The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why by Phyllis Tickle

We are living in a one of Christianity’s upheavals that occur approximately every 500 years.  These upheavals happen when new information proves part of society’s shared story and imagination to be false (i..e. the earth is not the center of the universe). The institutional/orthodox Church, protecting the old shared story and imagination, is challenged by a new expression of Christianity informed by the new information.  The resulting conflict causes both sides to reexamine and redefine spirituality, corporeality, and morality in ways that ultimately create a new collective story and imagination that is in harmony with the new worldview. This historical perspective helps temper the lament of those concerned with Western Christianity’s declining membership and cultural authority.
While at times painful, these periodic upheavals ultimately help create stronger, more widespread, and robust expressions of Christianity. First, a new, more energetic form of Christianity emerges from the upstart community.  Secondly, the previously dominant institutional/orthodox form of Christianity is reorganized into purer less ossified version of its former self. Finally, the conflict and conversations between the factions result in the spread of the faith into new geographic and demographic areas.[1]Understanding that Christianity has been strengthened by past upheavals helps advocate for a more ecumenical approach towards addressing issues such as homosexuality, authority, and governance.  Those with differing theological perspectives are not an “evil” that threatens the witness of the Church.  Rather, Christianity is resilient and creative enough to absorb and rearrange theological disagreements in such a way that more people are attracted to and transformed by God.

Based on past occurrences and current trends, it is predicted that modern American Christianity will have smaller institutional/orthodox communities and a large “center” that combines the borrowed theology and practices of its predecessors with new ways of understanding and being.  Due to their agility and proximity to the everyday lives of their communities, small churches are the perfect “laboratories” to explore, inform, and ultimately create both of these emerging communities. As such, I believe this book can help communities better understand and engage the changing cultural landscape.

About the Author
Phyllis Tickle, founding editor of the religion department at Publishers Weekly, is one of the most highly respected authorities and popular speakers on religion in America today. She is the author of more than two dozen books including the Divine Hours series of prayer manuals. A lector and lay eucharistic minister in the Episcopal Church, Tickle is a senior fellow of the Cathedral College of Washington National Cathedral. For more information go to

[1] Phyllis Tickle. The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2008. Kindle Locations 161-162

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