between the scholar and the pew must be lessened using correct scholarship and right action. Phyllis Tickle is a sweet woman, I have met her, her book presents a good writing style, a broad knowledge of social and historical events, and it attempts to bridge the gap between scholars and the pew which is admirable. However, this does not legitimize her views of the church. Sadly, she uses neither correct scholarship nor right action in trying to bridge the gap. Since she is one of the few who is attempting to span this gap, it is her work that will be listened to by the populace and will make it only that much harder for the church when they do try to bring the pew and scholars together. Read instead Rodney Clapp's book A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in Post-Modern Society. for a more fair and accurate piece of historical scholarship concerning the church and its present state.