My friend and colleague Anne Howard, Executive Director of The Beatitudes Society, has been telling me for over a year that I need to read Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. So, I finally picked up a copy and started reading – now I see why she was so adamant.
In her book, Tickle (founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly) gallops through about two thousand years of church history to support her thesis that about every five hundred years the Church holds a theological rummage sale of sorts, and gets rid of all the clutter that is weighing it down and preventing it from serving as a channel for God’s work in the world. She points to how Pope Gregory “the Great” and the monastics of the 6th century saved civilization; how “the great schism” of the 11th century defined religious life in the east and the west for a millennium; how the great Reformation of the 16th century was a revolution in religious and political authority that launched the modern era; and how what she calls “the great emergence” of the 21st century is part of a pattern of formation, reformation and renewal that is always shifting the ground under our feet at rates so slow as to be almost undetectable – until the subterranean sociopolitical movement becomes an earthquake that shakes the foundations of power and control (Ps. 46:2-6).
For those of us living in the middle of this Great Emergence of a new way of being church – which almost necessarily means the death of an old way of being church – the feelings of grief and loss can be almost unbearable. Tickle reassures us,
“discovering and exposing pattern can greatly diminish our sense, either corporately or individually, that somehow, ‘this mess must be our/my fault. It must be because of something we/I did somewhere back along the way.’ That simply is not true in the grand details, though it may be in some of the more minor, enabling ones. Guilt is neither appropriate, justified, or productive, in other words, when one comes to consider prayerfully and faithfully the Great Emergence.”
I think The Beatitudes Society, and other ecumenical and interfaith initiatives working at the intersection of faith and pluralism, are a part of the Great Emergence. The church of the future may look very little like the church of the past, but the same was said of the church in Luther’s day… and 500 years later we gather on weekends like this one to celebrate the Reformation.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains shake in the depths of the sea. (Ps. 46:2)