This past Friday and Saturday[ref]Jan. 11-12 2013[/ref], I attended Emergence Christianity:A National Gathering with Phyllis Tickle and Friends in Memphis TN. For those unfamiliar with Ms Phyllis, she is an author, “recovering academic” (her words) and founding religion editor for Publishers Weekly. She has also written several books about emergence Christianity, most notably “The Great Emergence” and “Emergence Christianity“. I’ve seen her speak on this topic twice and both times she has said the question facing us as result of this upheaval called The Great Emergence is “where now is our authority”? In other words, who’s making the rules and what are they? The most recent answer to that question (the one that we’ve lived under until now) is the Bible, with Luther’s sola scriptura as the dominant paradigm. However, sola scriptura is on life support and the plug is slowly being pulled. So, if sola scriptura is on the way out, what’s going to take its place? Both times I’ve seen her reference this question, she has said the answer is the Holy Spirit. In 2010, she didn’t have time to elaborate; last week was a different story. She related how pentecostalism and “second baptism” has played a major role in Emergence Christianity, a role that will continue in the future.
To say that I wasn’t thrilled with this assessment is an understatement along the lines of saying the pilot of the Hindenburg made a rough landing. The mere mention of pentecostalism, with its speaking in tongues and wild stories of healing and prophecy, makes me itch (I do like their music, though). Part of that itchiness comes from a Methodist upbringing; the UMC is only slightly less stuffy than the “frozen chosen” (Presbyterians) and the Episcopalians they descended from. A larger part, however, comes from some baggage that I still carry. As a youth, my family was involved in a charismatic group that was, for me, a multi-year nightmare of abuse and control that took years to get over. So, yeah, I’m not really down for that kind of thing.
A little distance, a couple of conversations and a lot cogitating showed me I wasn’t alone and helped me understand she wasn’t talking about capital P Pentecostal (the organized Pentecostal church), but rather the small p version, as in the actual bestowing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as seen in the second chapter of Acts and described in 1 Corinthians 12. At least, I hope that’s what she meant. I can handle small p pentecostalism. I believe in the Holy Spirit and I believe that we receive gifts from it, even speaking in tongues; I just don’t believe that everyone gets every gift. Or that, once you receive a gift of the Spirit, you can call that gift up at will. Rather they are bestowed as required by the situation at hand. Sorry if this offends anyone, but any time you see a roomful of people and every one of them is “speaking in tongues”, odds are that 99.9999% of them are faking it. Been there, done that.
As it’s still early in this age of emergence, there is a ton of uncertainty in the air. We’re making wholesale changes in one of the most hidebound, traditional areas of life and, even if we like the direction it’s going, changes like that can be troubling. The face of Emergence Christianity is mostly white, well-educated and relatively affluent and people worry about this. Women are rightly concerned about the movement’s embrace of feminism. And, there are those of us who still carry scars from our years in the traditional church and have no desire to repeat the experience in a new venue. But, like it or not, these changes are coming and we have two choices: ride this wave and exert a little control on where we’re going and how we get there or be swept along. Because either way, we’re going wherever it takes us.