THE NEXT REFORMATION

 


THE EMERGING CHURCH:

THE NEW REFORMATION




In October 2006 I had the privilege of attending a two-day conference entitled The Pilgrim Nation.  It was led by Phyllis Tickle and Ken Wilson.  Phyllis Tickle  used to be the religion editor of the publishing industry's prime trade journal, Publishers Weekly .  She is now 73, retired from her official position, but very active in speaking at conferences and similar endeavors.  She is an Episcopalian who is well known throughout certain circles in Christendom, and is well informed of what is going on in Christianity at large.




Ken Wilson  is pastor of the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor.  Not surprisingly as a result of the denominational affiliations of the leaders, many at the conference were Vineyard people and Episcopalians, but there were other denominations represented there as well.


The focus at the conference was two-fold.  Much of the conference was on prayer, but a strong aspect of the conference was the changing nature of the church in North America today, and how prayer fits into that new landscape.  What I'd like to cover in this posting is the leaders' view of what direction the church is heading, because I think this is of major importance.


The Last Reformation: Shift To Sola Scriptura


The most surprising thing for me to hear is Phyllis Tickle's contention that we are in the midst of the next great reformation within the church.  She pointed out that about every 500 years, the church goes through a major reformation, where the authority of the church shifts.  She started by going 500 years back to the Protestant Reformation.  She pointed out that although we tag it as starting in 1517 with Luther's 95 theses, you have to consider that at that time, that was just one incident that happened; no one at the time had a way of knowing that a new reformation was about to begin with that event.  Picture yourself in 1517:  First of all, news traveled quite slowly.  And once you did hear of the event, it would be, "Wow, he's really daring.  That's an interesting thing to do.  I wonder what will happen to him."  Even if you're really in the know on developments within the church, at that point in time, you wouldn't say, "Wow, this will surely cause the downfall of the unified authority of the Catholic Church!"


Phyllis Tickle mentioned other things happening that caused the Reformation.  She said the roots of it really began back in the late 14th century when there were three popes, all with their own armies, fighting and killing each other to gain control.  Another factor was the end of serfdom and the rise of nationhood.  She also mentioned the scientific developments of the time, particularly the discovery that the sun did not revolve around the earth, but rather the earth revolved around the sun, which really shook up all theological thinking.  She didn't mention this, but I'm sure many also recognize that the invention of the printing press was a part of this process.


When the Protestant Reformation hit, it caused a crisis within the church.  To this point, the authority of the church had rested in the pope and the councils in Rome.  The Protestant Reformation destroyed this understanding of the authority of the church, changing it from church tradition to "sola scriptura."  Here I'm not so sure I'm repeating what she said, or just going from general thinking on the topic (unfortunately I didn't get a chance to write about this when it was fresh on my mind), but think about the fears present during this time.  If one only uses Scripture to determine right and wrong, how can you prevent someone from coming up with crazy interpretations and doctrines to support whatever they wish?  This is, in fact, still a problem that Catholics have with Protestantism.  In a book I read  of testimonials of Protestants who converted to Catholicism, a turning point for one person was that he was sitting in a discussion with 12 other people, and they offered at least a half dozen different interpretations of a problematic passage (about remarriage after divorce).  This caused a crisis within him--how do we know what is true?  This is what the Catholic Church is for--to use the history of the apostles and councils to interpret Scripture, to ensure that it is God's interpretation and not just some Joe Christian's interpretation.  The threat in the 16th century was that of theological anarchy; how could God's teachings be protected from corruption if people only used the Bible for direction?


The Previous Reformations: Church Split; From Rome To Monks


The major event in Christianity 500 years before that was the Great Schism , when the eastern church broke away from the western church.  Suddenly there was not just one authority of Christianity, but two.  Each one claims--even to this day--to be the One True Church, accusing the other of apostasy of sorts.  500 years before that was the fall of Rome, with the resulting rise in monasticism; with the political/religious power of Rome collapsing, the authority of Christianity transferred to the monks.


Now In The Midst Of A New Reformation


It is the belief of a number of people today that we are now in the midst of another reformation.  Once again, there will be some major shake-ups in the church, and the authority of the church will change.  And this is the part that really has me excited.


I have heard for some time of the existence of the Emerging Church .   This is not a denomination or even an official association of congregations, but rather a group of people and congregations discussing the direction of the church to come.  Two leading voices in this discussion are Brian McLaren, author of A Generous Orthodoxy and The Secret Message Of Jesus: Uncovering The Truth That Could Change Everything , and Rob Bell, author of Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith .  But before I try to describe the emerging church, I would like to review the view of the church as presented by Phyllis Tickle and Ken Wilson, which originated from someone back in the 1970s.


The Four Camps Of Today’s Church


This view sees the current church as basically sitting in four camps, illustrated by a quadrant.  In the top left box of the quadrant is the Liturgical camp.  Those in the Liturgical camp include Catholics and Episcopalians, where the Liturgy and rituals are an important part of their religious experience.  In the top right box of the quadrant is the Social Justice camp.  This is dominated by mainline Protestant churches who believe that the primary commission of Jesus is to help him bring his kingdom by serving the poor and helping bring about justice within society for all who are oppressed.  In the bottom right box of the quadrant are the Evangelicals.  This group focuses on converting others to Christianity, seeing "The Great Commission" as the primary call of Jesus to his disciples.  In the bottom left box of the quadrant are the Pentecostals and Charismatics, who value the "gifts of the Spirit," and for whom experience is an important part of their religious life.


There is a bit of bleeding between the lines, of course.  There are charismatic Catholics, there are evangelicals who accept some forms of charismatic expression; Catholics are strong on social justice; some evangelicals also incorporate social justice into their purpose, and some social justice churches incorporate some evangelism into theirs.


In each of the quadrants are what are termed "corner dwellers."  These are the churches/denominations that are very strictly in their camp and will not blend any other influences.  In the bottom left corner would be the old-time Pentecostals.  In the bottom right corner would be the Fundamentalists.  In the top left corner would be very traditional Catholics.  These groups will continue in their traditional ways no matter what direction the church as a whole goes.  In the Church that is emerging, it is predicted they will make up about 15% of the church altogether.


In the quadrant, there are also some groups that are in the middle of the quadrant, not quite blending with the other quadrants, but interacting with them.  For example, in the Social Justice quadrant, traditional mainline churches are sometimes doing church plants of emergent churches, but they themselves remain in their social justice camp.  In the Evangelical quadrant, the megachurches make up the circle of churches that are open, not corner dwellers, but don't really blend aspects of the other quadrant.  (I can't remember what the circles in the other quadrants represented; it's now six weeks later when I'm writing this, I have few notes, so I have forgotten some of these things.  I'm so disappointed I didn't have time to write about this while it was fresh on my mind!)


(I tried to draw this quadrant, but I'm lousy at drawing.  Feeble as it is, I hope it helps you see what I'm trying to explain.) 


 
 


Now I will focus on the horizontal and vertical lines of the quadrant.  On the horizontal line, the top portion represents orthopraxy, and the the bottom portion represents orthodoxy.  Orthodoxy is the emphasis on holding correct doctrines, right beliefs.  Orthopraxy is the emphasis on correct procedures, right rituals.  Phyllis Tickle gave an example of each.  As an example of orthopraxy, she explained that in the Episcopalian church, the wine left over from communion should never be poured down the drain; it should only be poured into something that goes to the outside.  It would be unthinkable to pour it down the drain.  But ask the typical Episcopalian whether or not they believe in the Virgin Birth, and they will probably be undecided.  For her example of orthodoxy, Phyllis Tickle told about a friend of hers who is a Southern Baptist.  That friend believes one should not drink alcohol.  But when Phyllis gets together with this friend, her friend will drink wine with her.  Phyllis points out that what this woman believes is more important to her than what she does, while for an Episcopalian, what they do is more important than what they believe.  In more general terms, those on the orthopraxy side find religious rituals to be very appealing and some of the most important aspects of their faith.  Those on the orthodoxy side don't like rituals and consider their beliefs to be the most important measure of their faith.


On the vertical line are orthonomy and theonomy.  Orthonomy focuses on "what makes the soul sing."  Theonomy is more focused on keeping theology all straight.  The charismatics and Catholics are on the orthonomy side, where experience is core to their religious observance.  The mainline Protestants and evangelicals are on the theonomy side, where proper understanding is core to their religious experience.  Those on the orthonomy side fear the theonomists are sola scriptura; those on the theonomy side fear that orthonomy is license to make Christianity into anything.  "What makes the soul sing?  Well, illicit drugs can do that." 


The Church That Is Emerging: Represented By This Rose


All of this discussion about these four quadrants is leading up to this:  The emerging church, the direction of the new reformation, is beginning to blend all of these quadrants.  They are all swirling together toward the center, creating a new kind of church with a new authority.  (The picture to the left illustrates this swirl.)  While there will always be churches in each quadrant, and while the corner dwellers will not be affected by any of this, the majority of the church will move to the center; Phyllis Tickle estimates about 60% will wind up there.  This prediction, by the way, she said applies to churches in North America, Western Europe, and Brazil.  I can't remember if she said it specifically does not apply to the rest of the world, or if she just hadn't studied those areas enough to determine if that was the case.  Most of those in attendance at this conference had read the book by Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom , which I reviewed at Amazon.  His book thoroughly describes where Christianity is headed globally; he sees the center of Christianity moving to Africa, with strong influence from the USA and Latin America.  This shift in centrality will change global Christianity, as these areas are much different in their worldviews.  Two changes in particular are greater acceptance of miracles, and influence of local cultures.  It is my opinion that these influences will have a similar effect on changing the church, though the church will likely look different in Africa and Latin America than in North America and Europe; the southern churches will likely be much stronger in Pentecostalism, while the northern churches will be stronger in social justice and rituals steeped in tradition and Christian mysticism (i.e. Eastern Orthodox type of mysticism).  These are my own predictions, based on what I've learned from Phyllis Tickle and Philip Jenkins.


But back to that quadrant for Western countries.   As I mentioned above, the church is now in the process of swirling all these elements from the different quadrants together toward the center.  The resulting center is illustrated with the image of a rose.  Phyllis Tickle said that the two main groups that are at the center of this quadrant today are those who identify with the Emergent Church, and the Vineyard.  The Emergent Church is primarily on the top half of the rose, bringing traditional rituals for their mystical, reverent beauty, and their sense of social justice.  Where the emergents tend to be particularly weak is in theology, which they prefer to keep very open; in fact, many of them are nearly universalists.  As a result, evangelism is very low on their priorities.


Phyllis Tickle said the the Vineyard denomination is the major force on the bottom half of the rose, bringing into the center the gifts of the charismatics and the heart for evangelism.  Vineyard is also strong in the social justice area.  An important thing that Vineyard brings to this rose, according to Phyllis Tickle, is a strong theological foundation that balances the looseness of the emergents.


What will the new church look like?  Of course we cannot know for sure at this point, but signs are pointing in these directions:

1) A renewed sense of social justice, with an emphasis on helping the poor and those destitute in other ways.

2) A resurgence of traditional prayers and rituals that got left behind in the Protestant movement; more emphasis on the mystical and a reduction in the importance of doctrine.

3) An increase in the value of experience.


I would like to respond to the points above from my own perspective.  I have already written what I feel is happening in response to #1 in my essay "The End Of The Christian Right."  I see a growing emphasis, particularly among the young, of bringing about the Kingdom of God here on Earth through mercy and compassion, as opposed to the recent emphasis on morality, especially sexual morality.  I see this happening across the country, across denominations.


Numbers two and three dovetail perfectly with what is going on in the culture at large.  The modern age is dying.  The modern age is all about reason and science, argument and proof.  The post-modern era is in its beginning stages.  Post-moderns are skeptical about absolute truth, certainty, and the claims of science.  Science has its limits; truth cannot be known in full.  In fact, all truth is colored by experience.  This general cultural trend will hit the church, with a result in much less concern about theonomy, and much greater desire for orthonomy.


The Current Changing Of Authority


In the beginning of this posting, I reported that Phyllis Tickle pointed out that with each church reformation, there was a change of authority.  The question now is, what or who will the new authority be in the new reformation?   Of course we cannot know that yet, just as people in 1517 could not have told you how the Protestant era would have turned out.  But Phyllis Tickle thinks the new authority will probably have something to do with experience.  Sola scriptura will be the cry of the Protestant Reformation, but in the new reformation that will not be the authority.


Scientific advances had an effect on the last reformation, and it appears they will on this one too.  The major shake-up in the last reformation was the new knowledge about the earth and sun.  With all the Bible references that indicate the sun's movement, and that the earth is solid on its foundations and cannot be moved, if we revolve around the sun, then is the Bible true?  And if the world is round, then where is heaven?  It had always been Up, but if there is no Up, then where is heaven?  These are the questions that shook up people 500 years ago.


It seems today's science is going to revolve around what it means to be human.  We have already entered this debate with the scientific advances in stem cell alteration and reproduction, and cloning.  Now there are chips being implanted in the brain of depressed patients to keep them from being depressed; they alter certain parts of the brain's waves.  Another debate going on:  Adults with serious ADD not on medication found it nearly impossible to keep their faith.  After taking medication for ADD, now they can do things like pray and go to church and other activities that they couldn't before, and they report that now they are able to be faithful.  The debate is, can you say that you can only keep your faith with drugs?  Is it really your faith then, or is it the drugs? 


Advances in brain technology will make it possible to do even more things that people cannot do on their own.  With more and more types of brain chips available, where will the God-created human end, and the scientific, man-made human begin?  What if chips can be made to focus on the part of the brain that lives religious experience?  Is it ethical to give someone such a chip if they want it?  Will they have real faith then, or will it be artificial faith?


Questions like this will shake up our worldview as the new information about the sun and earth shook up the worldview of those 500 years ago.  As the printing press changed the world then, so the Internet is changing the world now.  I think Phyllis Tickle is right:  Considering the technological changes we are facing, the cultural changes coming with the death of the modern age, and the changes happening within the church, it looks like we are in the beginnings of the next reformation of the church.


Being In The Midst Of Major Change


I came away from this conference very excited to realize that I am alive at a time when the church is shifting to something new.  Such changes are rarely pretty and smooth--the Great Schism of 1054 and the Protestant Reformation were hardly tranquil transitions.  But it's exciting to sense all these changes occurring and to wonder what direction it will go.  How will God move among his people next?


I am glad more than ever to be a part of Vineyard during this exciting time, since Vineyard is one of the key players in this movement.  Vineyard began in the 1970s, with its distinction being an openness to the "gifts of the Spirit" as practiced by charismatics, but without all the fanfare.  Something that has also always been a part of Vineyard is a concern for the poor.  (I reported on some of our local Vineyard ministries in my December 3 blog posting .)  It appears this emphasis is becoming even stronger, as the Church at large is going more this direction.


At the conference, at one meal I had the opportunity to sit at a table with some Vineyard pastors from Canada, and the pastor of the new Monroe Vineyard church.  It was interesting to hear from the Monroe Vineyard pastor that their church fits in with the local Catholic and mainline churches better than it does the evangelical churches, even though Vineyard considers itself evangelical without a doubt.  From the Canadian pastors I heard some exciting stories about what was going on with them, but unfortunately I didn't get to write them down while they were fresh in my mind.


Since Phyllis Tickle has been to the Ann Arbor Vineyard, where I attend, and our pastor has been in contact with her (as well as the two of them doing this conference together), we have had some influence from her at our church.  She authors books for the Divine Hours.  From ancient Judaism to Christianity through the ages, the Divine Hours are the times of prayer each day.  I can't remember all of them; I think there are seven.  Basically, they're every three hours beginning at 6:00 AM.  At these times, traditionally Christians stop what they're doing to offer up prayers, and the tradition is to recite long-standing prayers of the church.  You can see the Divine Hours at the Ann Arbor Vineyard website; they change throughout the day according to time of day (and they're different each day).  Our pastor has been very enthusiastic about these and got many in the church interested in them, including me.  Now we sometimes do the Psalms and prayers from the Divine Hours in our church services.  This is how the liturgical is swirling into our congregation.


Looking To The Future


So this is what is happening now!  The church is changing!  Not that it's ever stagnant -- the church of 1760, 1860, and 1960 are all quite different in many ways, yet for most of Christendom, sola scriptura still was the authority.  If the authority changes, the differences in the church between 1760 and 1960 will seem very small indeed, in comparison to the shift of the new reformation.


Keep your eyes and ears open.  Open your eyes and see the changes coming about.  Open your ears and hear the new emphases in people's words.  And, read some of the books below to get more background on the changes happening in the church today.  This list is a partial list of the books recommended to us at the conference.



   

The Secret Message Of Jesus: Uncovering The Truth That Could Change Everything by Brian D. McLaren.  This is the second book I've read by Brian McLaren (the first was A Generous Orthodoxy, also recommended at the conference).  I think it is better written than A Generous Orthodoxy (I reviewed this at Amazon), staying on topic more and being more clear about what Jesus is all about.  If you've never read McLaren, who is a strong voice among the emergents, then I recommend The Secret Message Of Jesus as your first book by him. I think he's right on the mark as to where the church is heading today.




 
     
        


The Next Christianity: The Coming of Global Christianity and The New Faces of Christianity: Believing The Bible in the Global South by Philip Jenkins.  The notes given to us at the conference state:  "Jenkins...is perhaps our most trusted and most quoted authority on the subject of globalizing Christianity."  I have read the first one above and highly recommend it; it is a real eye-opener as to what's going on in the church at large and how it will change due to the influence of the South.  I am eager to read the second book also.  In 2007, Jenkins released the third book in this trilogy, this one focusing on what's happening to Christianity in Europe: God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis.



 
 




Who's Afraid of Post-Modernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church by James K. A. Smith. The notes from the conference state:  "For those who want to get a concise, albeit evangelical and radical, distillation of what post-modernism is and what it means to at least some large part of the American Church, this book is a God-send.  It is short, authoritatively presented, and accessible."






 
 




The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity by Carl Raschke.  The notes from the conference state:  "Like Smith's Who's Afraid of Post-Modernism, this book comes from an evangelical perspective, but it is a superb analysis of what is happening to us currently, just as it is a useful engagement of the emerging new body of Christianity."








 
 





The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture:  How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church by Shane Hipps.  From the conference notes:  "This deceptively easy-going book deftly weaves Marshall McLuhan and Co. into an at-times brilliantly insightful critique of current 'church.'  It's well worth the time it takes to read it and more than worth the time it takes to ponder it."







 
 




A New Spiritual Home:  Progressive Christianity at the Grassroots by Hal Taussig.  From the conference notes:  "A Methodist pastor and Visiting Professor at Union Theological Seminary, Taussig has also been associated with the Westar Institute and the Jesus Seminar.  He brings to overview of contemporary American Christendom a liberal, but still very pastoral and professorial interpretation of where Christian theology really is in the minds of many pew-dwellers and former pew-dwellers."






 
 


The Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of Christianity by Eric Elnes.  From the conference notes:  "This volume is a kind of 'Here I Stand' declaration for that part of mainline Christianity that is hesitating between re-traditioning or re-configuring into the new Protestantism and/or becoming fully emergent.  Elnes, a UCC pastor in Arizona, is a brilliant observer of the intersection between culture and faith (see www.crosswalkamerica.org  to understand the full implications of what he is daring), and a clear-eyed student of the theological shifts involved in our current and heated ecclesial discussions."





 
 

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright .  This book is often featured and promoted by our pastoral staff  (but...um...I haven't read it yet).  The notes from the conference state:  "The Bishop of Durham has, in this his latest book, written what I suspect will stand for decades as a classic in Christian apology.  Some parts of Wright's theology will offend American Christians, but most of it will not.  Rather, they will find here a reasoned and pastoral voice offering a blessed place of thoughtful and faithful quiet in the midst of an otherwise disturbing storm system.  Well worth the read by folk on all sides of our current debates, it is the kind of 'lest we forget' book that's good for all of us now and again."






Check out this webpage  for an interview (March 19, 2007) with Phyllis Tickle on the quadrant I described in this posting.  There are many comments by readers following the interview, to provide you with others' perspectives on this topic.

 

ln a way, this is Part 2 of my essay “The End Of The Christian Right,” although the two are not directly related.  "The End Of The Christian Right" focuses on an aspect of Christianity that I predict has reached its peak and will now decline.  This posting describes where I see the Church going in the future.  These are not my ideas, but rather ideas I've acquired from others; I've acquired them because they make sense to me as I observe what's happening around us.  The Church is now heading for a major change of direction, so major that it is being called the Next Reformation.  Much of what I write here I learned at the conference The Pilgrim Nation held in Plymouth, Michigan in October 2006.  Read about that conference and the future of the Church in this essay.


Written October - December 2006

Final editing and posting on my [now-defunct] blog - April 8, 2007

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