Is the Worldwide Church going through a Great Reformation?
Phyllis Tickle in her book “Emergence Christianity” (2012) says we are. She has provided a chronicle of what has happened, what is happening and why it matters. She demonstrates that the Church is going through changes that are affecting structures and doctinal bases. She traces all the movements that have responded to the major decline in institutional churches in the Western world. These responses range from the Taizé to Pentecostlism, and from house churches to Mega churches. She identifies theological trends that have supported these responses to the challenge facing institutional Christianity in the West. She names amongst those who have been most helpful Newbigin and Moltmann.
What Tickle goes on to say is that the Emergent / Emerging Church has:
a new base for its authority. It is the life of the community in its practise of Kingdom values that Jesus taught and proclaimed. It is no longer the Reformation’s mantra ‘Scripture Alone’.
a more opened ended approach to the role of the church in the salvation of humans. The emergent/emerging churches act more inclusively and emphasise participation in ministry as a sign of membership rather than the completion of standards/requirements set by the church. It also attempts to respond to the complexity of what it means to be human.
it does not accept the substitutionary theory of Atonement as the principal explanation of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Reading her work I found myself agreeing with much of what has and is taking place, identifying strongly with the emergent/emerging church movement, and recognising some of the strengths and weaknesses of my own journey of 45 ministry years with the institutional church.
I find myself in a very different ‘place’ to where I was 40 odd years ago. I attempt to lead the church of which I have pastoral charge through these challenging times. I thank God that they have welcomed a Taizé style worship service and have entusiastically embarked on establishing a MessyChurch service for families. In there own way I see them responding to re-formation in a traditional institutional church.
Furthermore Tickle’s work compelled me to reflect on my theological journey. My watershed experience that turned me more fully to the Church – faith in Christ Jesus as my Lord and Saviour – was under the auspices of Evangelicism/Fundamentalism. My formation as a Christian came through a liberal tradition and Liberalism itself. I never ditched Evangelicism but distanced myself mainly because such Christians in my country of birth ignored the critical isssue of Apartheid in South Africa. In time I came to reject Liberalism because of its epistomology and shortly followed that rejection with a rejection of Evangelicism because both ‘isms’ ground their theological processes in modernism. (I have never rejected the call to be evangelical.) Liberalism attempt to make the faith rational using the tools of modernism (Doubt, cause and effect and analogy) did not do justice to the mystery and beauty of God in Christ. E.g. Crossan and Borg are a case in point where in their book on ‘The First Paul’ they provide an a political-social analysis that explains why Paul used the concept of ‘lord’ and applied it to Jesus. This is why I see Crossan and the like as liberals – they are trying to explain things. And this has a limited value.