The Future of the Emerging Church
Are we experiencing the next Reformation of Christianity?

Conversations about the future of the emerging church can be overheard at conferences, seminaries, chat rooms, or anywhere church leaders congregate. Does the movement have legs? Does it represent a passing trend or a new Reformation? Not long ago we sat down with author/scholar/editor Phyllis Tickle to discuss the subject. Tickle, a feisty Episcopalian from Tennessee with an intellect matched only by her sense of humor, has served as a religion editor for Publishers Weekly and has written over two dozen books. Her three-volume prayer manual, The Divine Hours, has renewed the discipline of fixed-hour prayer for Christians in many traditions.

What do you see happening to Christianity in the twenty-first century?

Many people have observed a five hundred year cycle in western history - a period of upheaval followed by a period of settling down, then codification, and then upheaval again because we do not like to be codified. So, about every five hundred years the church feels compelled to have a giant rummage sale, and we're in one of those periods now.

The Reformation was about five hundred years ago. Five hundred before that you hit the Great Schism. Five hundred more was the fall of Rome and the beginning of monasticism. Five hundred before that you hit the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, and five hundred before that was the end of the age of judges and the beginning of the dynasty.

So, how is the current upheaval different from what the church has experienced before?

For the first time we've done it in an age of media where we are historically informed and we can perceive the pattern, and for the first time we've had the ability to talk to each other, to be self-conscious about what is happening, and be somewhat intentional. This is very exhilarating.

We have a huge responsibility because of what we know. We are seeing the start of a post-Protestant and post-denominational era. Just as Protestantism took the hegemony from Roman Catholicism and Roman Catholicism from the East at the Great Schism, so the emerging church is now taking hegemony from Protestantism.

But would you place the emerging church with Evangelicalism, or it is something else?

No, it's not evangelicalism. American religion has four, pretty much equally divided, quadrants. Evangelicalism is one of them, charismatic Pentecostalism is another, the old mainline or social just Christians is a third quadrant, and then the liturgicals. And where the quadrants meet in the center there's a vortex like a whirlpool and they are blending.

March 19, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 35 comments


May 02, 2007  3:46pm

My favorite quote I have heard on this was from Rob Bell, who casually said, "If you use the word post-modern you aren't." I think the same can be said of this EC flow. The folks who are really interested in studying/analyzing/dissecting it are from a modernist mindset, one that believes that all things can be examined, grouped, categorized, labeled, and understood. Yet these movements seek to live realities that have no interest in such pursuits. It reminds me of a story about a deer a friend encountered in the woods. He observed it, killed it, dissected it, and thought through his exercise he had learned everything there was to know about what it was and how it worked. Yet ultimately, he had missed the Truth which the deer held: its beauty while alive.

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Zane Anderson

April 03, 2007  8:53am

"The problem is that the emerging church does not have enough organization within itself to get beyond the sound of its own voice." Perhaps the lack of organization is intentional. I wonder what the real size of this movement is.

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March 28, 2007  11:26am

Melody, This is a quote from your last comment, "It's just that she never says exactly what those beliefs are. She's not saying they aren't moving toward Biblical truth, but there is no implication that they are. The word 'incarnate' means 'embodied in human form'. Nothing more and nothing less. ". Are you suggesting that the idea of incarnation isn't biblical? To embody fully with mind, spirit, and body the grace, love, and truth that Jesus shared with us? In 1 John, we're told to love as Jesus and God is love, this sounds like a biblical truth to me. Maybe I have read it wrong, but it sounds like what you are referring to are theological points pulled from Bible texts. In other words, dogma/beliefs that agrees with one's allready head theology (preconceived belief structure). If so, then I don't think you'll ever find what you are looking for. Not because believing with head is wrong, but leading with the head can be misguided. I am Wesleyan in Theology, but I work closely with people from the Calvinistic views. I might not agree with their theology, yet we all share the same missional beliefs about evangelism and social issues with our head, hearts and body. Basically 1 John tells us that we will know who does and does not follow Christ by their motivations and actions, not belief structures. By our incarnational living of Jesus' love will we be living biblically. If this is not a biblical truth, then what is?

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Roger Marshall

March 28, 2007  2:10am

As I see it, evangelicalism has become ery fragmented, and a lot of is certainly not counter cultuural in the way that the Church must be. It has, in the case of a great deal of it, become just as "Me-oriented" as the surrounding culture, albeit with a biblical veneer. Renewal is nevertheless underway. There are sign of this renewal in SOME emerging churches, but not in the emerging church as a paradigm, in some liturgical churches, both Catholic and Protestant, in some traditional evangelical churches, in some charismatic churches and possibly in some "Christian left" communties. But it would be a mistake to suppose that the emerging church, or any other movement, is anointed by God to catalize renewal. Renewal occurs to the extent to which we get off our pedestals, let God b God, confront and confess our sin and our compromise with the surrounding culture. There is a terrible danger of evangelialism s whole just caving in. The irony is that i it does it will be with the coniction that God is actually blessiing us and is pleased with us: "Just watchhow are churches are growing". The question that we must sk is "What are the seekers who come ino our churches actually finding?"

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Jean-Luc Charles

March 27, 2007  10:07am

So if this is the future of the church, why is it all white?

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March 26, 2007  2:34pm

Ideally, I'd like to see consideration/deliberation on both the local church and parachurch organizations, like denominations. IMHO, it would be ideal if local churches were like house churches and parachurch organizations were voluntary associations in the images of the house churches(30 or less people, representing 30 or less house churches, or associations of house churches.). I think such sorts of associations could enable seminaries, youth camps, biblical research, and other stuff that we currently benefit from. But that's just my ideal and I'm committed to working peacefully with the status quo parachurch organizations with the intent of fostering more decentralization and change. dlw

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March 26, 2007  9:42am

Wow. Talk about making huge modernist generalizations, check this action out! Mrs. Tickle reduces all theological History to a series of predictable patterns, each with outcomes that can be plotted and forecasted. This is a major, major mistake. The players in History are not automatons or mathematical formulas, they are human beings with passions and wills. Furthermore, she doesn't seem to have a problem easily categorizing American religious expression into four 'quadrants.' I don't know if we are experiencing the next Reformation or not, but I can tell you one thing: these modernist assumptions about history are typically the type of thinking that many emergents are resisting.

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Assistant Village Idiot

March 24, 2007  9:04pm

Everyone go back and read Sheerakhan's comment again. Excellent. There is a whole lot of "After picking out the data I like and imposing my preconceptions, this is how it looks to me" in the thinking here. That 500-year cycle thing is an imposed narrative. I could look over history and construct a 300 year or 700 year cycle as well. There is not much that is new in the EC, and that's not a bad thing. But never get caught up in the idea that you are living on some cusp of history. Either everything is a cusp, or nothing is. There is always more than just one - more than a million great inflection points - at any moment. We are in a long trend of decentalization in our institutions, where networks will come to be the dominant structure rather than hierarchies. But networks have been part of the Church since its beginning as well, and the EC is not moving into uncharted waters any more than anyone else is. I like a lot of the EC, and I think responsiveness to local conditions and willingness to reconfigure elements of church have great strength in Anglospheric cultures. what use it will have in the churches in the rest of the world remains to be seen.

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Matt Stone

March 24, 2007  3:09am

Personally I find the Reformation analogy unnecessarily provocative and way too Western-centric. Why not think of cross-cultural mission in the West as simply the next chapter in world mission? What we are seeing emerging in the West is nothing more or less than the same sort of contextualization processes that been going on in Africa, Asia and South America for many decades. And speeking of those nations, how can we ignore them when we talk about the future of Christianity. Hell, they are were all the action is. We are suffering from a severe case of myopia and narcissism here. And I say this as an emerging church blogger.

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Mike Morrell

March 23, 2007  9:19pm

[Continued from above] From a theological perspective, many of us are seeing God's new covenant inaugurated in Christ as one giving followers of Jesus greater (to paraphrase Peter Parker's uncle Ben) power and responsibility, genuine response-ability of everyday Joes to God's moving and guidance. Those of us in so-called "house church" expressions [as in ] see this as the Holy Spirit taking genuine leadership among us, bringing us into the mind of Christ together. Decisions are made by consensus and the Church Gathered is open and participatory, with every member taking responsibility for the direction of the church. Of course there are still gifts and callings, but they are fluid and growing, changing. We don't major on them, and they're verbs rather than nouns. We're biblically-rooted, historically-aware, and neighborhood/culturally sensitive. We observe, fascinated, this paradoxical dance between Zeitgeist and Paraclete and remain open for what is next. It seems that the clarity to see the axial spiritual/religious shift taking place on this 500-year cusp should be paired with the prescience to recognize that emerging communities will not be returning to organization-as-usual if we're actually emerging. I mention this with all due respect for Phyllis Tickle. She is way smarter and wiser than I.

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