The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why

Editor’s note: Though author Phyllis Tickle is not always known for her sound theology, she is a woman with much insight. Having an interest in the “emergence movement,” I was intrigued by her view of history. As I was discussing this book with John Muether, Librarian at Reformed Theological seminary in Orlando, Florida, and a member of our Great Commission Publications Board, I realized we had a similar reaction. Therefore, I asked him to write the brief review you will find below.

In this brief and breezy book, Phyllis Tickle (formerly Religion editor for Publishers Weekly) introduces readers to the phenomenon that has come to be known as the emerging church movement.

Like clockwork, Christianity undergoes a great paradigm shift every 500 years in Tickle’s reading of church history. The monasticism of Gregory the Great (ca. 500), the Great schism of 1054, and the Great Reformation of the sixteenth century – together they prepare us for the “Great Emergence” of our day. Tickle particularly presses the analogy of the Reformation to an assessment of our time. Just as the Reformers had the printing press and Copernicus, so we have technological and intellectual tsunamis (the internet and Darwin) as precursors to our revolution. sure, there will be resistance, but we should expect that any Counter-Emergence will have as much success in thwarting the movement as the Counter-Reformation did.

The central issue in the Great Emergence is authority. our age has rendered sola Scriptura implausible and Protestant notions of authority must be reconfigured after controversies over slavery, divorce, the ordination of women, and homosexuality. The debate over these issues has splintered American Presbyterianism into PCA, EPC, OPC, and more, though Tickle prefers other ways to describe the various camps: traditionalists, re-traditionalists, progressives, and even the “Presby-mergents.” While Tickle is uncertain what new form of Christianity will emerge, she suggests that it will be post-denominational (other ties will command greater allegiance), post-doctrinal (doctrine being a Constantinian construct!) and even post-Protestant (Protestant and Catholic animosities will recede into the past).

As far-fetched as this vision seems, this book is worth reading to gain a scope of the brazenness of the claims of the emerging church. It is a sobering reminder of why confessional Presbyterians and other American Protestants must continue to protest against errors and unbelief, both old and new.

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