Characteristics of Emergence Christianity

tickle picThis set of characteristics is drawn from a trio of works by Phyllis Tickle:

  1. The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why
  2. Emergence Christianity: What it is, Where it is Going and Why it Matters 
  3. Embracing Emergence Christianity 

Major Characteristics of ‘Emergence Christianity’  

  • It is deeply incarnational. It calls for embodiment – in worship and in many other ways.
  • It approaches scripture from an ‘actualist’ rather than a literalist frame. Scripture opens a window to what is real – there is a truth beyond facts. It is dependable, foundational, demanding … but we must look to the Word beyond the words.
  • It leads to radical obedience – which is part of the incarnational expectation; partly reflective of our dual citizenship
  • It has a different understanding of the Trinity – more like a dance, more inclusive of the Holy Spirit
  • It is de-institutionalized – it is not fond of hierarchy and wants no bishop
    • Smaller gatherings turn to bi-vocational leaders in conversational exchange
    • It will require that we redefine the diaconate, and will have a real impact on seminaries
    • It is expressed in both the resistance to property and to ecclesiastical structures
  • There is an embrace of the transitory. No group is permanent – scattering spreads the seeds. Jesus was itinerate for a reason.
  • There is a distinction made between the Christian and the secular mode of ‘good works.’
    • Tickle uses the term ‘inhumane kindness’ to describe works of ‘charity’ that maintain a difference between the ‘helper’ and the ‘helpee.’ There is good reason to help – socially and economically – but a Christian approaches it in a relational frame – springing from our commonness and leading to greater community.
    • Sustainability is not just about preserving the world for our grandchildren, but the Christian reverence for and celebration of God’s creation – honoring the sacredness of that reality
  • There is a commitment in the context of community
    • Expressed in neo-monasticism – with variations of common table / common purse / common rule of life
    • House churches and other gatherings (10% of current Christian community)
  • There is a difference sense of what it is to be missional. It occurs all day every day, in common life. It is not a program, which would imply something separate.

Across this set of characteristics are themes of wholeness, commitment, community, balance, mystery and grace. It is an expression of Christianity that provides for some a new way to take their faith seriously, even in the context of questions.

[photo of Phyllis Tickle from]

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