The Great Emergence: A Reformation Every 500 Years?

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by Understand the Times with Roger Oakland 

Phyllis Tickle is a best-selling author and the founding editor of the religion department at Publishers Weekly. She is also a friend of the emerging church. Doug Pagitt says of her:

Phyllis Tickle is the best friend the emergent movement could ever have.1

In the fall of 2008, Baker Books (through their partnership with Emergent Village-Emersion Books) will release Tickle’s book called The Great Emergence. The following description of the book confirms Tickle’s allegiance to emerging spirituality:

[I]ntended to provide a practical, positive vision of the church as it steps into the future. Tickle says the book will discuss the development of the emerging church, what she calls the “Great Emergence,” placing it among the other great phenomena in the history of Christianity, including the Great Schism and the Great Reformation. “Every 500 years,” Tickle said, “the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered so that renewal and growth may occur. Now is such a time.”2

In a PBS interview, Tickle referred to this “[e]very 500 years” theory and said, “the church has a giant rummage sale.” She said, “Christianity is in the midst of a new reformation that will radically remake the faith.”3 At the Joint Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) where Tickle and McLaren shared a platform, one participant noted that, “[Tickle said] Brian McLaren is to this new reformation what Martin Luther was to the Protestant Reformation.”4

If indeed Brian McLaren, or any of the emergent leaders or upstarts, lead and direct this new reformation, it will do as Tickle says–“radically remake the faith.” Emergent proponent Troy Bronsink reveals that this remaking will include all of humanity and all of creation. In An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Bronsink, a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), states:

Emergent … is a gift given to all the church that is placing us in tension with things as they are…. we will discover courage to let go of the old orientations, see creation expanding.5

He continues:

If the emergent conversation is to have a “next chapter,” it will need to learn from other sketches outside of Western Christendom as well as from within the depths of other traditions (denominations and communions) once dismissed on rational-political grounds, and it must continue, all the more, to seek ways of sketching that benefit the rest of creation.6

Bronsink says that emergent is “a guild of prophets” that will lead the way for “existing practitioners of Christianity.”7 He says they will create an “environment” that will equip “any and all for the process of emergence.”8 He adds that “practices of meditation” are necessary to “sustain” the emergent hope(9) but gives a word of caution to emerging seekers:

[M]erely seeing ourselves as a creative agent within the domain of the Christian church will domesticate Emergent into what one critic has already claimed is an “asterisk on the landscape of American church growth.” On the other hand, seeing the integrated whole of the church (emerging and otherwise) as a creative agent within creation, Emergent can be a place where practitioners embody the church’s creative agency for all of emerging society. (emphasis added)10

Bronsink says the emerging church must not become confined within the structure of Christianity, and this is perhaps where we can understand the theological limits of the emerging church. Those limits? There are none! The sky is the limit for the all-encompassing emerging church that includes all faiths, and all creation. Atonement is not part of this new reformation because all creation is already being saved and unified with God. It’s no wonder emerging prophets over the past several decades from [Henry] Fosdick to Alan Jones to Brian McLaren reject penal substitution–in their grand emergence, it just isn’t needed.

A poem from An Emergent Manifesto of Hope illustrates what the emerging church calls expanded redemption. I think you will see how such a theology has no room for atonement through Jesus Christ. The poem reads:

Not only soul, whole body!
Not only whole body, all of the faithful community!
Not only all of the faithful community, all of humanity!
Not only all of humanity, all of God’s creation!11

This is very contradictory to what Jesus said:

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:22-23)

It’s a noble and comforting notion that all humanity and creation are redeemed, but it doesn’t square with biblical spiritual reality.

Emergent leader Karen Ward asks the question, “Is there an ’emerging’ theology of the atonement?”12 She answers, “I think not.” Calling it “the mystery we’re in,” she refers to the atonement as at-one-ment,13 a term occultist and New Age prophet Alice Bailey uses to refer to our (all humanity’s) oneness and equality with God.14 Ward explains her views:

We are being moved, as a community, beyond theories about atonement, to enter into atonement itself, or at-one-ment-the new reality and new relationship of oneness with God which Christ incarnated (in life, cross, and resurrection) and into which we are all invited “for all time.”15

The emergent reformation, when it comes to fruition, will stand on the side of the line drawn in the sand that says all humanity is One–regardless of religion, beliefs–we are all One. That Oneness will mean one with all creation too, and inevitably with God. This is what the New Age movement is striving for–a time when all of mankind will realize both their unity and divinity–and the Gospel as we know it, according to Scripture, will be no more.

1. Steve Knight citing Doug Pagitt, “Phyllis Tickle to Write Book for Baker Books/Emersion”(Emergent Village, May 30, 2007,
2. Ibid.
3. Fred Plumer, “What is Progressive Christianity Anyway?” (The Center for Progressive Christianity,
4. Citing from Emergent Village Weblog, http://www.emergent
5. Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2007), Troy Bronsink section: “The Art of Emergence,” p. 68.
6. Ibid., pp. 68-69.
7. Ibid., p. 69.
8. Ibid., p. 70.
9. Ibid., p. 71.
10. Ibid., pp. 72-73.
11. Ibid., p. 83.
12. Robert Webber (editor), Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), Karen Ward chapter: “The Emerging Church and Communal Theology,†p. 163.
13. Ibid., pp. 163-164.
14. Throughout Alice Bailey’s writings is the concept of humanity’s at-one-ment (oneness) with God.
15. Robert Webber (editor), Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Churches, Karen Ward, op. cit., p. 164.

This has been an excerpt from Faith Undone by Roger Oakland, from chapter 12, “A New Reformation?”

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