Monday, June 16, 2008

The Great Emergence

I've been lucky enough to receive corrected galleys for Phyllis Tickle's The Great Emergence so I can review it for my PhD. Here's Tall Skinny Kiwi's blurb for the back cover. NB: My brief review contains no spoilers that aren't already available for public consumption elsewhere in cyberspace. While I'm going to keep my analysis for my thesis (and/or until the book has been published), the main argument of TGE is that Christian history reveals that the church feels compelled to undergo a 'rummage sale' every 500 years.

Elsewhere, Phyllis says: "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."

She argues that three things happen during these times of change:

i. new Christainity emerges as reaction to the dominant form of Christianity
ii. dominant Christianity is reconstituted as a response
iii. both forms lead to the spread and growth of Christianity

Her presentation and analysis of the current era of change, labelled The Great Emergence, is largely historical, reflecting on an analogous period of change (The Reformation) in order to understand the possible trajectory of the contemporary climate within Christianity. Her projections for the future are, as Tall Skinny Kiwi also notes, hopefully more predictive than prescriptive. Here, however, her thoughts on the development of Christianity within The Great Emergence fit neatly with Brian McLaren's notion of a Generous Orthodoxy.

Phyllis talks about "the gathering center" in which the old quadrillaterals of church historians and theologians (divided into Charismatic Pentecostalism, Evangelicalism, Mainline or Social Justice Christians, and Liturgicals) are going through a transformation through the centripetal force of which: 1) a new center is forming in which old distinctions between denominations become blurred through interaction and conversation; and 2) the reconstitution of the four quadrants reacting against the pull of the center, which she refers to as the "backlash."

From the perspective of my research in the UK emerging church milieu, I'm interested that, while Phyllis explores orthodoxy (correct belief) and orthopraxy (correct action) in relation to those that remain within the framework of the old quadrillaterals, she does not address orthodoxy and orthopraxy as they relate to the emerging center. Of course, this is good for me as I explore Brian McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy and my own A/theistic Orthodoxy.

Also good for me is this quote, which I can leak without worrying I'll get in trouble, cos Tall Skinny Kiwi already quoted it(!):

"...emergence in the UK was clearly active, discernible and describable at least twenty years before it was nearly so visible and coherent in this country, making observation of what is happening in Britain, Ireland and Wales (sic) a very useful and sometimes predictive exercise for North American observers."


Anonymous said...

Hello katherine,

It is very unfair to judge this book without reading it but I am very suspicious of all embracing narratives - you cannot put the development of Christianity in Africa,Asia and South America in her scheme at all. There are so many local variations and factors even in the West that do not fit into any broad sweep of one narrative.......

I am not even sure if there in any sense a set of criteria to describe a discernible group called the emerging church milieu in the UK any more.. I will wait with fascination for a post containing your ideas which could confound my

What adout Zizek and Badiou as philisophical conversation partners? I really do not know much about them except P is reading Zizek who I think will be an influence on his future writing.

Keeo on transcribing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hope things go okay with PHD and you get plenty of critical distance from Caputo!!

all the best,

Rodney nee ec sceptic

Katharine Moody said...

Hi Rodney,

Phyllis is quite clear that she is talking about what the Great Emergence looks like in the US. I agree that there are problems translating her models across different contexts, but I don't think she's trying to do that. I think it is a very interesting picture of what is happening within Christianity in the US, but I don't feel qualified to argue whether or not it accurately reflects the reality. Maybe if I get funding to do a comparative study of the US and the UK???!!!???

You said, "I am not even sure if there in any sense a set of criteria to describe a discernible group called the emerging church milieu in the UK any more." Part of why I refer to the emerging church as a milieu, rather than as a movement or as a group or even as a conversation, is because it is a very nebulous thing. I refer to it as a milieu because there is a great deal of overlap between the UK emerging church milieu and other milieux within (and outside of!) Christianity. That's why I choose to refer to it as a milieu, because I agree when you say that there isn't enough criteria to discern an easily bounded group as "the emerging church." That said, I think that there are characteristics of the emerging church milieu which (while not held by everyone involved in the milieu and certainly not exclusive to the milieu) can be discerned - otherwise I'd have a VERY hard time describing what I'm talking about to the readers of my thesis! It's the whole of the first chapter, in fact!

You also mention Zizek and Badiou. I've wondered a little way into these guys, and need to do more. Not sure what ways I'll use Zizek yet (if I do) but Badiou is fundamental to an understanding of truth as event (a la Caputo and Pete) so I'll be using him quite a bit.

Also, thanks for the wishes of critical distance from Caputo!!!

Love Katharine x

Anonymous said...

Helli Katherine,

point taken and the book - it just refers to the USA. I hope you will get funding to do more research in the future if this is what you want to do as a career.

Any chance of a post outlining the main characteristics of the ECM? Maybe a brief summary in bullet points? I know it might be hard to summarise the material but I would enjoy a chance to discuss them given my ongoing fascination with the EC in general and my following of your blog!

'great deal of overlap between the UK emerging church milieu and other milieux within (and outside of!) Christianity' - an interesting statement. Could you elaborate about the other milieux?
Are you referring to modern spirituality, the New Age or liberal C of E, Sea of Faith movement? In your research what other milieux do you see an major overlap with? I'm curious!

In my reading/conversations one occasionally hears the names of the next big philisophical superstars on the horizon - from Derrida it is now seems to be Badiou and Zizek!

best wishes


Anonymous said...

Hello katherine,

I have just read your a/theistic orthodoxy post - I must admit I know really very little about Caputos theology.