Trail Blazer Ministries
Base Camp for Life: A Spiritual Journey...

"The Great Emergence"


This book has had profound implications on my understanding of what we got ourselves involved in here at Trailblazer Ministries in Bozeman, Montana. I find myself in a great group composed of truth-seekers and mavericks that embrace a forward style of thinking coupled with a broader understanding of our past. This did not happen by accident. As I look back at my own personal journey to how I have arrived with such a group in a college town in Montana, I notice that my own story parallels what Phyllis Tickle says is happening all over the world. Without even knowing it, people everywhere have been exploring the same conclusions as I have. Tickle observes that movements like this occur in Christianity every 500 years or so, “a semi-millennial rummage sale,” and I feel honored to have been lucky enough to find myself in such a time of transformation.

The transformation she speaks of has not come about suddenly. She gives us a “Google Earth” view of history over the last couple centuries that primed us for what is happening today. By the way, my usage of Google Earth as an example of Tickle’s approach is indicative of the age of information that has brought us together in Bozeman. Just as we came together through networking and seeking answers using our computers, Tickle says this technology enables us and the priesthood of all believers in ways the Reformation could have never envisioned, “…To the extent that faith can be formed or dissuaded by the contents of the mind as well as those of the heart, then such license has huge implications for the Great Emergence and for what it will decide to do about factuality in a wiki world.” I start off by acknowledging this as one of Tickle’s points because if it were not for email and the internet, our group may have not found the means by which to form and the seeds of the Great Emergence may have been much slower to grow in our area. As with the rise of Protestantism and the influence of Gutenberg, “which would be impossible to overstate the importance of the printing press in 1440… that made Holy Writ more or less available to everyone, thereby enabling sola scriptura and the priesthood of all believers,” it is absolutely analogous to the central importance of the World Wide Web to the Great Emergence. In the post-Protestant era, Christians have slowly been gaining the tools by which to share ideas and communicate efficiently in this present age where the divisiveness of denominationalism has kept us separated since the printing press first placed the bible in the hands of believers.

In this book, she lays out the gradual steps that have brought us to this Great Emergence that we see happening today. From the Reformation five hundred years ago, she covers the history of events, conflicts, and teachers that have continued to withered away Luther’s principle of ‘sola scriptura, scriptura sola’ as “having been little more than the creation of a paper pope in place of a flesh and blood one.” These events always leave us with a common question, “Where now is the authority?” From the unlikely influences and effects of Copernicus, Darwin, Faraday, Freud, Einstein, Heisenberg, and Marx, to the advent of television, radio, and the automobile, the marginalization of grandma, the role of Rosie the Riveter, Alcoholics Anonymous and the Drug Age, one question always arose, “Was the Church capable of being wrong? Yes. It was that simple and that devastating.”

As the church enters another inevitable period of social/political/economic/intellectual/cultural shift, the overarching question of “Where now is our authority?” is the same now as in previous semi-millennial rummage sales of the Church. Tickle illustrates how four different categories of Christianity will be affected by this current time of upheaval (the Liturgicals, the Social Justice Christians, the Conservatives, and the Renewalists) and how the Emerging Church sprouts out from the middle of all these influences. “The whole progression from distinct corners to a gathering center was precisely and exactly what sociologists and observers of religion had predicted would happen. The fact that the emerging pattern was following a predictable trajectory did not at first seem to inform most established churches and their governing bodies, however. What they saw, by and large and only at first, was a generational issue: the young were leaving as the young always do, as the boomers had done and the Gen-Xers after them.” Tickle continues to say that this dramatic change from the inherited church is perceived as a threat to the status quo, primarily because it is, and the backlash to this movement will help to form the shape of the Emerging Church.

In answer then to the overarching question that is asked whenever the authority of the church is questioned, the emergent Christian will sometimes choose to say, “…either ‘in Scripture’ or ‘in the Community.’ More often though, he or she will run the two together and respond, ‘in Scripture and the Community.’” “…The end result of this understanding of dynamic structure is the realization that no one of the member parts or connecting networks has the whole or entire ‘truth’ of anything, either as such and/or when independent of the others. Each is only a single working piece of what is evolving and is sustainable so long as the interconnectivity of the whole remains intact.”

This is a beautiful illustration of what is to come from a more holistic Christianity. She concludes that Christianity will evolve into “something far more Jewish, more paradoxical, more narrative, and more mystical than anything the Church has had for the last seventeen or eighteen hundred years.” As for her saying that it will evolve into something more Jewish, I think she means coming into a clearer realization of the Judaism in which Jesus lived, focusing on the context of the narrative that we find in the New Testament. In a recent interview, Andrew Perriman draws this conclusion, “It seems to me that most of the change that we see taking place is driven not by theological reflection but by something much more instinctual, much more pragmatic, which then dresses itself in whatever theological categories are to hand.” Tickle’s focus with this book was pointing out the natural, instinctual, and pragmatic changes taking place but the changes through theological reflection that Perriman points out in his books are equally important, I feel. Personally, my first conflict with the inherited church came through reading about how preterism impacts the debate on Genesis and Revelation in Tim Martin (our neighbor and friend in Whitehall, MT) and Jeffrey Vaughn’s Beyond Creation Science. Various forms of preterism seem to be a common thread in the teachings of many of the leading teachers in the Great Emergence and I feel that preterism will be synonymous with this movement and this may have been something that Phyllis Tickle has overlooked in this book.

Tickle has done Christendom a great service with “The Great Emergence.” I like how she makes things make sense. I have agreed with some of the emerging Church’s critics in the past that it is like trying to nail jello to the wall in figuring out what emerging Christians actually believe. What we are left with from Tickle’s book is a complete awareness of the conversation, the wrestling, the journey, or the transformation that is taking place right before our eyes. What blows my mind is that I (or we) have found myself here in this conversation having no idea how I got here (a victim of circumstance perhaps), but Tickle shows exactly how this happened from her top-down perspective.

“The duty, the challenge, the joy and excitement of the Church and for the Christians who compose her, then, is in discovering what it means to believe that the kingdom of God is within one and in understanding that one is thereby a pulsating, vibrating bit in a much grander network. Neither established human authority nor scholarly or priestly discernment alone can lead, because, being human, both are trapped in space/time and thereby prevented from a perspective of total understanding. Rather, it is how the message runs back and forth, over and about, the hubs of the network that it is tried and amended and tempered into wisdom and right action for effecting the Father’s will.”

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Hi Ryan,

Thank you for the well written book review. As you know, I have not read Phyllis Tickle's book yet, so I can only comment on what you have shared here. While I find the historical overview of the church's development and present 'emergence' to be valuable, I am quite uncomfortable with many of the points you have raised from Tickle's book. In particular, I find her denial of "sola scriptura," and subsequent relocation of the church's authority in "scripture and the community" to be questionable at best. This is not a new approach, but simply a reiteration of what the Roman Catholic Church has taught for centuries in the form of 'sacred tradition' and the 'magisterial' teachings of the Church (which is synonymous with the Roman Catholic community). The problem that I have with this view is that the "community" (which is ultimately the church in whatever form it takes) needs an objective standard against which to measure its progress and activities. As C.S. Lewis wisely said of the Roman Catholic Church: "It is not necessarily that I disagree with the church at present; it is that, in order to become Catholic, I would have to agree in advance to whatever the church might teach in the future." Who is to say that the "community" is a reliable source of information? Church history teaches us that the community of Christ (the church) has often been in error; when you claim authority for the "community," you simply set up another magisterial system through which the teachings of scripture must be mediated.

Ryan, I know that we began our journey together with a particular emphasis on the "emerging church" movement, but I am growing increasingly uncomfortable with the direction of this movement and our role in it. The term "emerging" carries many different meanings, and I have great difficulty committing myself fully to a term which can be used in such a variety of ways. It is difficult to know exactly I am subscribing to, since when Pastor Bleise and I discussed the "emerging church" some months ago, we had a completely different concept in mind than what you are describing above. When I use the term, I am speaking primarily of how we approach church as a practical institution, particularly in regards to the role of Christian laypeople in worship and the external witness of the church in the community. While I am not a fundamentalist, I am not exactly what you would call a theological liberal, either, and I have great difficulty with the notion that a subjective "community" is equal in authority to the recorded words of Christ. This is in fact quite contrary to the direction I find myself drawn in; my desire is to peel away many of the unnecessary traditions we've heaped on Christ's simple message over the years.

Ultimately, I find that the "emerging" label is a stumbling block to many Christians, even if many people who use the term (ourselves included) have good intents. I don't believe we have been called to defend a particular movement or ideaology; rather, we have been called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ - who is conspicously absent from the summary of Tickle's book you've provided above. I am troubled by the fact that we have "involved ourselves," as you say, in something that only serves to convolute the relatively simple message of Jesus. This was not my intent.

Please don't get me wrong, Ryan; I am not reacting negatively to your post and I hope that you will not regard my comments as a personal sleight to you or the tremendous insight that you have brought to our group. I think you've provided a great summary of Tickle's book and you've raised some great points for all of us to consider. I just find myself becoming increasingly disillusioned with all of the ideaologies we've heaped onto Jesus' message - emerging ideaologies included. Do we really need any of this sophistry? Can't we just get back to loving God and our neighbor? :-\

Michael I don't have a lot of time to respond to you but I'd just like to give you the book since I'm done with it and you can draw your own conclusions. I don't think my "short" little review does the book justice because there may be a few things you're misunderstanding judging by your comments. I'm driving back to eastern Montana in the morning so I won't be at the meeting on Thursday. I can meet you somewhere early in the morning and I can hand the book off to you before I leave. Once you read the book for yourself there may be some things that you can help clarify better than I can because I still think we're on the same page here. You have my number!

Hi Ryan,

No worries about the book; we can take a look at it when you get back. Have a safe trip!


Hey there guys I'm out on the windswept plains of "west dako-dah" as the local call it and my goodness it is COLD outside! I helped dad feed the cows this morning and about froze!

Ya know, I was a bit hesitant at posting this review before you guys all had a chance to read it because I didn't want to spoil it for all of you. But of course I can't keep my big mouth shut, I'm just so excited to share these things! One thing that I was trying to point out or maybe I failed to do so was that Tickle is an observer of Christianity and church history and these are the trends that she is noticing. She is not proposing any new ideas here. Her perspective is valuable and I think it is hard to argue with.

One thing she does not say and maybe this was my fault, she does not deny sola scriptura. The problem comes when we have universal literalism and everyone had a bible in their hands. If you tell 5 people to read the bible you might end up with 5 different interpretations and thus you have 5 different Protestant denominations that all claim sola scriptura. If a church then claims sola scriptura and is found to be wrong about an issue, then the upheaval of "where now is the authority?" comes about. It is a cycle. Scripture tears down authority, people naturally build up trust in the church, conflict comes, authority is rethought again. Tickle explains this cycle real well.

The subsequent relocation of authority in scripture and community now is different than the reformation in that the scope and concept of "community" is way different. When the church community has been wrong in the past, they did not have the ways to communicate as we do today. You are right, Michael, when we say community has authority we ultimately (someday) will make another magistral system out of it but for the "emerging" church community now, nobody knows how many more years down the road that will take before that happens (20? 40? 100?)as part of the natural cycle that Tickle shows. Right now we are in the rediscovery phase where the outer security blanket of the 3-strand cord is being torn (another brilliant analogy from the book). The community before the internet existed was hardly a reliable source of information. Authority came from people you trusted who also of course claimed sola scriptura. Now as all ideas and perspectives can be shared freely, community takes on a whole new holistic nature, which seems to be happening.

Michael if I made you uncomfortable with my own personal observations in finding some form of preterism common in emerging church leaders, that's cool. You can disagree with me on that if you like, that is only my own humble opinion. That is what we are here for in this community, if you think I'm wrong about something--just tell me so! I am not going to try to push that view on anyone. Hey I remember when we first started meeting and thinking about slogans for our group, I think you liked this one, "Come in, sit down and get comfortable... but don't get too comfortable!" ;) Also, I have no opinions whatsoever on the semantics of the term "emerging" or "emergent." I kind of understand the differences but I haven't been too interested in trying to be politically correct. I'll just use whatever terminology everyone else is using and I'll see what happens! If you think I should be using one or the other or both or none, just tell me! I know it is difficult to know what we are suscribing to by using any of the above terminology, but who knows, eh? It is a conversation, a wrestling, a journey, a transformation... I don't think anyone knows at this point where this thing is headed! One thing I can say however is that people are coming back to the faith. People are finging more truth in God and scripture in this giant rummage sale. When I did my own homework in eschatology and discovered that the church I was going to at the time was wrong, I almost walked away from the faith completely and never looked back. It was that devestating for me. I went to a church that claimed sola scriptura and when that was destroyed for me, I would not have come back if I did not rethink the idea that these people are trapped in their respective space/time and are impossible from knowing everything or understanding everything in scripture. I know there are more people out there like myself, who are using the world wide web to use their own faculties to rediscover truth. My desire is your desire, Michael. Unnecessary traditions, unnecessary ideologies, whatever it is that is tripping us up, lets deal with it! Through this instincual, natural, and pragmatic transformation that is happening, whatever name you want to call it, loving God and our neighbor will be more common for more people.

Michael, let me sidestep Tickle (whom I have not read) and encourage you not to jettison the Emergent Christian paradigm simply because it is multidimensional and thus controversial. To follow this line of reasoning, I could just as easily jettison "Christian" because for most of Christian history, Christians have not represented Christ very well (to say the least) in the public eye ... or I could jettison the Bible because so many people misrepresent it and use it in a harmful fashion.

As to the question of the Bible and scripture, the Christ of scripture is the Christian's ultimate source of authority, and yet in an intricate echo of the interplay of the human and divine encapsulated in the person of Christ, no Christian can even approach scripture without traversing through community of some kind ... that is, no person lives in isolation, and no person can open the scriptures without reading through the lens of his community, environment, etc. God even entrusted and guided the early Christian community with and in the production of the (New Testament) scriptures; without Christ, the (NT) scriptures could not exist, and without the community, the scriptures would not exist.

The early Baptists recognized this interplay of community and Christ when they refused to fall prey to two pitfalls on opposite ends of the spectrum: the temptation to place authority in the living persons of select spiritual superiors (magistrums; the Roman Catholic model) and the temptation to place faith in the time-honored writings of the Christian community (creeds). Instead, they affirmed a two-pronged egalitarianism: scripture is available for all persons to access under the Holy Spirit (Luther), and each believer should protect the inherent right of every other person (Christian or otherwise) to freely arrive at his or her own beliefs (the voluntary principle; Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, etc.).

In short, Baptists (historically) across the board affirmed the authority of the written word, but refused to codify it and instead threw wide open the doors and invited the community (at the local church level) to have at it (so to speak) in terms of how to interpret, and what to do, about scripture. This scandalized everyone (with the exception of AnaBaptists and, later, Quakers): Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, etc.

To return to your (valid) observation that the Emergent movement is a stumbling block to some, I simply submit that Baptists historically have been much, much, much more controversial, radical and stumbling blocks than the Emergent movement will ever be. And I am sure glad the Baptists of old did not abandon the movement simply because they were scandalous.

So Michael, do you believe us now? I'm interested in your response. I was going to post a reply, but Ryan and Bruce covered it all. Ryan, I liked the 5 people reading the Bible analogy. How can we interpret Scripture without community and culture. Without an empirical knowledge, we can't understand the imagery of sheep. We might believe that God is the God of cattle on a thousand hills, without other knowledge that there is many more than 1,000 hills with cattle on them.
Bruce, thank you for pointing out the History of the Baptists as an example. It's great that Baptists can talk to Catholics, and Presbyterians.

Take anything back yet Michael?

Hey Guys,

Sorry I have been away from the blog for so long. I guess the question that I would have is: does the community have authority over the text, or does the text have authority over the community?

"The early Baptists recognized this interplay of community and Christ when they refused to fall prey to two pitfalls on opposite ends of the spectrum: the temptation to place authority in the living persons of select spiritual superiors (magistrums; the Roman Catholic model) and the temptation to place faith in the time-honored writings of the Christian community (creeds). Instead, they affirmed a two-pronged egalitarianism: scripture is available for all persons to access under the Holy Spirit (Luther), and each believer should protect the inherent right of every other person (Christian or otherwise) to freely arrive at his or her own beliefs (the voluntary principle; Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, etc.)."

This I agree with completely; if this is what you are describing as the dual authority of "scripture and the community," then we are pretty much in agreement; I would just choose different language to describe that process of authority.

Good response Michael, yes I believe Scripture has authority over community.

Ok, we are on the same page there, then. :-)

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