Emerging Christianity Movement

by Scott Morrice on 05/02/2012

The Emerging Christianity movement is starting to become part of an important conversation.

In my Lynne McTaggart Is Right post I wrote that I felt we were in the beginning stages of a massive shift at every level of our existence. I wrote:

… I think the shift is very foundational, in that we are going to come out the other end with a much different view of our universe, and everything in it, especially including our relationship to our universe and all that occupies it. …………I believe we live in a very exciting time, and it is exhilarating to consider what this all means.

A recent sermon at the church that I attend was somewhat centered on this theme. Our Minister began by pointing out the obvious—we are living in very chaotic times. As a society we are actively and aggressively questioning much of what constitutes the framework of our lives—our political system, our financial system, our justice system, our system of health care, our media. Everything is under review, and there is much distrust and disillusionment with the status quo. We are questioning and wondering where we are going. And, there is a growing feeling that organized religion is getting more and more out of touch with who people feel that they are, and the kind of world in which they live.

As a high profile example of how this is sometimes being articulated, at least with respect to our religious institutions, our Minister pointed us to the example of Anne Rice.

As you are probably aware, Anne Rice is an extremely well known and best-selling American author. Her books have sold nearly 100 million copies, making her one of the most widely read authors in modern history. Rice made even more headlines in 1998 when she made a very public return to Roman Catholicism, her childhood faith. In fact, in 2005 she announced that she would now use her life and talent of writing only to glorify her belief in God. So, it was quite a shock to see a 2010 Facebook post of hers saying that she was “quitting Christianity”. Now I want to be very careful to not generalize here. Rice’s experience with Christianity is personal to her, and certainly does not reflect my own (and hopefully not yours). But it does remain as a good example of the disenchantment we are witnessing with our religious institutions. She wrote:

I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.

Rice allowed that though she has decided to leave the institution of Christianity, she:

…remain[s] committed to Christ as always.

Moving on, and by way of putting this all into some kind of a context, our Minister then pointed us to a very enlightening book by Phyllis Tickle, somewhat on the topic of the Emerging Christianity movement, and which speaks to this upheaval we are experiencing.

Phyllis was a founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly until her retirement in 2004. She began her career as a college teacher and, for almost ten years, served as academic dean to the Memphis College of Art before entering full time into writing and publishing. In addition to lectures and numerous essays, articles, and interviews, she is the author of over two dozen books in religion and spirituality. She currently serves as a lay eucharistic minister and lector in the Episcopal Church.

Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence, explains that about every 500 years the Church (she is writing primarily of the Christian church) holds what she calls a “giant rummage sale”.

…the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever that may be at that time, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur.

It is Tickle’s thesis that we are in the throes of one of these giant rummage sales right now. And just as the printing press was the fuel for the giant rummage sale that was initiated by Martin Luther and what is commonly referred to as the Great Reformation, technology, in the form of computerization and the internet, is again the fuel for the one that we are now experiencing.

The bad news aspect of all of this is, again as I suggested in my Lynne McTaggart Is Right post:

…take away, or threaten a system, and the predictability and comfort that goes along with that, and you are probably asking for active resistance.

Tickle writes:

Whenever there is so cataclysmic a break as is the rupture between modernity and postmodernity or, to put it in religious terms, between inherited church and emergent church, there is inevitably a backlash. Dramatic change is perceived as a threat to the status quo, primarily because it is.

She offers that the rise of fundamentalism is just such a reaction.

But the good news aspect in all of this is, again in Tickle’s own words:

One of the hallmarks of the Church’s semi-millennial rummage sales has always been that when each of the things was over and the dust had died down, Christianity would not only have readjusted itself, but it would have grown and spread.

Here is a direct link to Phyllis Tickle’s own comments about her book:

As our Minister said in his sermon, we are in the midst of changing times, on all fronts of our existence, and this can be seen either as crisis, or opportunity. The Emerging Christianity movement is becoming part of a very interesting conversation.

I’ll keep you posted.

  • Lmmd

    A couple of months ago, at your suggestion, I read Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence. I enjoyed the read, and I thank you for your suggestion.

    I must confess, however, to my being somewhat troubled by the relativism implicit in her notion of a kaleidoscopic faith dynamic, a regularly shifting shape to Christianity. Unless I am mistaken, her rummage-sale analogy (her notion of cleaning out time-worn traditions and refurbishing the “attics” of our religion with new rituals, new definitions, new moralities and new points of reference) suggests a godhead that is not eternal, a theology that is uncertain, and a morality that is unreliable. My God, i.e. the traditional Christian deity, is was and always will be a personal and loving godhead, one with whom I have a personal and loving relationship. He is my Creator, my Redeemer, my Hope and Inspiration. I believe that the resurrection of Jesus sketches out the destiny of us all, that you and I are ultimately to follow Him, ultimately to discover (with an element of surprise, I expect) that heaven is a goodly state, that the new life of the Beatific Vision is shot full with beauty and bliss.

    Should we reduce our Christian heritage to the level of whimsical relativism we do so at great risk, for ours is a beautiful and inspiring faith.

    If only we can believe it.

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