Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Great Emergence

I recently read (or in my case listened to) Phyllis Tickle's book The Great Emergence. It's quite interesting, and as some might say, even prophetic. I often say that I am lucky to be living at this "hinge" in history. It's not that way for everyone. There are a lot of people that are afraid. They seem to see the changes as threatening and are circling the wagons, as it were, to try and stop the tsunami. It won't help.

I'm having a little deja vu. In the 80's and 90's there was a revolution going on in my field, counseling or psychotherapy as some call it. The theories of the 19th and 20th century were being supplanted by more post-modern approaches like solution-focused and narrative therapies. It was an epistemological shift. Many resisted and still do. The revolution happened. It's over. There is no turning back. I remember being at a conference with one of the pioneers of these approaches. He's dead now, but at that time he was quite provocative as well as innovative. The health insurance field was pushing "brief therapies", so most clinicians went to a conference to learn a "technique" to add to their "eclectic" approach. The first day the place was packed. Each day after the numbers dwindled, until the last day there were only a handful of people. It was too threatening for the clinicians who had invested years and thousands of dollars in their approaches. I was young and willing to jump on the bandwagon with little to lose.

I'm 45 now. I still find I'm drawn to innovative ideas, fresh ideas. Not everyone is like me. Christianity is changing in some profound ways. If you've been paying attention for the last 50 years, notions like the atonement, eschatology, ecclesiology, harmartiology, the trinity, these are all morphing. For the most part, what I'm finding is richer, deeper, and more meaningful - not to mention they make more sense. But like I said, not everyone is like me.

As Tickle describes, this is about a 150 year process. By my estimation, we've got some time to go before we reach that calmer period between "hinges". So, hold on for the ride. In the meantime - I'm getting closer to wanting to talk about what the Great Emergence will be, versus what it isn't. Most of what I think about now is what I don't like. That takes too much energy and it's not as energizing as talking about what I do like. Anybody have any ideas? I have really been enjoying N.T. Wright's books "Simply Christian", "Surprised by Hope" and now "After You Believe". His hopeful take on eschatology and the affect it has on us now is encouraging.

6 comments:

Chris Epting said...

Yep, I just finished Phyllis Tickle's book earlier this month. I think she's definitely on to something. Those "500 year cycles" sound about right. I've felt for some time that we're in the early stages of another "reformation" in the church. The whole emergent conversation will surely be part of that.

Lon Marshall, LMFT said...

Chris, what do you think are some of the key elements of that reformation we are in?

Chris Epting said...

Two things come to mind: One, of course, is the whole taking of "post modernity" seriously, particularly in the sense that truth is not always "this" or "that" but "both/and"... that paradox is OK, that narrative theology maybe trumps "dogmatics" these days.
Also, I'm intrigued by a possible move to "post evangelical" and "post liberal" positions -- to find a place where we can talk...

Lon Marshall said...

I agree. I like that move from certainty to dialogue.

Chris Epting said...

I used to say that I was closer to "liberals" in the other denominations than I was to some "conservatives" in my own. And that the "new" ecumenical movement might be for all the liberals to get together and all the conservatives get together. Now, I think that's too simplistic. In many ways, I'm a theological conservative and a social liberal! So, where does that get me?

Katie Z. said...

Chris - I think that makes you post-labels =) I think in many ways the hesitancy to define anything within the emergent church movement is precisely because of this overlapping and paradoxical intersection of ideologies and theologies and political platforms and personal experiences.