Emergence Christianity

Emergence Christianity, by Phyllis Tickle

Guest blogger, Sian Hancock, is challenged by the ways in which one generation has an impact on the next.

‘Emergence Christianity is a human conversation among human conversants.’ In this book the historian Phyllis Tickle explores what Christianity has become and how what is now emerging is often rooted in older movements. She invites readers to consider the implications for twenty-first-century Christians. As with all conversations, there is a context.  Looking back through history, Tickle describes how every 500 years there has been a socio-political upheaval that unsettles, changes and realigns society socially, politically and religiously.  It is as if people look up and ask, ‘How now shall we live? By whose rules? Under what definition?’ This made sense and was a helpful lens through which to view change. It helped me to see that we are currently in a state of transition.

Tickle deepens the conversation about what Emergence Christianity is, although in some ways it is easier to say what it is not. By tracking the different models of church from the 1930s, she reports how communities of change in Europe and America have been nudged by the Holy Spirit: some claiming the new expressions while honouring the old traditions, others more radically becoming new kinds of communities. Indicating where this is going and why it matters, Tickle seeks to bring it all together by moving beyond the indefinable to unpack the values of emergence. As a Baptist, I welcomed the value of community life being ‘organised by consensus’ and caught glimpses of a multi-voiced church that is not only inclusive and discerning but also resonates with a priesthood of all believers, whereby each has a part to play and a voice to be heard. Her conclusion clarifies how the old reconfigures, adapts and realigns to become the new.

Conversation is more than the spoken word, however: it involves listening, reflecting and observing. Attention needs to be given to the non-verbal as well. I found the photographic report a helpful visualisation of what Emergence Christianity looks like. It was good to see Greenbelt situated within this. In my naivety, I had not really joined up the two, despite having been a regular attender: this was an exciting link for me, giving visual memories of experience to put alongside the theological perspective of the text. For those who want to read more around Emergence, there is an informed bibliography giving insights into the different texts.

Like conversation, Emergence Christianity has its limitations and is open to misinterpretation. In the big picture of life, religion and faith, this will not matter. There is some reassurance from Tickle’s matter-of-fact explanation of the stirring from these cycles. It reflects something of the living God who is still actively inviting us to explore God’s way of being.

If you want to be challenged in your understanding of how one generation impacts the next in thought and spirituality, then Tickle is a good read. This book says little about children specifically but more generally about the way the community of Emergence Christianity nurtures spirituality inter-generationally. Personally, I would have liked more about this and less about church history.

Tickle, Phyllis (2012) Emergence Christianity, Michigan: Baker Books

sian-hancock-copySian has worked with children and young people in a range of contexts over the years. She is based at Bristol Baptist College as Coordinator – Children, Youth and Mission (linked with the Institute for Children, Youth and Mission). Sian was previously a primary school teacher and, going further back, she ran a pre-school. Add to that her involvement over many years of church work with children and young people, and you will begin to understand her deep sense of calling to see children develop in their own spirituality and faith journey. She is a Godly Play guide and trainer and loves creatively inviting children to engage with the story of God through the Bible. Her research focuses on children’s play as a spiritual dialogue.


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