As I was tearing into the Amazon box that brought me Phyllis Tickle’s newest book, I was struck by the other book that we ordered with it: a work on birthing. This seemed a telling coincidence, since Tickle seems such a capable midwife for the church that God is birthing in our time and place.
In this remarkably thin volume, Tickle surveys most of what matters about human history as she shows us where we’ve been and, by extension, where we’re likely going (both as a culture and as a church). To do so, she writes with great intensity, wasting not a stroke of the keyboard. In her own inimitable way, she brings a spicy blend of academic precision, religio/socio acumen, and plainspoken folk wisdom. In so doing, she puts historical and sociological background to my experience and that of my friends. In all of it, she is humble, in fact complimenting every religious movement that she mentions, though she does not hesitate to include a few sharp pokes. The best of which follows:
“That which has held hegemony, finding itself under attack, always must drop back, re-entrench itself, run up its colors in defiance, and demand that the invaders attack its stronghold on its own terms. In religion as in warfare, things never quite work out that way; but there is a period in which the invaders do hesitate, trying to figure out how and why, with guns in their hands, they should want to attack the fort with bows and arrows, or something very analogous to that.” (p. 66)
Tickle keeps her presentation fresh by moving back and forth between sharp historical insight and contemporary implication and outcome– indeed, between our inherited church and the emergent church– and she is careful to place ‘emergence/emergent’ (ie, the Christian expression of faith) in the context of the much greater phenomenon of ‘Emergence’ which is happening all around the world. “Every five hundred years,” she says playfully, “the church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale.” Those who are moving with the sea change which is this grand shift in worldview will find in Tickle a sage companion who offers hearty encouragement. Those who would resist these same currents will be forced to deal with both the strong tides and with Phyllis herself (and after reading this book, one wonders which is more formidable).