Shining Like a National Guitar

Phyllis Tickle speaking at Emergence Christianity

In my last post I reviewed/reflected on Phyllis Tickle’s new book, “Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters.”  In that post I mentioned that I went to Memphis to hear her speak about this new book and what she sees in this whole Emergence Christianity thing.

It was a wonderful conference.  Great to spend time with old friends like Jane Gerdsen, DG Hollums, Larry Bourgeois, and Chris Smith.  I also very much enjoyed meeting new(er) friends like Ragan Sutterfield, Eric Cooter, Matt Pritchard, Steve Knight, Troy Bronsink, etc…

I’ve already said a bit in the previous post about the Emergence Christianity book about why I think the topic is important.  So in this post I’d like to share 5 bits that I picked up from the conference that bubbled to the surface as being important.  But before I do that I want to make one sweeping, grossly over-generalized statement.

This was an important gathering.  It was important because this Emergence Christianity thing has begun to take steps into generative new directions.  What I mean by that is much of the early emerging church conversation was one or both of these things:  deconstructive and disaffected evangelicals (with a smattering of mainliners thrown in).  As I said in the previous post, I was at the 2005 Emergent Conference and have served as a pastor in a early Emerging Church (Vineyard Central in Norwood, OH).  I went to Fuller Theological Seminary and studied under Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibbs.  Four years ago I was at the first Memphis gathering for The Great Emergence.  Of course, there was generative work being done all along the way.  Ryan and Eddie point to that in their book, Emerging Churches.  But, if I may, that was primarily a look into the work of Innovators and a few Early Adopters.  (I’m playing with the Diffusion of Innovations work by Everett Rogers)  The introduction of the Hyphenated category of Emergence-inclined Mainliners (Presbymergent, Anglimergent, Methomergent….) that Phyllis first brought up in 2008 and the wide-spread interest in New Monasticism with Shane Claiborne’s books and tour (2006-2008) pushed the innovation very much into Early Adopter-phase.  I would submit that we’re now seeing the first steps into a potential Early Majority.  Certainly they are tentative and hesitant first steps, but they are steps nonetheless.  (I also think George Elerick’s post, “Why The Emergent Church Might Be Failing Christianity” is a good caveat to the generative work not being captured by “old wineskins” is something of which to take careful note.)

One of my evidences of this very thing is the swirl of controversy that has come post-conference.  I won’t weigh in on these particular issues, other than to point you to them (here, here, here, and here).  My point is that the push-back itself is the evidence of the broadening nature of the Emergence Christian experiment.  I would say the same thing about the fracture lines within the “movement” (gosh, I really dislike using that word).  Phyllis took some time to speak on how Emergent, Emerging, Hyphenated, New Monastic, Convergent were different sorts of things all within Emergence Christianity.  I still don’t quite get where Neo-Calvinist types fit in this schema, but that’s for another time.

Ok, enough of that.  Here are five big issues that Phyllis addressed that I found particularly compelling:

Issue #1 – Where now is the authority?

The move away from papal or sola scriptura is a move into the unknown.  It’s like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade stepping off into the abyss hoping, trusting that something will be there.  I’m reading McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity” where he deals with a similar question.  I also very much appreciated what he shared at the conference.  If memory serves he was advocating for a kind of epistemological humility around what we claim to know about authority.  In other words, if we proclaim we have the last word on what is authoritative then we have perhaps missed the point.

This questioning of authority has all sorts of ramifications for the church, faith, and society at large.  I know it causes hives and palpitations among many and deep ambivalence in others (spiritual but not religious).  I think this creates real opportunity for Anglican and Wesleyan modes of authorizing.  Three-legged milk stool or quadrilateral anyone?  Obviously this ties into the last issue I’m highlighting below, Age of the Spirit

Issue #2 – Three central questions for the future of the church:  1) pluralism, 2) atonement, 3) personhood

So how can we have a robustly Christian faith in a pluralistic world?  Just what and how did Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection change things?  And what is a human, a consciousness, and a soul?  By and large the answers to these questions are wide-ranging and largely unknown.  I reckon we’ll figure them out, but it’s going to take some time.

Issue #3 – Jerusalem ↔ Antioch have to work together

Phyllis referenced Ray Anderson’s “An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches” and his use of the Jerusalem-Antioch church dynamic in Acts.  Basically, Jerusalem is the mother or inherited church and Antioch is the mission or emerging/ent church.  Her point is that the two need each other.

Issue #4 – Tent – Synagogue – Temple

Here Phyllis was advocating for a return(?) or re-imaging of the Tent (domestic, familial life) as a primary place for Christian formation for the next generation.  This is the bit that got several folks quite upset.  I heard Phyllis do a similar talk on this at Wild Goose and found it helpful then and now.  As a minister to families the idea that we can enact efficacious and robust spiritual formation for children (not to mention adults) with one hour a week on Sunday is ludicrous.  I didn’t hear Phyllis saying that was solely the job of a stay-at-home mother to impart Christian formation to the next generation, rather I took her to mean that if we aren’t doing some level of formation in the home we don’t have a hope of it happening fully.

Issue #5 – Age of the Spirit

Phyllis was channeling Joachim of Fiore and advocating for our being in the Age of the Spirit.  This being inaugurated by Azusa Street in 1906.  I’d like to explore this area more and it’s ramifications for the church.  Historically, of course, this makes sense as Pentecostalism and Charismatic Renewal in Inherited Churches gave way, or were joined by, Third Wave Pentecostals like the Vineyard.  But what does this mean for the evolving world of Emergence Christianity?


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