Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Phyllis Tickle on Emergent Christianity, and Why it Matters

Author, speaker and theologian Phyllis Tickle died today (Sept. 22). She had been diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. It was my privilege to interview her twice, and meet her twice as well. Although we were never close friends, we stayed in contact from 2009 until early August, when she was no longer able to answer e-mail. In one of our last exchanges, we talked about how Tony Campolo had “come out” in favour of gay marriage and accepting gay people into the church. “Tony is a good man, married to a good woman,” she wrote of his decision. “It just may be that she wore him down, but whatever works, works. Let us be grateful.”

Below find my second interview with her, prior to her visit to Winnipeg in 2013.

When she was in Winnipeg in 2009, Phyllis Tickle talked about the Great Emergence, a "monumental" shift in Christianity that is changing the church in Europe and North America.

Based on her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why,  she said it was part of a 500-year cycle that included bringing the church out of the dark ages, the Great Schism between Eastern and Western churches and, most recently, the Protestant Reformation.

These cycles are like giant garage sales, she added, a time when the church takes a look at the stuff it owns and decides to get rid of what it no longer needs.

For some, it's an energizing time of newness and vitality. For others, it's an uncomfortable and disquieting experience as longstanding and cherished doctrines and traditions are deemed unnecessary by a new generation of Christians.

Out of this upheaval is coming "a new gathering of believers that is not based on traditional denominations, creeds or beliefs," she said, noting it's a "mix of Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, the mainline Protestant churches and the liturgical tradition, together with an emphasis on head and heart—not just one or the other—along with the deep commitment to social justice."

Since that time, Tickle has been exploring this "fresh expression" of Christianity, compiling what she's discovered into a new book titled Emergence Christianity: What it is, Where it is Going and Why it Matters. 

And now she's coming back to Winnipeg for one last visit to share what she's found—at the age of 80, she says it's time to slow down and spend time finishing two more books.

I spoke to Tickle last week about what she's found out about Emergence Christianity over the last few years.

First off, she says that it's "changing from a conversation into a movement," although that movement is really just "in the toddler stage."

It's impacting every denomination, she says -- there are "Presbymergents" and "Anglimergents" and many other forms of emerging Christianity.

In terms of their approach to faith, Emergents are more interested in community and conversation, not a set of beliefs and creeds -- for them, how people behave is more important than what they believe.

Emergents are not interested in structures and hierarchies and buildings, she noted. "They're not going to own real estate," she says, adding that they prefer to meet in homes, pubs, community centres and other non-traditional meeting places.

Emergents have also accepted the fact that they live in a post-Christendom world -- a world where being religious confers no special treatment or favours.

"The last thing they want to be is part of a socially acceptable religion," she says.

Tne things she does find interesting is that Emergents are attracted to Anglicanism, preferring its liturgies and its way of living out the faith.

"Of all the traditional denominations, Emergents find the Anglican Church to be the most appealing," she says.

Although she has tried to capture the essence of this new expression of Christianity in the book, Tickle is careful to describe it as an "interim report."

"I'm not sure where it's going," she says. "Nobody knows."

Her book, she says, is a "dispatch from the field, an opportunity for us all to assess where we are, project where we probably are going, and enter prayerfully into this new thing that God is doing."

What she can say for sure about Emergence Christianity is that "it is growing and shifting and reconfiguring itself in such a prodigious way as to still defy any final assessments or absolute pronouncements."

For traditional Christians, all these changes can create anxiety -- including for parents who don't see their kids going to church on Sunday mornings anymore.

"Well, of course they are not there," she said in another interview. "They're down in the pub every Tuesday night, having a beer and doing pub theology. It's just church in a new way. God is doing a new thing again and we're living in it."

Click here to read the first of my two interviews with Phyllis.

Click here  to read the final interview that Phyllis gave after being diagnosed with cancer.

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