Saturday, March 15, 2014

Phyllis Tickle

There was a bonus we didn't expect during this stay in Columbia, and that is that a conference was going on called The Future of Faith, featuring the well-known author Phyllis Tickle, who has written extensively about what is called "Emergence Christianity." The conference was jointly sponsored by the University of Missouri Extension Service and about 8-10 local churches. Friday afternoon, there was a panel with four Mizzou faculty appearing with Phyllis Tickle, and then today she lectured for two hours in the morning and had a Q&A session in the afternoon. This morning's lecture was outstanding. Phyllis Tickle is 80 years old, but she is a highly energetic and entertaining speaker who has the audience eating out of her hand. Yesterday's panel session was interesting but not as satisfying for two reasons: it was about half the length it was publicized to be, and it was not organized in a way that allowed the panelists to make a significant contribution to the discussion. We would like to have heard more from the two members of the Mizzou Religious Studies faculty, Chip Callahan and Nathan Hoffer, the latter being a specialist in Middle Eastern Muslims and Sufi Mysticism.

"Emergence Christianity" is a term used to describe, somewhat loosely, the revolutionary changes that have been going on in the nature and practice of the Christian faith in the past century or so and will continue to reshape the Christian religion for some time. Ms. Tickle believes, along with many others, that every 500 years or so, since the beginning of Christianity, there has been an upheaval of some kind that reshaped the religion: in about 600 A.D., it was the decline and fall of the Roman Empire; in about the mid-eleventh century it was the "Great Schism," which separated Eastern and Western Christianty; in the 16th century it was the Protestant Reformation, and now we are in another upheaval, termed "The Great Emergence." One can quibble was various aspects of this thesis, but one can hardly deny that "the times they are a-changin'" and that the effect on main-stream Christianity is profound. I agree with most of what she says, and if there is a basic "take-away" from her message it is - "welcome change and enter into it creatively," and to pastors: "be compassionate toward those who are inevitably hurt and bewildered by change."

Phyllis Tickle in center with Nathan Hoffer, left and Chip Calllahan, right, at podium

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