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The Great Emergence

Part 2 : Chapter 4 “Questions of Re-formation ”


As Christianity splintered from one cohesive whole into multiple denominations, a new center of authority was needed. Denominational authorities wrote statements of orthodox doctrinal belief as a means of clarifying their positions, educating their members, and distinguishing themselves from other denominations. These confessions were then recognized by the state, providing political and social stability to the burgeoning groups. They provided the flesh, so to speak, on the bones of sola scriptura. In this way, confessions provided much needed normative expressions of authority.


The boundaries between denominational confessions and sociopolitical power were blurred at best. Many princes, dukes, and city councilmen signed confessions not only to clarify their religious beliefs but also to define, more importantly, their political allegiances. It is not difficult to see, then, how much statements coincided with the development of the modern state in its earliest form. Where unified allegiances once held during corpus Christianum, localized allegiances were not being formed. Historically, at least, stated and denominations share more than we often recognize.


These confessions or statements of doctrine also influenced the emergence of “professional” clergy as denominations began to require formal training, examinations, and processes aimed at legitimizing those in the pulpit. These clergy, in turn, aided in solidifying the social influence of religion by providing social discipline through religious education, pastoral care and visitation, and the overall development of what has been deemed the “Protestant work ethic” : individual, responsible citizenship. A burgeoning market economy needed nothing less.


Protestant scholasticism blossomed during this era. With so any competing confessions, robust scholarship provided a means of defending and justifying one’s particular viewpoint. Systematic theology was an inevitable outcome as denominational leaders asked, “What is the Methodist view of the sacraments?” or “How do Anglicans view the Godhead?” The risky, questions ways of the reformers would soon be ossified into completed doctrinal works on a shelf, and systematic theology would provide the foundation of stability and authority quite handily in an era of Enlightenment objectivity and rationalism.


Developing theories of human consciousness and the scientific discovering’s of Darwin [theory of evolution: 1859], Faraday [mastery of electricity 1851 and understanding of fields of forces to explain phenomena], and others showed a growing fissure between religion and science and, in even broader terms, between realms of sacred and secular, which were in the process of quietly divorcing with secular science getting the lion’s share of the assets. Pietism further relegated religious experience to an internal, personal realm, while objective science pounded its chest and claimed the human mind as its sole territory [FreudJung….developing theories of the self]. However, such a relationship would not last long without the question of authority beginning to rustle impatiently in her corner. The arena of Christian apologetics staged protest and set up camp squarely across the aisle from theories of human consciousness that did not require an explanation of God or supernatural beings. (Problematically, they did so using the same rules as science, a move that guaranteed difficulties down the road.” Joseph Campbell’s stories of myth were bombarded by a unified fundamentalist voice arguing the Bible was literally and factually true, from beginning to end. These and other visceral reaction provide the foundations of authority were again beginning to shift and crack. People were one more asking questions of re-formation.


(text slightly adapted by Monte from the latest version of the 
Great Emergence study guide written by Danielle Shoryer)



1. What are your biggest questions of re-formation today? What cracks have you seen in the answers to authority previously given?


2. The issue of space comes to the fore when Tickle describes the difference between listening to a sermon dressed up on a Sunday morning in church, and listening to a radio broadcast in your pajamas at home. She writes that the mind comes out to play with the imagination in this relaxed atmosphere, while a more stoic environment keeps imagination tightly under wraps. This provokes though in relation to the way we create space in our churches. Is your church a space where imagination is told to keep quiet and sit up straight, or is it a space where it is invited to come out and play? What are the dangers of both kinds of space? The benefits?


3. Tickle claims that one of the dominant questions facing us during the Great Emergence will be, “What is the relation of al religions to one another, or, how can we live responsibly as devout and faithful adherents of one religion in a world of many religions?” Although there have been noticeable measures to encourage an appreciation of cultural diversity and religious pluralism in our society, much of it can be described as domesticated politeness in the context of political correctness. Can political correctness, in its lowest form, provoke the kind of robust interreligious dialogue necessary in our time? How can we become more reflective, intentional, and perhaps most importantly, honest, while maintaining our politeness?


4. It is important to realize we are living in a time when two people can quite literally be living in two different worlds – one in the old, pre-Emergence world, and one struggling to live into the coming world. Quite often, this happens in the same family, between parent and child, and certainly with great repetition between individuals in a church family. As we attempt dialogue in such a precarious and odd situation, we must realize we often feel just as estranged from members of our own religious tribe as we do from members of other religious tribes. How can we address both within Christianity and between world religions the tension of disagreement on religious issues?



1. How do you see the eco-existence of different world (in which people live, let’s call them world-views) within our church community? How is that a challenge for us at be Church together today in our context? How is that a strength of blessing to us as Church? How, or where, is that personally hard for you?


2.  What should we do with these different worlds? Should we seek to contain or reduce them? Should we celebrate them? And what would that look like?