Finally, this dreadful winter is over (I hope!)
Archives For Michael Krahn
***Note: this is a re-post of a review I wrote in 2010. Since the book continues to surface in conversations I’ve been a part of, I thought I’d bring it back into view. Enjoy!***
I’m no historian. You probably aren’t either. Fortunately, this fact probably won’t serve as a handicap when reading this short book of history.
“The Great Emergence” is a book that makes sweeping generalizations about large swaths of world history. Many conclusions are drawn from these generalizations, which leaves us non-historians in a bit of a bind: in order to accept Tickle’s conclusions, we must first accept her version of the events. Without extensive knowledge of these historical events, it is difficult to refute or agree with either.
But before this really becomes a problem the book shows itself to be an exercise in unintentionally amusing hyperbole.
Likewise, the concerns with historical accuracy subside, inversely proportional to the level of – again, unintentional – humor that accompanies the escalating hyperbole.
Pretending to be a short but concise assessment of current events, the book is more like an impressionist painting than an accurate portrait. The subtitle sets the goal of answering “How Christianity is Changing and Why,” but it is a small book with too few pages (165) in which to accomplish the task. In many places, the historical flybys leave so much unsaid that regardless of your level of historical knowledge it’s pretty easy to tell that too much of the story is missing. At other points in the book, inordinate amounts of space are spent on tangential developments at various historical junctures in church history.
Tickle sees the current period of upheaval as an event in significance equal to the Great Schism and the Great Reformation. What we are living through, by her estimation, is the Great Emergence – and this is a cause for great elation.
In one particularly effusive section, Tickle pictures the movement itself as a great healer:
“One does not have to be particularly gifted as a seer these days,” she says, “to perceive the Great Emergence already swirling like balm across that wound, bandaging it with genuinely egalitarian conversation and with an undergirding assumption of shared brotherhood and sisterhood in a world being redeemed.” (p29)
A sentence of greater utopian delusion has seldom been written.
It is little wonder that those who are leaders of emergent Christianity call Tickle a friend and ally. Of Doug Pagitt she says he is “one of emergent Christianity’s most influential and brilliant thinkers.” She calls Brian McLaren “the symbolic leader of the Great Emergence… in the same way that Martin Luther became the symbolic leader and spokesman for the Great Reformation.” It’s all a bit much, regardless of the contributions these two may have made.
Tickle chooses as a common thread for the book the metaphor of a rummage sale, and though the metaphor appears at regular intervals, it is never quite explained or successfully coaxed into a relevant illustration of historical upheavals. We’re not sure what is being sold at the rummage sale or what the current one has in common with past one, etc.
A third of the way through the book 46, Tickle goes to work on the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura, claiming, “Even many of the most die-hard Protestants among us have grown suspicious of ‘Scripture and Scripture only.’” She goes on:
“We begin to refer to 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. And even as we speak, the authority that has been in place for five hundred years withers away in our hands.”
Her evidence: Paul’s injunctions against women, the one-time acceptance of slavery, and flat-earth theology. For her, this evidence is damning evidence; she leaves no room for other options. Paul says one thing (women must keep quiet in the assembly), we do another (women are allowed to speak), therefore sola scriptura is an illusion and scriptural authority is eroded. This narrow view of Sola Scriptura is laughable. Occasional doctrinal corrections cannot be used as indicators of future change, as Tickle proposes on the following pages.
Tickle also makes parallel comparisons between the current and historical hegemony. Hegemony is leadership or dominance, esp. by one country or social group over others. In the 16th century, the ruling hegemony was the Roman Catholic Church. It is pretty difficult to draw a modern parallel of a uniform hegemony against which Emergents are protesting or which they are attempting to reform.
In short, her parallels are too labored to be convincing, and too weak to maintain their connection to their supposed historical equivalents. Just who or what constitutes the current hegemony? We’re not told.
Grandma, Tin Lizzie, and the Decline of Protestantism
On pages 86-87, she proposes a line of social theory involving grandma (yours), Norman Rockwell, and the automobile that defies reason. Of Grandma, Tickle claims that “When the Tin Lizzie took away her kingdom of influence, it was Protestantism more than Grandma that came untethered and was diminished.” This attempt at a two-page synopsis of a wide range of events ends up looking more like the work of Salvador Dali than Norman Rockwell. Like Dali’s paintings, Tickle’s words are fun to look at but making sense of them is an arduous task.
Shortly after (91-93), in what seems to be another attempt at a “Dali Word Picture”, Tickle claims that pastoral authority was singlehandedly supplanted by Alcoholics Anonymous. Huh?
In another episode of incoherent and unfounded “fact-stating” Tickle claims that, “In the hands of the Emergents, Christianity has grown exponentially, not only in geographic base and numbers, but also in passion and in effecting belief in the Christian call to the brotherhood of all peoples.” Is there some evidence of this of which none of us are aware?
Tickle’s penchant for hyperbole is, if nothing else, amusing. I quote the following (p135) at length for your amusement:
“There is enormous energy in centripetal force, especially as it gathers more and more of its own kind into itself. Centripetal force, though, is usually envisioned by us as running downward, like the water in a bathtub drain. The gathering force of the new Christianity did the opposite. It ran upward and poured itself out, like some bursting geyser, in expanding waves of influence and nourishment. Where once the corners had met, now there was a swirling center, its centripetal force racing from quadrant to quadrant in every widening circles, picking up ideas and people from each, sweeping them into the center, mixing them up there, and then spewing them forth into a new way of being Christian, into a new way of being Church.”
Gathering… running… pouring, bursting, expanding, nourishing! Swirling! Racing! WIDENING! SWEEPING! MIXING!!! SPEWING!!!!!!
If you want to know what reading The Great Emergence is like, imagine your newest married-in relative attempting to write your family history. She may have something to say and plenty to add in the future, but hearing a few of Uncle Joe’s stories hardly qualifies her to write a definitive history of your family – or a map of its future for that matter. Tickle may well be truthful to a mainline perspective on historical events, and she may even have something to offer in predicting the trajectory of mainline denominations, but this book’s target is primarily Evangelicals, with whom, as far as we now, she has little affinity or experience.
Unfortunately, the book is more an exercise in poetic impressionist prose than historical analysis or prophetic utterance. It is a short read, but in the end not really worth the time. This much history deserves a more thorough treatment than 165 pages in a small book.
Are we on the verge of some significant shifts in the Western Church? It’s pretty safe to say that we are. It would be difficult to name another period in history where so many questions and debates and trends and issues were at play. But to draw a parallel between this time and the periods of upheaval of the past is a bit overblown.
I have not read any of Tickle’s other books, but I’ve heard they’re quite good. I have heard numerous interviews with her and enjoyed them. Tickle’s thoughts, analysis, and prescriptions for our current age of upheaval are far narrower in scope than the book purports them to be. There is plenty of revision here masquerading as synopsis.
Yesterday’s sunrise… (03-14-2013)
“Sadly, too many leaders consciously or unconsciously link their own careers and reputations with the gospel they proclaim and the people they serve. Slowly, unnoticed by all but the most discerning, defense of truth slips into self-defense, and the best interest of the congregation becomes identified with the best interests of the leaders. Personal triumphalism strikes again, sometimes with vicious intensity.
It is found in the evangelical academic who invests all his opinions with the authority of scripture, in the pastor whose every word is above contradiction, in the leader transparently more interested in self-promotion and the esteem of the crowd than in the benefit and progress of the Christians allegedly being served. It issues in political maneuvering, temper tantrums, a secular set of values (though never acknowledged as such), a smug and self-serving shepherd and hungry sheep.
We have much to learn from Paul. When in our hearts (and not merely in our verbal piety) our aim before God is to strengthen other believers, not to defend ourselves, we will not only succeed in revitalizing the church by our sacrificial ministry and example, but we shall also strike a powerful blow against the demonic heart of triumphalism, which is self in another guise.”
D.A. Carson, “A Model of Christian Maturity”
Sunrise over Varadero, Cuba. Feb. 8, 2013
May 28, 2012. Sometimes you see amazing things if you just take a moment to look up…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)
“In the beginning…” It is no mere coincidence that John’s Gospel starts with the same words as the creation account in Genesis. Genesis 1:1 introduces the first creation; John 1:1 introduces the new creation. In Genesis God speaks creation into existence; here he speaks salvation into existence.
“The Word…” What is a word? A word is a way to communicate. It is the expression of something that is in one’s mind. J.B. Phillips translates the verse this way: “At the beginning God expressed himself.”
This Word of God’s, this expression of himself, was with him from the beginning, indeed it was part of him; in fact the Bible says that it WAS him. And that expression of himself took human form and was given the name Jesus.
John intends for his entire Gospel account to be read in light of this verse. He wants us to know that as he tells the story, the deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God. This is of fundamental importance and it is important that we believe it to be true. If it is true then there is great hope for us and for the rest of humanity.
If it is not true, then Jesus is just another blaspheming false messiah.
You’ll notice that this is one of numerous statements in the Bible that makes a distinction between two types of people. There are some people who believe and others that don’t. Some are on the road to salvation and others are on the road to destruction. And these realities make for differences in the lives of those who are on one side or the other.
We (believers) are not to be unequally yoked, or improperly joined, to them (unbelievers).
You have probably heard it said that we shouldn’t talk about boundaries, that when it comes to salvation, about who is saved and who is not, we shouldn’t be concerned with making a determination about any particular person. This “us vs. them” mentality, we are told, is something we should have nothing to do with it. And there is a point to that. Sometimes people use an “us vs. them” argument as a way of expressing who (themselves, of course!) is better before God. When used this way it certainly is a sinful and prejudicial act.
But we can see from scripture and others that there is a time and place to talk about “us” and “them,” “we” and “they.”
We should not be eager to make pronouncements about the validity of someone’s faith but there are cases in scripture where speculating and drawing a conclusion about whether or not someone is a believer is not only necessary but required! The wisdom of scripture is sometimes held hostage from being applied if we refuse to make this kind of determination.
And when we refuse to make this determination, and because of this refusal fail to discern between truth and error, it will not be long before we’ve got ourselves into a mess! We begin to ignore the clear teachings of scripture. “You know, it says that believers shouldn’t be joined to unbelievers, but I don’t really talk that way. Who am I to say whether or not someone is a Christian?”
But when it comes to matters where obedience to God is at issue, and HE is the one who is making the command, then you should not feel bad for making this determination. Anyone can say they are a believer in order to accomplish a certain objective. Let’s say, for example, a man between the ages of 15 and 25 who has his eye on a young lady whom he knows will not date someone who is not a Christian. That can get tricky, and much Oscar-award-worthy acting will often ensue.
Failing to exercise discernment in a case such as this is a very foolish way to proceed through life as a Christian. God’s Word demands that we make a call. It is a necessary exercise because the truth is that some people who say they are believers actually are not. And I don’t bring that point to your attention because I want you to embark on a mission with a scorecard marking down who’s “in” and who’s “out.” We make this call to guard both believer and non-believer from embarking on a voyage that’s doomed to failure for on party or the other – or both!
We erect boundaries not as a way to say, “Keep out!” but as a way to say, “God says it’s hazardous for me to go beyond that fence!” And then we hold fast to that command, but we do it in a way that says to those outside, “You are welcome to join me here!” not in a way that says, “I’m better than you and you will never be as good as I am!” That is the attitude we need to banish! That is a very wrong way to talk about “us” and “them.”
If we are unwilling ever to attempt to discern this, then we will be unable to apply numerous commands in scripture. For if scripture says, “Come out of the world and be separate,” how do you know from whom you are to be separate if you are unable to determine who is worldly? And if scripture says, “Do not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever,” how are we to know to whom we should not be yoked if you are unable to determine who is and is not a believer?
Have you ever heard someone use the phrase “Good grief!”? It’s an oxymoron (or so we think) because these two words don’t seem to go together. It’s a euphemism, or a way to express frustration or building anger. “You’re planning to wear THAT to church today? Good grief!”… is a statement I hope no husband uttered in the lead up to the worship service last weekend.
When we say “good grief” we say it to express that we are surprised, shocked or upset about something. Grief is probably not something you often think of as a good, positive thing, but grief – heartache, sorrow – can be good. I remember at 22 years old not getting a promotion that I was quite sure I was going to get. It was a soul crushing experience. It caused me a lot of anger, frustration and general grief. It took a while to realize it, but in the end this grief changed my attitude about myself (I discovered I really wasn’t ready for this promotion) and my attitude towards the one who caused me grief (I was furious at first but he was actually doing me a big favor).
Someone causing us grief can be a good thing. Paul makes that clear in 2 Cor. 7:8-9, “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it… I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting.” Grieving someone for the sake of watching them experience turmoil is wrong but grieving someone for the right reasons is an obligation between Christians.
In Bonhoeffer’s classic book on Christian fellowship, Life Together, he makes the point this way, “Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”
That’s good grief.
I found a new favorite place out on Hacienda Road, just east of Aylmer. This was taken yesterday morning.