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2 Stars Out Of 5
Nothing New Under the Sun
October 9, 2012
Book Summary: Welcome to the story that's still being written . . .Whatever else one might say about Emergence Christianity, one must agree it is shifting and reconfiguring itself in such a prodigious way as to defy any final assessments or absolute pronouncements. Yet in Emergence Christianity, Phyllis Tickle gathers the tangled threads of history and weaves the story of this fascinating movement into a beautiful and understandable whole.Through her careful study and culture-watching, Tickle invites you to join this investigation and conversation as an open-minded explorer. You will discover fascinating insights into the concerns, organizational patterns, theology, and most pressing questions facing the church today. And you'll get a tantalizing glimpse of the future.
Review: There is a number of confusion, by the author, related to the many ideas stimulated in this book. To say one does not have a dogma is a dogma. This was one of many themes and contradictions in this book. That emergence as a new movement or isolated is thin since Universalists are not that different in their beliefs, i.e., everyone's beliefs are equal to the extent that they need them to be. That is relativism at its best, despite being popular. The only â€˜new' idea they have is a building. However, there is a ministry named â€˜church without walls' so I am going to have to say again there is nothing new under the sun. I would like to agree that the author restrained from projecting her own beliefs into the book, but again there was little mistaking that she was a follower of this. I once heard it said you can be very sincere, but sincerity does not make one right and this sums up the entire book. I am afraid that even her account or understanding of the Reformation was poor and limited. I am sorry to say that as the book continued many of the ideas or rhetoric in the book was silly. There is no other way to explain so many of the contradictions. The author brings up 2/3rd into the book that there has never been a split in Emergence and yet quickly contradicts this by explaining the difference now between Emergence Christianity and Emerging Christianity and how they are no longer interchangeable titles. That I made it through this book was a chore. The best part of the book was that it ended.
I would like to thank Net Galley and Baker Books for allowing me to read and review this book in return for a free copy and I was never asked to write a favorable review by anyone.
"We are in a time of transition," Tickle writes, "and that transition is not a casual or passing one. _ We are citizens living within the Great Emergence, and as Christians of whatever stripe, we are watching the formation of a new presentation of faith. We are attending upon the birth and early growth of Emergence Christianity." (28)
She helps us understand the context of this movement by giving the origin of the Emergence Theory. She selectively reviews the currents and events in ecclesial and theological history that were formative of Emergence Christianity over the last century and a half. (I found this historical section to be very insightful.)
Tickle comments on the interconnectedness we now experience by way of the Net. She sees a strong emphasis on social justice and ecological concerns. Emergence Christians live in urban neighborhoods, not gated communities. They consider themselves more relational than holy.
I learned much from her review of the pivotal year of 2010, when Emerging and Emergent became no longer interchangeable. Her discussion of "missional" is enlightening.
She contemplates the future. "...Protestantism will not cease to be as a result of the Great Emergence. It will, however, have to reconfigure and adapt." (182) A recent Barna Group study suggests that by 2020 "40 percent of all church-attending Christians will be worshipping God outside the parameters of a traditional congregational context." (183)
One area the church will need to address is the question, "Where is out authority?" (191)
Anyone desiring to understand the current state of Christianity and its possible future will benefit from reading this book.
What is "post-modern" Christianity like, and where is it headed? I gather this book was intended to answer those questions, and perhaps it does, but getting to the answers is a long wade through a lot of verbiage. The prose in this book is, to put it mildly, inflatedâ€”using 20 words when 5 would suffice. I find church history fascinating (I call it "Acts 29," a continuation of the Christian story told in Acts 1-28 in the New Testament), but plodding through this author's prose requires patience, as in her account of Episcopal pastor Dennis Bennett becoming a charismatic -certainly an interesting story and a crucial moment in 20th-century Christianity, but it's a story she takes forever to tell. She writes of a church she admires, "To be a member-part of the Church of the Savior was to accept a call to a radically amorphous and fluid life of faith"â€”this is the kind of writing that badly needs footnotes (or Cliff Notes), for surely not even the "member-parts" of that church have a clue what a "radically amorphous and fluid life of faith" might be. (Be leary of religious writing that tosses "radical" into every third sentence. This is the adult equivalent of using "like" constantly as 14-year-olds do.) Words like "peri-Emergence" and "mono-focus" and "meta-narrative" get dropped into paragraphs willy-nilly, and at times the book reads like an owner's manual that was outsourced to someone who barely knew English. It takes her several paragraphs to express the simple thought "Every religion is to some degree the product of its culture."
When I did understand her meaning, what I encountered was often jarring: "All of the world's major religions are more or less identical in their morality, behavioral precepts, and social principles." Is she kidding? Islam allows a man to have four wives at once and encourages Muslims to conquer and kill infidels. Does she think that is "more or less identical" with the Christian teaching on monogamy and on love of enemies? For hundreds of years Hindus have practiced suttee, the burning of a wife on her husband's funeral pyre, and of keeping themselves from having any contact with the despised class known as "untouchables." Is that "more or less identical" with Christianity? In the world of Political Correctness, everything and everyone may be equal, but out in the real world, religions are glaringly different.
The writer refers to the Holy Spirit as "It," even though the New Testament (not just the translations, but the original Greek) consistently use the masculine pronoun "He" to refer to the Spirit. Like the Father and the Son, the Spirit is a Person, not a Thing, so "It" is almost blasphemous. (Try calling a friend "It" and watch the reaction.) When she quotes from New Testament passages about the Spirit, she coyly leaves out verses where the masculine pronouns are used. (This is a bow to feminism and its obsession with "inclusive" languageâ€”they figure that since the Father and Son are "He," they can at least refer to the Spirit as "It.") She refers to "the Spirit in Its Parts," and gives no clue what she means. Toward the end of the book she says she is glad Christians have moved past the "feared" Father and now cling to "It," the Spiritâ€”which doesn't exactly fit with any orthodox teaching on the Trinity. The secular culture buys the idea that the Father is the "mean" God of the Old Testament, and that Jesus taught a different, more loving God. Non-Christians can be excused for such errors, but in a book that purports to be Christian, this is absurd. I don't "fear" the Father and have no intention of "getting past" Him.
I fear most readers will finish this book without having a clue what "emergence" Christianity really is. A more concise writer could compress the book this way:
1) Lots of churches today are different from the churches of fifty years ago.
2) The world changes. Churches change. We're not sure how they'll change in the future.