Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle

I have just finished Phyllis Tickle's latest book, The Great Emergence. It is quite a helpful read. She bases the book on a concise thesis from Bishop Mark Dyer of the Diocese of Bethlehem (PA): "Every 500 years, the church has a rummage sale." The metaphor has to do with moving out of an old house and disposing of things we no longer need or that no longer work.

This odd adage is a solid historical observation. About every 500 years, give or take a few, the Church has a dispute, a big split (bigger than the little denominational chippings off that happen all the time), there is a new expression of Christiainity -- actually 2 new expressions because the old group is transformed too. The Church is re-energized and spreads the Gospel more effectively than before. It happened in the time of Gegory I, again in 1,000 when the East and West divided, again in 1522 with the Protestant Reformation -- and now, hmmm, my Blacberry reminder is beeping that it's time for a rummage sale. The reason for these periodic restructings is that the truth we proclaim is eternal but the culutre to which we proclaim it keeps shifting. So we have to revamp strategies and refine our language to communicate the faith to the generation before us.

Divisions in the Anglican Communion are not, in themselves, big enough to constitute the Great Emergence described by Tickle, but they would definitly be part of it. So from Tickle's standpoint, the divisions we see happening are actually a good thing. But wait. Rememer Bill Bishop and The Big Sort. The dividing of our culture into ever smaller collections of the like minded make for dividing of our culture into collections of the ever smaller minded.

So what to make of all this? Given my vocation to preserve and deepen the unity of the Church, I have to operate out of Bill Bishop's admonition to heal divisions and keep difference held together in the tension of an intenional unity. But when that fails, it's good to read a little Phyllis Tickle. God works in our divisions as well as in our Communion.

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