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The Great Emergence
Part 2 : Chapter 5 “The Century of Emergence ”


During the peri-Emergence, we can see an almost thread-by-thread unraveling of those answers that worked so well during the time of the Reformation. The modern state and denominationalism in the Great Reformation gave way to the global village and generous orthodoxy in the Great Emergence. Professional clergy lent credibility and stability to a burgeoning society after the Reformation, while professional clergy face loss of credibility and authenticity during this one.

So now we find ourselves at the five-hundred-year questions once again, and we must create new answers to fit our emerging context. Tickle defines three overarching questions of the Great Emergence, each of which we will consider here.
First, where is the authority? While the Reformation answer to the question of authority was Scripture, it is Scripture that brigs the question of authority to the fore during the Century of Emergence. As Tickle noted in chapter 4, Darwin’s theories of evolution began to poke at our consensual illusion, and it is quite possible the question of biblical interpretation bled first, and most severely. The field of biblical historical criticism undermined certainties about the reliability of Scripture, questioning everything from authors and dates to the believability of particular events. This opened the door for an honest discussion of clashing interpretations of Scripture on issues such as the role of women and homosexuality. It also opened the door for the creation of fundamentalism, inerrancy, and literalism. In addition, Pentecostalism strained the questions of allegiance between the written Word and the experienced Spirit. Due to all of these shifts, Scripture is no longer monolithic enough to provide a general answer to the question of authority. And after the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (which claims one can measure position or measure speed, but one cannot measure both with accuracy), one can trace the eventual evolution of biblical interpretation from a modern, objective, rationalist framework to one that is forced to concede that the very act of observation (technically, in this case, reading) changes the reality of what is being observed (or read). Combine this paradigmatic shift with an increasingly diverse and connected world, and a massive fault line in sola scriptura erupts underfoot.


Questions for discussion around authority:

  1. How is your community of faith responding to the question of scriptural authority? Do you agree?
  2. Tickle asserts Reformation Christianity was based upon “biblical literacy, the nuclear family, and the conserving effect of shared, multigenerational reading, theology and worship (p. 87)” How are each of these bases changing?
  3. Have churches sufficiently been reconfigured to account for a cultural shift toward biblical illiteracy? Why or why not?
  4. How can we find meaningful ways to retell the story of God in the midst of a society filled with competing stories?
  5. What effect does the diminishing role and stature of professional clergy have on the Church’s call to discipleship? If the vetting process for clergy are giving way to a more openly structured form of authority, how can the Church equip all people to think biblically, to ask the right questions, and to engage issues creatively in a narrative biblical framework?

Getting a bit more personal:

  • How do you define biblical literacy? How biblically literate are you? How can you deepen it? Read the scriptures we’re referring back to each class. How does the level of biblical literacy change how they’re heard?


  • Where is the authority in our church….according to our church beliefs? Where is it in in our neighborhood and city of Oakland?

Second, what is human consciousness and/or the humanness of the human? Although the early modern period trumpeted the superiority of humanity, the events of World War I and World War II were devastating to Enlightenment optimism and about humanity as crowning glory and savior of the world. You cannot experience Hiroshima or Auschwitz and continue to toot the horn of humanity too loudly. The question of humanity was not, therefore, only a psychologically individual one. It was, perhaps more substantially, a collective one. What is humanity, that it is capable of such evil? To ponder the depths of evil, particularly evil induced at the hands of humanity, continues to the be the point of greatest despair in the time of the Great Emergence. Theodicy, as Tickle asserts, is one of urgency in our post-Auschwitz, post-Hiroshima, post-September 11 world. And it is one to which Christianity must respond if it is to be found worthwhile in a society where we know all too quickly about suffering in our cities, in our country, and in every part of our world. In addition, however, developments, in psychology began to show the complexity of the human minds, and increasingly, its interdependence upon the body. Questions regarding where the mind ends and the body begins became much more problematic in light of studies on human consciousness. Is humanity simply a brain? What constitutes life? Where does humanity begin and end? These and other questions will continued to pester us during the Great Emergence.


Questions for discussion around human consciousness:


  1. Discuss your thoughts on human consciousness. How do you respond to the above questions?
  2. How can our communities honestly and appropriately address the issue of pain and suffering in the world?
  3. How does the crucifixion of Jesus inform our answer?
  4. How can a reinvigorated study of the incarnation help us answer the question of our humanity?
  5. What do the sacraments have to say about our humanity?
    As we emerge from the rubric of the Protestant work ethic into whatever is next, how do we recover a broader sense of humanity’s humanness? How can we expand our aesthetic sensibilities beyond the rational mind and the printed word?
  6. Tickle suggests our American exposure to Buddhism leas us to realize that “worthy and even enviable cultures can arise from meditation as readily as from a frenetic work ethic.” (p. 96). In what ways have practices like meditation counteracted the individualized spiritual practices of the Reformation? Do you think interaction with Easter religious practices can help us? Why or why not?

Getting a bit more personal:

  • How do you see the ministry of our church responding to the complexity of our human consciousness and physical body? How do we respond to the physical, emotional hurts of the world, empowering others to be participants in the peace that God is building in the world? How might we improve on that?

And third, what now is society’s basic or foundational unit? With immense shifts in family life over the past century, Western society has stood inside a structural gap that has yet to be filled effectively. The dwindling number of traditional families ahs left a generation, and now possibly a second, without a consistent place to call home. Robert Putnam’s bestselling book Bowling Alone chronicled the loss not only of the American family but of the American community. Saddled by dual careers as well as domestic responsibilities, Americans do not have the time to join bowling teams or church committees or PTAs. They do not want to spend their Sunday – often the only day they are afforded an opportunity to sleep in – waking up and getting dressed up for church. And yet, there continues to be a need for community, and the loss of community is burdensome on the soul of the nation. The rise of technology, despite its benefits, has created a very particular kind of loneliness. It is a strange world when one can be fully isolated from her surroundings by listening to a song on her iPod from a band halfway across the globe.
The creation of adolescence as a lift stage, and extended adolescence, can find its roots in the collapse of the (once) traditional family. Children and teenagers, yes, even college and post-college students became latchkey kids with previously unheard-of amounts of free time. Relationship to family were replaced by peer relationships as more time was spent with classmates in and after school than with working parents. Ethan Watters’ book Urban Tribes describes the phenomenon of collegiate and post-collegiate peers who function, for all intents and purposes, as family for one another. [Think of the models of this in the popular television series “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother” among others…]  These adults choose to remain single or delay marriage (as well as starting a family) and focus intently on their careers and their social relationships with their urban tribe. Watters, both through research and his own personal experience, describes the urban tribe overall as loyal, supportive, and generative. From teenagers to young professionals, the Great Emergence has seen a trend toward allegiance to peers and away from allegiance to family.



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



Questions for discussion around society’s basic unit:

  1. What societal difficulties arise when a younger generation does not have sufficient exposure and guidance from an older generation?
  2. How can the Church assist in reintegrating generational diversity?
    Describe what benefits and difficulties come with the urban tribe. How is the urban tribe adequately addressing a felt need? How is it inadequate?
  3. How does the success of the small group church model connect with this overarching question regarding society’s foundational unity? What critiques do you have of its answer?
  4. How do you believe the Church should respond to the shifting structure of families? What is the Church’s appropriate response now that the family no longer necessarily provides the narrative framework for a person’s life? How can the Church support and strengthen these new forms of family? How can the rituals and rhythms of congregational life provide context for meaning and purpose?


Getting a bit more personal:

  • We talk often of being a family of faith? How are we? How are we not? How might that be an avenue for us to engage in our own (re)emergence as a church in 21st century Oakland?