Old Dog learning New Tricks: Reading matter.

With the challenges of assisting at a wonderful parish with a rector who reads ordination exams and keeps up with the literature of church related issues and ideas, being on Executive Council with members with challenging minds and widely differing viewpoints, trying to listen to the generation after next (that is people coming up in the church forty years after I did), checking in on wise heads and hearts in Anglican land,responding to bloggers who keep me in check, and running to keep up with the trailing edge of the intellectual life of the Episcopal Church, there is a lot to take in.

I want to draw attention to two books on church and faith matters that I am reading at the moment. The first is the book "un christian, what a new generation really thinks about Christianity...and why it matters." This is material from the Barna Group studies written up by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. It is written from an evangelical slant and is somewhat apologetic about its conclusions at times . The section "Antihomosexual" is particularly difficult. Still the overall value of the book is the sense it gleans from the perceptions of sixteen to twenty-nine year olds. It remains research done with the eye to providing christian (that is essentially evangelical christian) responses to the unchristian perceptions (or assumptions) of this age group.

What happens if the unchristian perceptions of this group turn out to be right? For example occasionally I hear that young people don't get all the wrangling going on about same-sex blessings. The sense is that they find all the blowup totally unnecessary, uninteresting, and arcane.

Still, I'm reading it with some interest, particularly because the views of this group are of considerable importance in signaling a shift in the thinking of the generation of church leaders next to come. I was put on to this book by a brilliant young seminarian who lives with one foot in post-modernity and the other in the reformation.

I'm also working my way through "The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why" by Phyllis Tickle. Tickle is providing here an outline of a way to look at the development of Church and a way to understand the current period of church unrest in the context of a five hundred year cycle. For some years there has been the sense that something of a new reformation is going on even in Anglican / Episcopal circles. The notion of the "Great Emergence" is in some ways related to "emergent" church, but is not to be confused with that. It is interesting to note that "BakerBooks" is publishing a variety of books under the general heading "emergent village." BakerBooks also published unchristian. The flyleaf says that "emersion is a partnership between Baker Books and Emergent Village, a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ."

Both books are then part of a new range of studies trying to make some sense out of the struggles of churches in these days to be in any way relevant to a rapidly changing globally networked community. It should be a remarkable ride!
Yesterday I was delighted to hear that Tobias Haller's new book is about to be on the stands. Titled, "Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same Sexuality." This will be a must read. Tobias is one of the most thoughtful theological minds of our day and joins as one a keen mind and a sharp wit.
Whatever else is emerging, the challenges are here for the taking. Back to the books!


  1. If you would follow up the Great Emergence. Try Peter Rollins book How (Not) to Speak of God. The first book that makes Post Modernism make sense to me. The second half describes and explains 10 worship events that work with Post Moderns like my son (also a priest). I'm using The Great Emergence with my book study and How (Not) to Speak of God with the younger set.
    Tom Downs
    Diocese of Eastern Michigan

  2. Having just read The Great Emergence, I am reminded of a principle underlying my principal area of study for many years, evolutionary theory. You can speak with some authority about where evolution has come from; it is a very risky, if not foolish, business to speak of where it is going. Phyllis Tickle has something of a case for a 500 year cycle in the life of the Church, and in her enthusiasm for the idea, has pushed that cycle back into the pre-Christian history of Judaism. The neatness of all this bothers me. History just is not quite like that. And she could benefit a great deal from reading very carefully Peter Brown's The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd ed. His depiction of that history is not nearly so neat and conveniently divided into 500 year cycles. Her projections into the future are at best confusing and seem to me not to have much basis.
    Tickle is an engaging popular writer but her scholarship leaves me wanting something a bit better grounded.
    Phillip Cato

  3. Phillip Cato... Hi... glad to hear from you. Yes, the scheme is a bit simplistic. Tickle is not a scholar, but the popular sketch is not necessarily wrong, just inexact.

    What I like is the reminder that the cusp point (roughly about now) leads to reformation and counter-reformation, with one part moving on and the other looking back but with greater clarity.

    At any rate an interesting read on the edge of the more difficult analysis of these strange times.

    Thanks for the cautionary note.

  4. mark, thanks for posting about unchristian. I appreciate you checking out the book and wrestling with the content. as you might expect, the homosexuality chapter was the most difficult to write... and I would say I am still very much in process about how and where the church ought to be led on this subject in the future. all the best to you, David Kinnaman

  5. Hi Mark and thanks for the "plug"! I'm about 1/3 through the proofreading, so should be done by week's end.

    On the issue raised in "unchristian" my concern is that if a generation is kept away from the church because of the wrangling over sex, the only ones who join the church will be those who see it to be a proper area for argument, and they will form the leadership. I can only see the long term effects as a broadening of the divide between sacred and secular -- which some might think a good thing, but which I see as contrary to the spread of the Gospel.

    Now back to the fine point pen and the proofs....


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