The Common Good
August 2008

Faithful Transitions

by Phyllis Tickle | August 2008

Phyllis Tickle talks with Becky Garrison, senior contributing writer for The Wittenburg Door and author of Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church, about how to deal with the seismic shifts ...

Becky Garrison: Who is the intended audience for The Great Emergence?

Phyllis Tickle: First, I hope Christians in established denominations find an explanation—and relief—for what’s happening. Every time I talk about a Great Emergence, someone says, “Oh, thank God I didn’t cause this thing.” It’s a social phenomenon and a repeated pattern. I hope emergents themselves will find it informing, and that’s the second part of the audience. The third group, the ones who excite me the most, are those who are al­ready following emerging practices within established denominations and can’t quite figure out where the disconnect is.

What signs are there that we are in the midst of another reformation?

Superimpose everything happening to us on the Great Reformation of 1517. For example, lay the Internet on the printing press, the music Luther used to carry the theology, the science of Copernicus. The Reformation era was characterized by the rise of nation states; now we have the rise of globalization. We’ve gone from a cash-based society to an information society. The social unit has changed—the Protestant Reformation configuration of the nuclear family doesn’t occur now. We’ve gone from hierarchy to globalized networking, from the growth of the middle class to the death of the middle class.

What do you mean by a church “rummage sale”?

Bishop Mark Dyer says this; every religion is subject to incrustation given enough time. Apparently it takes the Abrahamic faiths about 500 years to institutionalize whatever the dominant form is. The religious vigor and passion burst out and scatter. Those pieces are freed of a lot of their burden and become a different form. Catholicism went through the Council of Trent and reconfigured because of the pressures of the Reformation.

Is the mainline church DOA, and will the “emergent church” be the church of the 21st century?

The mainline church is no more gone than Roman Catholi­cism was during the Reformation—it just lost its hegemony and had to “re-tradition” itself.

How do we redefine leadership given that many emergents say, “This is a conversation, and no one is in charge”?

This thing sort of appoints its own leaders without really meaning to. Hierarchy is a function of the Reformation; the church structure reflected the political form. Now Solomon’s Porch or the Church of the Apostles community, for example, is the leader.

How should we cope with these changes?

Prayerfully and carefully. It’s not clear how to navigate this day by day. I’m not sure “emerging” and “emergent Christianity” is what we end up calling this, and I’m not sure what the exact form of Christianity will be. We are evolving this thing as we go—the same was true for the reformers, confessors, and protesters; the three major strands in Protestantism eventually coalesced. Now this thing is going on, and we can identify what it is and look at the historical pattern and begin to understand what’s happening in terms of these patterns.

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