Posted by: jadanzzy | January 27, 2009

A Too-Specific Emergence

**This entry is inspired by a conversation I had with my friend Will Yoo, a graduate student at Candler**

The conversation around the emergent church’s legitimacy has seemed to die down a little apart from a few still kicking and screaming about its supposed heresies. No longer a uniquely post-evangelical expression, emergent church has made its way to the mainline church and has begun seeping into the Catholic Church. Apart from the fear that I have that emergent will be a box model, (i.e. Willow, Saddleback, or any other seeker-sensitive megachurch) I believe that it will be an expression that will see itself grow quickly, in spite of the naysayers.

…That is, only in the West…

Phyllis Tickle recently came out with her book, The Great Emergence, where she maps out the historical roots and the continuing trajectory of the Emergent Church (or Emergence church). For many who consider themselves emergent, the book was quite celebrated and even spawned a well-advertised, well-attended conference. Having read the book, its usefulness for the emergent church is clear. The book seeks to legitimize the emergent church as a historically rooted, and a historically appropriate movement for which Christians can express the Gospel in new ways. As an emergent christian, I appreciate the aim of the book, and find it valuable as one who practices Christianity as a westerner.

But as Will told me last night, history should never be used as a tool of affirmation for a certain movement.

The problem with The Great Emergence is that it becomes too narrow when looking to the future. Christianity will become too grand to create a metanarrative of Emergence when the West is losing much power as a Christian center. Anglo-American Christianity may very well lose whatever “power” they have by 2050 as the new American majority will be non-whites. As the African and Asian continents rise as forces of Christian authority and power, we must understand that those voices will inevitably influence the forms of Christianity in America.

This is not to say that America and its western siblings will vie for Africa and Asia’s attention. Rather, it is to say that the rise of hyphenated Americans, and their “blended identities” will influence American Christianity. The biggest booms in American Christianity currently are not with white Christians, but with minority Christians. It is in these hyphenated expressions that America will see a shift in theology and ecclesiology. We see that in the rise of liberation theology, the effects of theological differences between African and American Episcopalianism, and in the emerging field of Asian-American theology.

What we see in non-Western Christianity is the dominance, or predominance, of theological (and ecclesiological) fundamentalism concurrent with the global popularity of pentecostalism, poverty-stricken house churches, and the need for strong theology by a persecuted Church. As the American Church distances itself from the strongholds of clerical and theological power (and the theological conservatism along with it), it will find itself in an interesting dynamic with the South and the East. Hyphenated American Christians will inadvertently find a new way as they leave behind the conservatism of their domestic life and fully embrace a western, or even postmodern (or whatever comes after that), worldview. How will the rest of America and the West learn from this? How will we fight off the rising power of Christian fundamentalism around the world while learning to find ourselves in a global Christian story?

It would’ve benefited Tickle’s readers to understand that The Great Emergence may not be a loud and powerful deconstructionist voice that many in the Emergent conversation hope it to be. The Great Emergence may, instead, prove to be an experiment in what it means to be an American Christian after all.



  1. we will see what the future holds. i liked tickle’s perspective.

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