ARTICLE IN OBSERVER OF INTERVIEW OF PHYLLIS TICKLE
www.ucobserver.org • DECEMBER 2012
“God is doing
a new thing again and we’re living in it.”
American author and lecturer Phyllis Tickle has written over two-dozen books on religion and spirituality and is a leading voice on the emerging church movement. She spoke to Karen Hilfman Millson in Toronto.
Karen Hilfman Millson: In your book The GreatEmergence: How Christianity
Is Changing and Why, you talkabout how every 500 years we go through a time of greatupheaval when everything
changes — intellectually, politically,
culturally, sociologically,economically — and that we arein one of those times right now.
Phyllis Tickle: Yes. Five hundred years ago we called it the Great Reformation,
a thousand years ago itwas the Great Schism, 1,500years ago it was the GreatDecline and Fall, and 2,000years ago it was the GreatTransition.
Today, what we are experiencinghas been called the
Great Emergence. As in everytransition before it, there has been such an abrupt interruption in the way things are thatthere’s no going back.
KHM: In times like these, thechurch has been compelled to have what Bishop Mark Dyer
has described as a huge “rummage
sale,” when we let go of
a lot of stuff and claim newtreasures. What are some of thethings that are on the rummagetable today?
PT: Clergy as a privileged group
is a no-no in emergence Christianity.
want community, to prayerfullydiscern together, to move
by committee, because in this world of vast information,there’s no way anyone can bean expert on everything. All any of us can do is prayerfullybring our little bit of expertiseto the table to arrive at somesort of common understanding. So emergence citizens aredeeply, deeply communal. This makes traditionalists or“inherited church” peoplenervous, simply because it can seem such a hodgepodge wayof doing things.
KHM: What other characteristics of the emerging church
might make some people
PT: The emergence citizen is deeplyallergic to real estate. You are no longer nimble once you own something,and emergence citizens believe
in transience. Their thinking is, “Just
because we are all together in this community right now doesn’t mean we will not be led by the Spirit to scatter like a milk pod bursting and going and planting others, and if weown real estate, we can’t do that” (although they are not averse to askingto borrow a church basement if
they need a place to meet).
KHM: What about doctrine — will it have a place in emergenceChristianity?
PT: Doctrine is the written record of how we got from there to here, but it’s not necessarily the work of God; it’s the history of Christianity.
Emergence Christians say, “Idon’t want to hear that, though Iwon’t throw it away. It’s the storywe are interested in, the narrative
— tell us the story.” So they are
deeply liturgical, because liturgydoesn’t involve intellectualization. Itinvolves the body; it’s incarnational. They want their body to be part of the faith experience.
KHM: You have identified the work of Albert Einstein as a major contributing factor to the peri-emergence thatconsistently happens 150 years priorto a time of upheaval. How has thechurch missed engaging in significant
questions of life by not fully entering into discussions with science?
PT: When the Reformation camealong, it gave us Newtonian physics,which said that everything in theworld is composed of stuff, and if you slice and dice the stuff, you’ll ultimately get down to the essence of what it is.
But then you get to the 18th and 19th centuries and face the fact thatit’s not all just stuff, there’s also energy because we’re dealing with steam engines and electricity.
From the latter half of the 19th
century on, there were scientists who were beginning to say there mightbe something besides energy and stuff. They developed what’s called emergence theory — which is wherethe Great Emergence gets its name. Itsays yes to the evolutionary process,but evolution doesn’t explain human consciousness, for instance. The
only answer is that, after the comingtogether of all the parts, somethingenters before it becomes whole. Science calls that information. All the fairly recent branches of scienceare born out of the recognition thatthere is energy, there is stuff and there is this other thing.
Now what’s exciting, and whatthe church, darn it, is not engagingas it should, is the fact that for the
first time, physical science, theology
and philosophy are all talkingabout the same thing. Our storytalks about it: “In the beginning was
the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and all things were made by the Word.” That’s the information, that’s thethird component of creation. We’vegot all these learned scientists and philosophers wanting to talk to us about our foundational mystery, and the inherited church is just sittingthere saying, “I don’t think so.”
KHM: So emergence Christianity actively engages in conversations much
broader than the traditional church?
PT: Yes. And that creates anxietyfor people like good middle-aged mamas, who see their young adultchildren not going to church. Well,of course they are not there. They’redown in the pub every Tuesdaynight, having a beer and doing pub theology. It’s just church in a newway. God is doing a new thing again and we’re living in it.
This is the first time, though,
when we’ve known we’re in a rummagesale. What a blessing to have
an understanding of our times, and to not consequently get hysterical about it. But what a responsibilityto understand that we are shapingnot only our times but probablyanother three or four centuries of western Christianity. And also to know that every other time it has ended in bloodshed, and this timeit doesn’t have to if we keep ourcool and try to enable rather than squelch what is happening.
KHM: You and others talk about a key
aspect of this time being the awakening and reclaiming of the power of
the Holy Spirit.
PT: Yes, we are definitely cominginto the age of the Holy Spirit. Theprophecy has been that there would be 2,000 years of God the Father,which goes from Eden to the cross. Then there would be 2,000 years of God the Son, which is from the cross to our time, when our focus has been more Christocentric than Trinitarian. From 2,000 to 4,000, the focus will be on God the Holy Spirit. This will be a time of deep engagement with the Holy Spirit in community.
KHM: You’ve written that in each of these times of great upheaval, thecritical question is about authority. How will the power of the Holy Spirit play into that key issue?
PT: We have gotten rid of sola scriptura as the authority, which was theauthority of the Reformation, and before that the Pope, so we stand here in this century, in this part
of the Great Emergence, and say,
“Where now is the authority? Who is calling the shots? Who tells us what’s
right and what’s wrong?” Certainly,scripture is going to be a big part of the authority, but scripture as it is discerned in community, taught and revealed by the Holy Spirit.
KHM: In many ways, that is how wefunction today in The United Church of Canada. We believe the Holy Spirit is among us and that as a gathered group we will be led by theHoly Spirit in our decision-making.
PT: That’s one of the reasons I loveto talk to you guys in the United Church — you were born in 1925during the peri-emergence, which was the beginning of the attempt to reconfigure Protestantism in such a way that it addresses these changes. So yes, you are an emergence kid. You should be going gangbusters.
KHM: What should we keep in mind in this era of change?
PT: As the Archbishop in England said,as we move into this new age, weneed to remember that we are nothere to save the church as we haveknown it; we are called to our purposeof serving the Kingdom of God on Earth.