If The Faith Instinct is a average-length book that should have been shorter, then Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why is a short book that should earn the Goldilocks award for being just right. Weighing in at a mere 200 pages, Tickle’s slim book delivers the goods succinctly and intelligently, much like an undersized prize-fighter tenaciously punching above his weight. The result is a short but powerful book.
While most books on religion are written by public intellectuals, academics and clergy, interestingly enough, this one is not. The author, Phyllis Tickle, is currently the religion editor for Publisher’s Weekly. Looking back on her book, I couldn’t help wondering if her particular experience with the subject matter helped make her writing fresh and approachable.
According to Tickle, every 500 years or so Christianity undergoes a painful but necessary transformation resulting in the emergence of a more vital and authentic version of the faith. By examining the last 2000 years of Christianity from its early first century beginnings and through the Gregorian reforms, the Great Schism, the Reformation and ending with the modern age, Tickle takes a dialectical approach by showing how every 500 years the church responds to the challenges brought by the changes in society and technology and then adapts accordingly.
Tickle considers today’s church on the verge of yet another great emergence. With traditional orthodoxies assaulted by Darwinian evolution, modern biblical criticism and the revolutionary ideas of Einstein, Freud and other modern and post-modernists, Protestants and Catholics in the West can no longer easily defer sola scriptura or ex cathedra as their respective final authorities. According to Tickle, the church that does emerge from all this will be decentralized, ecumenical and innovative.
As the old cliché goes, powerful things come in small packages. I think this notion also applies to The Great Emergence.