First it was the Emerging Church, which became a website called Emergent Village, and now Phyllis Tickle swallows both with her term, Emergence Christianity. I read too many books on this subject during my previous sabbatical so I’m restricting myself to one this time around! The second half of Phyllis Tickle’s book catches me up on what has transpired in this movement—and how it has affected the church at large—in the last decade or so. I have encountered numerous other ways of describing the common characteristics and growing variety in the movement, but here is my summary of her descriptions:

The Whole: What characterizes the entire movement? A movement from church to kingdom as the realm of God’s work; a movement from pastor/teacher/evangelist to apostolic/ prophetic based ministry; reading the parts of the Bible in light of the big story, i.e. the metanarrative; a fascination with Eastern Orthodoxy [this includes overtly the “smells and bells” of Orthodox worship, but more deeply the emphasis on incarnational embodied theology and apophatic theology, i.e. seeing God as mystery].

The Parts: How has Emergent Christianity divided? Just as Protestantism divided into numerous denominations so also this latest form of Christianity has also divided into various streams: Neo-monasticism, e.g. Simple Way in Philadelphia; House churches; Missional churches, Hyphenateds, e.g. Charismatic-Catholic, Anabaptist-Anglican; Cyber church, etc.

Tickle closes the book with numerous big, provocative and mind-bending questions that Emerging Christianity will need to wrestle in the future, but she really sticks her neck out by saying that she believes we are not only in the midst of a 500 year cycle of transformation but a 2000 year one, i.e. If the last 2000 years were the Age of the Son, we are now entering the Age of the Spirit. This connects with what she saw as the primary precursor of Emergence Christianity—the Pentecostal movement. It also connects with what is happening in the Christianity of the global south today.

The quote in the book that really makes me think about my own view of the church comes from Bishop Spong as he writes about the shape of the church to come.

“We are living at the time of the birth of a new Christian consensus which someday will be studied alongside the church of the catacombs, or the age of the great cathedrals, or the time of the church as the center of religious life. That emerging church, I believe, will combine elements… A new shape for the church will be born in human history. It will be as different from the traditional church of our experience as the great cathedrals were from the church in the catacombs… And Christians will recognize that continuity when they call the new shape and form of the body of Christ living in the 21st century a church.” [88]

In defense of what I and others call the “local church” I have said in debate with college students that talking about God at Starbucks or having a theological discussion in a pub is not necessarily church, but in light of the shape of the future church I may need to rethink my argument.