Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Weeks 4 and 5!

Dear Ones,

I am so sorry to be away from the discussion for so long. I continue to get great reports from all around the diocese. I have been reading the posts as they come in and I am so thankful for all of you, and your diligence in staying in the conversation. I want to still go through some, perhaps comment even more on some of the specifics, but for now I wanted to get out our final two weeks of readings as well as the study guide. Some of you may have found the guide at the "Great Emergence" website. If not, I am posting here the Guide for these last two chapters. For these two weeks the readings are as follows:

March 22-28- Part III intro and Chapter 6, pages 119-144

March 29-April 4- Chapter 7 and end discussion, pages 145-163

The Study Guide is just below, many blessings to all of you and don't blog so much that you miss out on Lent!



The Great Emergence Study Guide CC 6-7 The Great Emergence: Where is it going?

Where is the Great Emergence going? And, similarly, where is it taking us as it goes? Both questions intuit two seemingly opposite yet complementary issues. On the one hand, it is our responsibility to make educated guesses about what is happening in our religious landscape and instigate what we hope to be productive measures for the future of the church. Action is needed, and it is needed now. On the other hand, we must be honest with ourselves that, like in any previous time of "Great" change, we are not fully in control of what is going on here. We are located in a far larger environment than our own ecclesial (and even religious) walls.

Perhaps surfing is an apt metaphor for the kind of dual action required of us. Though we may choose our surfboard, our spot in the ocean, and the wave we take, we are not, in the end, able to control the movement of the ocean. We cannot determine the tide, or the length of the wave, or its intensity. It is our duty to ride it, and ride it well, in hopes that we arrive safely (and, with a little luck, gracefully) on the shore.


1. What do you find most difficult about facing the changes of the Great Emergence?


2. Taking risks through particular actions, or relinquishing control and accepting limits?


3. What spiritual practices can best inform us as we learn to ride the wave of the Great Emergence?


Chapter 6: The Gathering Center

As we consider the changing religious landscape during the Great Emergence, the diagrams of the quadrilateral, the cruciform, the gathering center and the new rose are helpful ways of mapping the responses and directions of particular religious traditions. Over and above and between all of these directional movements is centripetal force.

Centripetal force literally means "center seeking" in Latin. Centripetal force is absolutely necessary when matter begins moving in a circular direction. It is the only means by which movement toward the gathering center can be maintained. Each of us has experienced centripetal force when we have ridden in a car that suddenly turned while our bodies continued to go straight, shoving us into the passenger next to us or possibly the door or dashboard. It feels like we are being pushed outward, but this is not actually the case. We have been pulled inward toward the center of the turn. Our bodies sense a push outward despite the fact that we are not in any way moving outward, but what previously would have been straight. This is because during acceleration, Newton's first two laws of motion no longer apply (think the Heisenberg principle). It is no wonder that many of us have a difficult time finding our directional bearings during this time of acceleration around the gathering center of American religious life. We are currently in

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the middle of the turn, and we are unsure which direction we are actually going. We also happen to be picking up new ideas, new people, new traditions en route, changing the size and shape of the center itself. There is hope, however, in Tickle's assertion that we are perhaps being pulled inward by our common desire to become more incarnational.5 Before we are able to be pushed outward into "a new way of being Christian, into a new way of being Church,"6 perhaps we are gathered toward Jesus-the-Center through the guiding force of the Spirit.


1. How has the center-seeking centripetal force of the Great Emergence affected your faith? Your church? In what ways do you feel unsure of your direction? In what ways do you feel pulled toward Jesus-the-Center?


2. As you consider the final diagram in the chapter, where do you classify yourself? Did your classification change as the diagram shifted from the quadrilateral to its final surrounding currents? How can the diagram be used to help people describe their journeys of faith?


3. If you happen to be one of the "hyphenateds," how are you navigating the tensions between the pull to the center and the pull to the corners?


4. After the Great Reformation, the process of drawing up systematic doctrines provided both cohesiveness and clarity to new denominational bodies. While the confessional age was based upon distinction, the age of emergence will likely be based upon collaboration. Though this is not without its difficulties, Protestantism's "hallmark characteristic of divisiveness" is also being replaced by a significantly more harmonious one. Tickle uses the metaphor of a bursting geyser, gathering people from each corner and quadrant and spewing them upward into a new way of being Christian, to describe the gathering center phenomenon. What benefits and drawbacks do you see in the propelling force of the geyser? What are your greatest hopes for this "generous orthodoxy?" Your greatest fears?


5. Tickle writes, "In the Great Emergence, reacting Christians are the ballast." By reacting to the gathering center, they provide necessary stability as the center continues to take shape. If you happen to be someone nearer the center, how do you feel about those reacting most stringently against you as helpful, and even necessary? If you happen to be someone nearer the corners, how do you feel about stabilizing (if not strengthening) a movement with which you fervently disagree?


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6. There has been marked tension in the Great Emergence, specifically in the interactions of those in Emergent Village, between a desire to speak freely of what one currently does/believes/perceives and a desire to speak against what one used to do/believe/perceive. How, if at all, have you experienced this tension? How does it correlate to the changes happening in the Great Emergence? How does this experience coincide with our Christian understanding of the tensions between the now and the not yet?


7. This term has come into wide use through Brian McLaren's book of the same title, which aptly and beautifully describes the kind of ecclesial collaboration that will likely become a hallmark of Great Emergence Christianity.


8. Tickle claims the earliest assessment of the Great Emergence as simply a generational issue is an error that has since been recognized and understood. From your vantage point, do you and those you know agree, or do you continue to see the current religious changes as generational in nature? Why or why not?


9. If you agree the Great Emergence is not a generational issue, how can those in older generations seek to help rather than hinder the changes underfoot?


10. How can we focus on the emerging conversation not as one that rejects truth or tradition, but as a conversation seeking to create "new ways of being faithful in a new world?"


Chapter 7: The Way Ahead

The power of network theory can be summed up by the simple fact that interest in it has brought together physicists, sociologists, entrepreneurs, engineers, biologists, political campaign strategists and market analysts, just to name a few. The sheer volume of books written on the subject in the past number of years evidences a great desire to understand how the world is changing, and how network theory can enlighten people to effectively engage the new linked-in world.

Network theory quite simply refers to research being done to understand relationships, how they are formed, how they are strengthened or weakened, and what effects they have on individuals, groups and societies. At its most basic level, network theory can refer to two points, or nodes, connected by a line from one to the other. This line indicates the relationship between point A and point B. However, further inferences on what kind of relationship is happening between them can result in a variety of lines and arcs displaying mutuality, disagreement, commonality and proximity. Add a dozen or a hundred or

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thousands more nodes to these two at varying levels of complexity and you can see how quickly network theory books are needed if we are to make out the forest for the trees. And we must, for network theory is absolutely central in our quest to map the way ahead in the Great Emergence.

As we return to the question of authority, network theory gives us the Great Emergence's first answer. Where now is the authority? It is in the network, running in between all the nodes and connectors, this way and that, in no particular pattern, and asking nobody for permission. Authority exists for the church when the network, a collection of Jesus followers who are linked together, shares information back and forth about Scripture and faith. This is why Tickle suggests that an emergent would respond that authority now lies "in Scripture and in the community." This may be seen as a way emergents are reconciling the divorced parents of experience and Scripture. (Remember that experience was the foundational belief of modern liberal theology while a particular hermeneutic of Scripture was the foundational belief of modern conservative theology.) However, as Tickle describes, what we currently see in the Great Emergence is not a simple "patching together" of 1 + 1 but more specifically the emergence of something new, something greater than the sum of its parts. Emergence is not a bridge between the two warring houses of Scripture and experience. It is the demolition of both houses and the construction in its place of a highly networked web.

If we return to the concept of holism and the metaphor of a web of belief, which holds together what we deem true, then in the network theory world of the Great Emergence, there are multiple levels of webs, woven from the authors who wrote the Scriptures and people who experience the living God, the communities who preserved their writings and stories, a history of people who affirmed them, contemporary individuals, churches and denominational institutions that continue to believe them, and on and on. Therefore, authority that rests in both Scripture and the community suggests a network of two thousand years of relationships. Authority is held by each and every relationship strand, and yet is strong enough to withstand strands becoming broken by the sheer volume of the web. In this way, Scripture and community are not completely separate entities, but rather both are a means by which faith has been passed down to us and for us and with us.

As is always the case, parallels can be seen in the wider culture. Consider, as one quick example, Wikipedia. Previously, encyclopedias were painstakingly researched and written by experts, bound in leather and carted (quite weightily) around from door to door. In a world where even the morning newspaper could be hours late on reporting a breaking story that was sent all over the world in mere minutes over the Internet, the clumsy thick encyclopedia became the slowest turtle in the information race. It became impossible to keep encyclopedias up to date, for as soon as one was published the world had changed. Wikipedia not only provided much needed speed and editing capabilities to encyclopedic information. Perhaps more importantly, it proved that painstaking research by experts was no longer necessary. Regular, everyday people, using their own free time and without any payment, write, fill, edit and revise Wikipedia entries every single day. The network of relationships relaying information has become more impressive than the information itself.

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1. What is most exciting to you about the idea of authority resting in the network of Scripture and community? What is most worrisome?


2. Tickle describes authority being worked out in how the message runs back and forth over the network hubs and "is tried and amended and tempered into wisdom and right action for effecting the Father's will." Have you seen evidence of this kind of action working in your own congregation? How does this movement mimic the Book of Acts?


3. Tickle suggests that emergents would define the Church as "a self-organizing system of relations." How do you respond to this definition? How do you think previous eras would define the Church?


4. Tickle distinguishes between crowd sourcing and democracy, as crowd sourcing has flattened authority to a point democracy never dared. Crowd sourcing, she continues, rejects anything less than full egalitarianism, rejects capitalism, and rejects individualism. It should not surprise us that these traits were solidly implanted during the time of the Great Reformation, and are being rigorously dissolved in the century of Emergence. What does this do to the structure of the Church at ground level? At denominational level?


5. How does network theory inform Tickle's discussion of the concepts of orthonomy and theonomy? Can correct harmoniousness be evidenced by holistic, networked, sustaining relationships? What role, if any, does the concept of the Trinity play in such an idea?


6. Throughout the book, Tickle suggests that the role of the Holy Spirit, and our under standing of the movement of the Holy Spirit, will be essential in the unfurling of the Great Emergence. How do you see the Holy Spirit playing a role in the question of authority, the radicalization of the priesthood of the believers, and the future of the Church?


7. How does the shift from the bounded set of "believe-behave-belong" to the center set of "belong-behave-believe" affect the Church's understanding and practice of membership and evangelism? Of discipleship?


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8. Another marker along the way of Emergence so far is the shift toward narrative. This is not limited to theology, though narrative theology, preaching and the like is certainly evidence of it. It can also, and first, be seen in psychology in the works of Jerome S. Bruner and Donald J. Polkinghorne, who have discovered, much like Joseph Campbell, the significance of story on the human psyche. How can story serve as a helpful tool and guide for us in the Great Emergence? How can narrative theology disarm the difficulties and harmful carnage of the post-Constantinian Church?


9. As we move from an era of confessionalization to an era of collaboration, the concept of holism becomes central in describing how people and disciplines are shifting from the former to the latter. What once was held separate (whether one means the harmful distinctions between soul and body or the equally detrimental distinctions between humanity over and against the rest of creation, just to name two) is now moving toward one another, working to repair and re-network a relationship strand that had previously been severed. Holism is the natural paradigm of a world moving from one of competition and distinction to one of mutuality and collaboration. How does holism affect church practices? Doctrine? Structures? How does it connect us to a more Jewish worldview, over and against a Hellenistic one?


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For further study in the broader societal reaches of the Great Emergence:


Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe

Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything


See writings by Jacques Derrida, John Caputo, Michel Foucault, Paul Ricoeur, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Richard Rorty, Martin Heidegger, Jurgen Habermas


Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century

Bill McKibben, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future

Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty

Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor


William McDonough, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things


Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community


Brian D. McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy

Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism




  1. Wow, you turned on the fire hose, Greg. How about giving us until Easter 2010 to process this?

  2. Wow! I had discounted the study guide with a brief look, but hadn't seen the Bibliography. I collect courses from the Teaching Company, and there was an old one named "The Self Under Siege" (1993) by Rick Roderick that I found particularly interesting and have listened to several times. It's available online at along with two other courses by Roderick all from the early 1990's and no longer available from TTC. The Self Under Siege includes lectures on Derrida, Heidegger, Foucault, and Habermas. I found it to be fascinating and I'll have to go listen to it again and followup on the referenced authors now that I have a context. Roderick seems to have a cult following, even though he died in 2002. Too bad we're not discussing any of the philosophy authors listed in the study guide instead of Tickle.

    On economics, I like to read Krugman, "The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008" (Dec. 2008), "The Conscience of a Liberal" (Oct. 2007), and his blog at the NYTimes. I bought Friedman's book, but somehow could never get started in it.


  3. Continuing on my last comment, not to change the subject or anything, ...

    If we really want to discuss where the broader society is going and what really significant potential is developing, the "TED: Ideas Worth Spreading" at is a better source of thoughtful discussion material than talking about emergence Christianity.


  4. 3. What spiritual practices can best inform us as we learn to ride the wave of the Great Emergence?

    Here is what has worked for me: I am involved with three small groups: one which focuses on spiritual formation, one Bible study and Education for Ministry. These are the places where I get fed "the spiritual food of new and unending life". All of these groups provide a venue for deepening our understanding of Jesus as well as a place to discuss what we believe and why. These groups combine the spiritual disciplines of study and fellowship.

  5. The first time a read chapter 6, I recalled a poem that our seventh grade English teacher had us memorize:
    “They drew a circle that shut me out,
    heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
    but love and I had wit to win;
    we drew a circle that took him in.”

    I seems to me that in chapter 6 we go a great distance to categorize Christians so that we can separate them. Am I the only Episcopalian that finds the categorization in the middle of page 130 to be insultingly shallow?

    Then the chapter goes on to solve the ‘broken’ Christian categories by drawing an ever expanding concentric circle. But rather than a circle that takes all in, by the time we get to page 140 it excludes the categorized religions even further into the far edges of the box. And our friends the Anglimergents are relegated to a small circle of the Hyphenateds. [Divine Comedy revisited?]

    I should let this be and move on.

    This week my other reading led me to Proverbs 3:13
    “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
    the man who gains understanding.”

    I am reminded to behave myself. It is not about constructs and metaphors, it is really all about gaining understanding.

    So, what is the understanding we should gain from this book and from this Lenten conversation? What is broken? What is it that cries out to be fixed in this modern era of Great Emergence?

    It seems that an increasing percentage of Americans either no longer need religion or no longer find the religion they need in the traditional American Christian churches. This apparently spans all age groups, but is particularly manifest in the newer generations.

    If that is a proper summation of the problem, then perhaps our primary question is not ‘Where now the authority?’, but rather it is ‘Why be religious?’. More specifically, why should Americans in the Information/Technology age known as the Great Emergence be religious? What is in it for them? [Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar please call your office].

  6. Amen about the categorizations.
    While it isn't about the constructs and metaphors, they do give an idea about how the establishment thinks, so they are not totally irrelevant. That type of esoteric, compartmentalized thinking distances us from the heart of Christianity.

    Along the same lines:
    "It is our responsibility to make educated guesses about what is happening in our religious landscape and instigate what we hope to be productive measures for the future of the church."

    This statement is representative of something that has niggled at me throughout the book (and in various communications and conversations over the past few years): The implication that the preservation of the institution is the priority. For me the priority should be Christian discipleship with the purpose of the institution being to promote and facilitate discipleship. Think Great Commission. This is not the same as saying there should be no institution-just that the focus of the institution should be Christian discipleship not self-preservation or numerical growth.

    One thing that I see as common in emerging churches like Mars Hill and in the renewing churches described in Christianity for the Rest of Us is that they focus on Jesus and discipleship.

    To the question of "why be religious?" I would cautiously put out an idea: I think that people are seeking a new common understanding (or story in Tickle's terminology) to help us live together. I think the none's find it in seemingly objective science, the generic Christians find it in churches that bring the gospel story into a context that makes sense to them. It is a very, very good question.

  7. I forgot to attribute the quote above-It is in the study guide I assume written by Tickle but do not know for sure.

  8. Thanks Craig (illahee), good comment post (and KM too). I was beginning to think I was talking to an empty room.

    While I'm don't mean to be harping on it, there is a science issue that I always think about whenever religion confronts me. Most people don't have the background to appreciate it, but I want to state it here in the discussion for the record.

    In the Standard Model (particle physics, see forces determine movement, as in force is mass times acceleration in Newtonian physics, f=ma and acceleration is defined as a mathematical vector that is change in velocity. There are ultimately exactly four forces: gravity (still not understood in the model), electromagnetic, weak (beta decay), and strong (holds quarks and gluons together to form protons, neutrons and other particles).

    So religion states that a supernatural "force" or God or whatever has an "interaction" with mankind or the physical world with no physical explanation. The extension into quantum mechanics and Einstein's relativity, that Tickle mentions in chapter 5, doesn't help. Any uncertainty or Brownian motion is described in probabilistic terms and the molecules never all simultaneously jump to the same side of the bus.

    None of my comments in this blog are original with me and they don't even represent my complete ultimate views. I've inserted them to try to keep the discussion honest. I get suckered into the game looking for a platform to refine my complete ultimate views, but alas organized religion and society at large never permit it and I continue in near complete mental isolation.

    Chears, thanks for the fun,


  9. I have to agree about the comment in the study guide about Wikepedia; a few years ago I thought this was naive. Where is my Encyclopedia Brittanica indeed? But now use it several times per week. Quoting the guide " ....the network of relationships relaying information has become more impressive than the information itself"

    I was also gratified to see my personal guru, Ken Wilber referenced in the bibliography, albeit his book of several years ago.

    Wilber recently did a DVD with Fr Thomas Keating called "The Future of Christianity" which is very relevant to the ongoing conversation of emerging church.

  10. Continuing from CC's comment above, the teaser ad for the DVD is at or even better directly on youtube at because of the comments. (I only read a few.)

    The fact that the DVD special Christmas offer "for $24.95 plus S/H ... with all orders placed before December 1st we will include a free month’s access to (a $14.95 value)" made me think about the Bible passage that is never read and seldom appreciated, in any translation (except the King James and a few others) on the page after the title page. You can read the copyrights for many versions at .

    The copyright tells you exactly how you are allowed to use the text. There are a bunch of restrictions. I've thought about using the text in works of art for example, but you'd have to get permission to use the text. Intellectual property rights on Bibles is interesting to think about. Churches run into the problem when printing their Sunday bulletins. I've caught pastors who were handing Bibles out for free off guard when I read it to them from their own Bible.

    The copyright on the King James Version has expired, except in Great Britain, and I used to think that that is why it is the translation that is placed in hotels by the Gideons. However they appear to now use the NKJV which has such a copyright page.

    [On topic? :-) ]


  11. Regarding question 1 for chapter 7:
    Hasn't authority always been in Scripture and community? In spite of the "Scriptura sola" slogan there is no one who actually follows all of Scripture to the letter. Isn't that what the three-legged stool is about?

    As I see it it is the form of community input is what is changing. Moving from a representative in a hierarchy giving the whole community's input toward the wikipedia model (network).
    Growth in discipleship: The wikipedia model makes more of us study and think more deeply about the issues.

    Energy and support: People are more willing to support and carry out a plan that they feel is their own. This is why so many businesses have people work in teams.

    Community: people working together to solve a common problem is the fastest and most effective way to create community. Everyone feels valued when their input is included.

    The downsides:
    Lack of listening skills: I have seen are that many people don't really listen-often unintentionally, they spend other's talking time formulating what they are going to say.

    Need for security: Some people seem to need the security of the hierarchy and truly feel lost and uncomfortable without it, sometimes to the point where they will not accept responses of the group unless they are sanctioned by someone they perceive to be in authority. This undermines the entire process. It is one of the most difficult things to deal with because it needs a pastoral response and often the whole rest of the group feels too frustrated to give it.

    The time and energy it takes: It is a lot harder to think for yourself on each issue than it is to decide that you trust a certain official and will just accept that person's take on every issue(one decision).

  12. We just returned from a Spring Break vacation in DC.

    While there we visited the Jefferson Memorial. One of the quotation panels inside the memorial reminded me of ‘The Great Emergence’ calling for change in religion.

    "I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

    Apparently we are not the first set of modern generations to see a need to adapt institutions to naturally occurring growth in knowledge and enlightenment. Whether we call in the Great Emergence or the Rights of Man, I agree there is some unfinished work to be done.

    I think that the newer generations see this and are tired of the hypocrisy of inaction. Perhaps this is what Proud Individual means by his term ‘religious fraud’.

  13. On several occasions while in DC, I was able to discuss religion with members of ‘the newer generations’.

    This is what I gleaned from those conversations:

    Some have been totally alienated from religion by the actions of the ‘religious right’ over the past decade. They are angry at religion at this phase of their lives.
    Another portion have moved to a new area as they begin careers and have asked peers to recommend a church. Some in this group have been attracted to Emergence style churches … especially because of the discipleship and mission emphasis of the group.
    A third portion are attending the church of their youth, but have not ‘joined’. They are uncertain in their faith and lack the time to concentrate on spiritual development.

    This is just as small snapshot, but I think it speaks to the problem that Phyllis Tickle has brought to our attention in her book.

    By the way ... I note that there have been very few posts this week ... are we still doing this?

  14. I don't know about others. My computer has been in the shop.
    I think the above post is very informative. Thank you for doing the research while on vacation. Is there similar information somewhere about what is going on in western Washington?
    It has been my impression, based only on limited personal experience, that this area has tended to be less religious for at least one generation more than back east or in the south. My parents, born in '38 and '44, and raised here, are not at all interested in('38) or openly antagonistic toward('44) Christianity and have been for about as long as I can remember. I don't think many of their friends are Christian either, but that may be a "birds of a feather" phenomena.
    It would be interesting to know how typical this is.