This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wildgoose 5. Tickle, Pagitt.


Phyllis Tickle.

            Tickle opened her remarks by saying that Wildgoose is history-making.  Then she went on to restate her thesis about the 500 year cycles in the Latin world, when everything in the culture changes.  (This is all spelled out in her book The Great Emergence.)  Basically we’re  now in the midst of one of these cultural rummage sales during which a lot of obsolete junk is cleaned out and some old things are rediscovered, and new forms emerge.  Tickle is the first person I know of who has given a plausible name to this new era, which post-Modernism has been pointing to.  She calls it the Age of Emergence.  It is not just a religious phenomenon, but affects the whole of our culture, and by extension the whole world.  “Emergence Christianity” is one facet of this movement.
            This is the first time we have gone through one of these tectonic shifts and known what was happening.  Therefore, we can be calm and unafraid about it, and hopefully react with less violence.
            One of the characteristics of this particular shift is that there is now too much information for us to rely on experts for anything. 
            The new Christianity will have at least four characteristics:  it will be non-hierarchical, it will be non-institutional, it will be expressed in social justice, and it will not presume to "say what God thinks."
            The overarching question she sees is “Where now is your authority?”  On what do we depend?  Who makes the rules?  She briefly traced the history of the last such shift, which she calls the Great Reformation.  The authority then was sola scriptura; Luther substituted the Bible for the Pope.  For the past 150 years this authority has been gradually crumbling.  In 1906, the Azuza Street Revival saw the birth of Pentecostalism.  Authority has been shifting to the Holy Spirit ever since.  (In fact, drawing on Joachim of Fiore, she suggests that our current shift is even bigger than these 500 year adjustments; it may be part of a 2000 year cycle.  Judaism and the Age of God the Father lasting for 2000 years, from Abraham to Jesus.  Christianity and the Age of the Son lasting another 2000, until now.  With the Age of the Holy Spirit now dawning.)  In any case we cannot overemphasize the role and presence of the Holy Spirit in what is now happening.
            Tickle understand there to be three subquestions that Emergence Christianity will have to deal with:  one is the fact that there are many different religions in the world, calling Christian exclusiveness into question.  A second is the question of what a human being is, which impacts all kinds of other issues, from the death penalty, to bioethics, to abortion, to torture, to sexuality.  The third is the atonement.  She reminds us that original sin doesn’t emerge in Christianity until Augustine, and the traditional penal-substitutionary theory of atonement comes even later.  Neither is inherent or necessary to Christianity; both are being seriously questioned today.
            She made a digression to discuss the differences between “emerging” and “progressive.”  Progressives are about what “we” can do for “them,” thus still maintaining a dualistic approach.  They remain interested in politics and institutions.  Progressives are the “last hurrah” of liberal theology.  Emergence, on the other hand, is about what we can do together.  The dualism dissolves into partnership and mutuality.
            One problem she sees is that Emergence Christianity has a tendency to sidle towards Gnosticism, but she didn’t really clarify this.  Gnosticism is about as dualistic as it gets.
            She also sees the Quakers as an early proto-expression of emergence: with their focus on communal discernment and rejection of experts.

            Later in another venue she explore in more detail the “What is a human being?” question.  We are made in the image of God, but we don’t know what that is.  The answer we receive from Descartes, which characterized the Modern/Reformation Age, ie. that we think, doesn’t work.  Other animals have been shown to think, communicate, use tools, feel emotion, and so forth.
            Maybe what makes us human is that we can remember a past and project a future.
            In the drug age we are discovering that personalities can shift.  We are a chemical wash over a thicket of neurology.  We are in the soul-forming business, but we don’t know what a soul is.
            Animals do not (so far as we know) ask why.  Animals do not hymn or pray.  If we know what this is we would  know what a soul is.
            At bottom what we will discover is that, whatever we are, we are together.  We are not human as isolated individuals, but in context, in community.  We are also in process, becoming, on the way.
            Christianity is incarnational: soul, body, and spirit are united.  How we manipulate the body impacts the soul and spirit as well. 
            Maybe the human is the one who keeps asking the question.  Maybe it is that we can create beauty.  Maybe it is our ability mutually to forebear, that is, it’s all about love.

            My response to the “What is human?” thing is actually pretty orthodox.  “In Jesus of Nazareth true humanity was realized once for all.”  (Confession of 1967)  To discover, identify, and become truly human is to look to and follow Jesus.  And all that implies….

Doug Pagitt.

            Pagitt talked about his latest book, The Inventive Age.  He too finds us in a major change in American culture, though his are not so grand and sweeping as Tickle’s.  Churches come into being in a certain context.  Roman Catholic churches come out of an agrarian context.  The industrial age produced mainline Protestant churches, characterized by competition.  Pastors were like middle-management, selling their brand.  The information age gave birth to the evangelical-mega-church movement: churches build education wings, developed curricula, focused on learning and new information.
            The new cultural situation is the inventive age and its desires.  The new church will not look like the former manifestations, but have much more variety.  It will build on the human need to make meaning and beauty.  Structurally, churches will look like cooperatives.  They will be relational, with no center, and based on network connectivity.
            Without buying into the whole schema of these successive eras and their reflection in the church, which I think has a lot of holes in it, I do think his insight into the shape coming/emerging church is right.  All forms will persist.  But the energy will be with the decentralized, networked, flat, distributed, flexible, and open expressions of ecclesial life.


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