Sorry, 'Emergence Christianity' Still Isn't the Reformation
Through a series of vignettes and a 32-page photographic essay, Phyllis Tickle, former and founding editor of the religion department at Publishers Weekly, takes readers on a journey through the world of what she calls "emergence Christianity." No stranger to this terrain, Tickle's Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters(Baker) is her fourth installment on "this new thing that God is doing," her own descriptive tag from the preface. Building on her previous books, such as The Great Emergence (2008), this book offers another interim field report.
I for one am grateful for Tickle's work. Getting a handle on the present is no small task, and when that present includes something as amorphous as the "emerging church" phenomenon, the difficulty only increases. As one endorsement of the book notes, Tickle has a way of seeing and making connections among varying pockets of emergence Christianity. She weaves these divergent stories into a larger, unified one. In other words, this book helps us see emergence Christianity. The photographic essay makes that description more than a metaphor.
Tickle's historical discussions of both the distant and more recent past significantly shape her sense of the present. She starts the book by noting that significant changes tend to come every five hundred or so years, including the coming of Christ in the first century, the era of the consolidation of the church under Gregory in the fifth and sixth centuries, the Great Schism of the 11th century, and the Reformation of the 16th century. From this historical trend, Tickle deduces that, here in the 2000s, we're poised for another such seismic change. She also offers readers a handy take on the more recent past, that of the last few decades and the emergence, if you will, of emergence Christianity. Those new to the party will appreciate her back-stories in chapters one through twelve.
In chapters thirteen to nineteen, Tickle takes us along on her travels to emergence outposts in both words and, as already noted, pictures. Her travels through these "fresh expressions" of Christianity cross geo-political boundaries (though the book mostly talks about the West and Latinized Christianity) and ecclesiastical boundaries, as Anglicans and Episcopalians, Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and more come into view. She even crosses the boundaries of concrete existence as she looks at cyber-world manifestations of emergence Christianity, such as 1PSL (First Presbyterian Church of Second Life), which congregates in the world of "virtual reality."
The final chapters offer an assessment of these trends and a bit of prophecy, as Tickle attempts to decipher where emergence Christianity may go. She raises two theological issues as her book draws to a close. First comes a problematic treatment of emergent attitudes toward atonement. She begins by declaring that "Christianity, in its early days, had no theory of atonement or of its mechanics." She then proceeds to note the remarkable unanimity of emergence Christianity in rejecting the view of substitutionary atonement, seen by her as the most recent of theories. She rejects this "repugnant" theory of "God as cosmic child abuser," and adds, "Substitutionary conversation in any form is in error." And Tickle makes all these pronouncements without ever referencing or discussing a single biblical text.