What Does Phyllis Tickle Think about Emergence Now?

The Faith & Leadership project of Duke Divinity School has posted a video and transcript of an interview with Phyllis in which she talks about her latest thinking on Emergence and the role of denominations in the future.

Q: What will mainline denominations need to do to survive and thrive?

PT: If one were going to put one adjective to the Great Emergence, and thereby one adjective to emergence Christianity, one would say “deinstitutionalized.”I’m Episcopalian, and I hear with the same sorrow as my fellow Anglicans that we’re shutting parishes every month now in the United States in the Episcopal Church. That’s alarming.It’s not just that Christianity is changing. It’s the whole culture. Have you looked lately at the number of Rotary Clubs that aren’t anymore or the number of Kiwanis Clubs that aren’t anymore? American Legion? VFWs?Institutionalization is being leveled. One of the characteristics of emergence thinking is there’s a flattening out.

via Phyllis Tickle: Like an anthill | Faith & Leadership.

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  • Tyler

    Off-topic: Is it really safe to call our present time the “Great” Emergence? I mean, usually one only calls a period “Great” in retrospect. Just seems like jumping the gun.

  • What people are searching for isn’t a movement to be a part of they’re looking for something more than that. It’s more than a simple paradigm shift it’s a wanting, a longing a burning desire to be wholly authentic in everything we are and do. A moment cannot capture that and attempts to market and brand authenticity are going to fail and I think that is what Phyllis is saying here. Christianity, as a religion as an organization is slowly but surely coming a part at the seams. True holistic authentic spirituality is coming more and more alive and it does not require an institution to house it.

  • So much of what Phyllis says sits well with me. Case in point: the woman I work with has a “church” but the church has no building. We have no regularly scheduled gatherings, but gather in force around causes and needs and they arise. There is no (human) hierarchy in our church. Our mission field, if you want to call it that, consists of the two highest crime/poverty neighborhoods in North Minneapolis (Hawthorne and Jordan). And our mission is to bring Christ to these people, not the other way around. Our mission focuses on community renewal and rebirth at all levels. And our theology, our faith, is wholly relational (anchored on relationships with God/Jesus/Holy Spirit as well as each other) and not propositional (anchored on logical arguments and syllogisms). As I get more and more involved in this ministry, the less I feel a need to park by butt on a pew somewhere for an hour every Sunday. I pray, hope, and trust that this non-hierarchial, relational, missional church will become a much larger part of our future than it ever has in the past.

  • Phyllis rocks.

  • Thanks for pointing to this, Tony! I <3 Phyllis.

  • I wonder if institutions are being replaced by corporations. I shudder at the thought… but it does seem like some of them are stepping into the roles of providing charity and a social outlet….

  • Jim

    Bingo – on corporations.

    I had the same thought.

    Only I bit my tongue amidst the warm glow of emerging Tickle-me-Elmo warm and fuzzy Tickle-worship.

    Reading Tickle might make one think that emerging/emergency/emergence is all ado to undo WallMart, to destroy franchise corporation structures, as if McDonalds will no longer brag of its missional status (Billions and Billions served), and as if non-hierarchical and non-institutional warm-fuzzy cute-church-groups will be the dire end of large governments and their large and larger stealth corporations, like Blackwater acting as privatized surrogate (government surrogate) bureaus of security and information. Non-sense.

    The truth is that brand new mega-corporation WallMarts are foreshadowed in Willow Creeks. And the old and decaying mega-corporations on the block, like K-Marts bankrupt in chapter 11 (in statistical rates of decline) are on display in Tickle’s Anglo/Episcopal happy and greying nursing home.

    And the novella emergent franchises (the churchy McDonalds – with billions yet to be served) are the Calvary Chapels and the Vineyards (my home and one of Tickle’s adopted favorites, blah, blah; or pick your own Margaret Paloma favorite) – emerging franchise-churches emerging toward corporate structure – nonetheless. Try and stop it.

    And semi-stealth corporations like Blackwater will inevitably emerge as of necessity whenever any corporate – any corporate – desire emerges to do mission using joint funds among the happy missional emergents who will face their own necessity of corporate administration and ownership. God, wake up.

    The truth is that Tickle gets it wrong about the origins of emergence-science as a source of analogy and metaphor for church emergency. The origins are less in biological emergency (as Trickle says) rather than in new forms mathematics (non-linear dynamics) which made measurements of biological emergency measurable and identifiable for study in the first place.

    The fact of this error isn’t trivial because the truth about emergency both mathematically and in the natural sciences (physics, biology, and sociologically in church life) is that the outcomes of emergency are scatter-patterned across all scales (not quite infinite in all directions like Freeman Dyson says) – such that both the large (large government and large corporations) and the small (wherever two or three are gathered) emerge – equally. Simultaneously. Deal with it.

    Emergency is across all scales. Large and larger. Small and smaller.

    Tickle is in love with the idol of her too small theory of emergency. Emergency will defy her by building yet larger and larger scale corporate churches. Holding larger and larger properties (see her slam on property ownership).

    Tickle-me-Elmo; but, don’t Tickle me dumb enough to buy the idiolatry of this too small theory, the idolatry of the non-institutionalized, and the idolatry of non-property holding tribal churches, and the idolatry of saying that there won’t exist joint missional enterprises in the future which require more – not less – large scale administration and large scale ownership.

    Emergency – if it’s a valid metaphor for the church instead of just the church gone whoring after one more feel-good and ignorantly used science justification – emergency is unlimited in all directions and across all scales – large and small.

    The biologist, Lynn Margulis (not Phyllis Tickle), here might be the better theologian – ““Gaia [planetary life across all scales – large and small] is one tough bitch.”



  • I came to see this post because a friend had read it and been unsure of the message you are trying to convey. He thought perhaps you were pointing to Phyllis’ usury of EC in order to promote her own denomination, and the fact that her motives are finally being revealed now that it is not working out so well.

    I don’t read that into this post at all. Actually, I can hardly tell where you’re going with it – unless this was just meant to provoke thought … which is always good in my book. But it leaves me wondering what your thoughts are nonetheless.

    My thought is that the institutions we know and love are both good and bad, great and evil. They serve a purpose, and usually serve it well. However, they also detract from other purposes (perhaps superior purposes) to the point that many of them are being re-evaluated. Like the institutional church. I don’t think the institutional church should die. But I do think she needs to get her head screwed on better in many, many ways.