Monday, March 26, 2007

out of context: phyllis tickle

But would you place the emerging church with Evangelicalism, or it is something else?"No, it’s not evangelicalism. American religion has four, pretty much equally divided, quadrants. Evangelicalism is one of them, charismatic Pentecostalism is another, the old mainline or social just Christians is a third quadrant, and then the liturgicals. And where the quadrants meet in the center there’s a vortex like a whirlpool and they are blending. So, much of the political energy is evangelical. There’s no question about that. Much of the religious energy is Pentecostal, but that’s combined with the strong ballast of social consciousness and of applied gospel that comes out of the mainline. And into the mix comes the liturgical traditions with the great gifts of the heritage of the church."

- as quoted on leadership today's out of ur

as much as i respect phyllis tickle, and as foolish as i undoubtedly am for cutting across her path, i think that her representation of the emergent conversation is a little idealistic. although the conversation itself should not be defined as evangelical the leading voices in the conversation have evangelical roots and, from my perspective anyway, often appear to be speaking out of and reacting against that tradition. moreover, although there are a number of strong, persuasive pentecostal voices within the conversation (emanating forth from leaders such as kevin rains and phil wyman) i believe that much of the spiritual energy within the conversation flows forth from liturgical and contemplative traditions, not from modern pentecostalism.

i realize that as westerners we often feel a need to define things so that we can properly categorize and compare such things with other things.* but i think that at this point emergent, which i would still argue is a conversation rather than an institution or ideology, is difficult if not impossible to define. that is not to say that phyllis' definition is not flattering. in fact, i suspect that most of the participants in the conversation would be ecstatic if, at some point in the not to distant future, phyllis' idealistic definition of emergent squares with "reality."

of course, that's only my opinion. i could be wrong. what do you think?

* wow, is that precise prose or what?


Beth said...

I know Phyllis a little bit and respect her a very great deal, but in this case I agree. I don't think she understands what she's talking about, or alternatively she is talking about something else that shouldn't be called "the emerging church."

Climacus Redivius said...

Here are my two cents as someone who dabbled with emerging churches in Montreal and Amsterdam. First off, I wouldn't distinguish between evangelicals and pentecostals, at least not since the 1960s (almost everyone is charismatic now). Second, I would argue that only evangelicalism could produce the kind of ahistorical, rootless, salad-bar phenomenon of the emerging church. I say that because the venerable liturgical traditions (Orthodoxy, Catholicism) would never endorse emergent's poverty stricken ecclesiology. Nor would mainstream liberals bother to leave their establishment buildings and trust funds for the comforts of an attic, basement, or bar.

That being said, no doubt emergents are right to react against market-driven mega churches, but I find their ecclectic gatherings the flipside of the same problem. Instead of pandering to the popular market, don't emergents pander to the esoteric market? And aren't both trends the same product of consumer culture? In other words, while mega churches take shopping malls as their church model (complete with Starbucks, at least in Dallas), emergent churches likewise take boutiques as their model. But its the same reaction to the same market driven mentality, only the tastes are different.

This is especially obvious when it comes to liturgy. Emergents aren't liturgical - they parody liturgy in an embarassing way. Better to be honest and convert to, say, Orthodoxy then play at liturgy.

I'm not saying that emergent will be a failed experiment, though. So long as evangelical Christianity is dominated by consumerism no doubt emerging churches will exist to meet market demands and adapt their worship accordingly.

g13 said...

mother beth and redivius, thank you for stopping by. beth, thank you for seconding my opinion. sometimes i suspect that people's definitions of the emerging church are based solely upon experiences they have had at the national pastor's conference or at other emergenty events. while the former experiences are surely important, nothing can substitute for personal experience within a community such as vineyard central in ohio, solomon's porch in minneapolis etc.

redivius, thank you for your insights. i agree that evangelicalism as a whole needs to develop a deeper ecclesiology. if emergent simply becomes a way of pandering to the consumer tastes and spiritual fetishes of contemporary times i will want little part of it. however, many of the emergent folks i have been in dialogue and shared mission with throughout the years are quite uninterested in consumer taste and deeply committed to the incarnational mission of the church. thus, fortunately, most of them have strayed away from becoming christianity boutiques.

as i said, i really appreciate your input though i would quibble a bit with some of your assertions (i.e., one can draw a fairly distinct line of demarcation between classic pentecostal traditions and evangelicalism, though the distinctions between evangelicalism and third wave/neo-pentecostal/charimaticism are more difficult to draw; the roman catholic church has a much more diverse ecclesiology - i'm thinking here of the basic communities in latin america and the diverse monastic communities throughout the world - than one might imagine; and i completely disagree with the assertion that evangelical's aren't liturgical since liturgy is most simply defined as an order of worship and almost every christian tradition that i can think of has at least a rudimentary order to their worship, even if it is a simple word and sacrament type of structure). i think that a number of people within emergent really resonate within the great liturgical traditions of the RCC, orthodoxy and anglicanism (which, it must be said, have probably evolved more than most traditionalists would like to admit) but rather than leaving the traditions within which they are raised feel an impetus to root their tradition more deeply in the rich history, liturgy and, most importantly, mission of the early church. that's where i'm at anyway. if i had been granted libertarian choice in my own personal history, i would have undoubtedly been an anglican/episcopalian. apparently YHWH had other ideas, for he deposited me in the christian church wing of the stone-campbell tradition.

much peace to all during this lenten season.

james said...

dammit...freakin' blogger just took a shit and ate my lengthy comment..


in sum: jeff your comment - i realize that as westerners we often feel a need to define things so that we can properly categorize and compare such things with other things.

i agree. Emergent recognizes this statement and therefore is better able to allow us the ability to bring our doubts and praises freely to the table.

i had more but this is the gist. freakin' blogger.