Thursday, February 05, 2009
Thoughts on The Great Emergence
I just read Phyllis Tickle's The Great Emergence and thought it was a great outline of what is happening not just among explicitly "emerging" Christians, but among North American Christians across the board. However, I was disappointed at the lack of specific details. She describes things in broad strokes but rarely names names or illustrates her points. For instance, I would have loved a few detailed historical examples from the Great Reformation of when things like this have happened before, and some specific examples of where she sees the parallels these days. Sadly, there is very little of that in the book, which at times left me guessing about what kinds of things she was actually referring to.

Similarly, she often attributes her claims about broad trends to what "experts" or "scholars" or "some" or "many" are saying, but, as this is not an academic book, she almost never actually footnotes. I realize that she's been around a long time, and as a former religion editor for Publishers Weekly she's probably very well informed about what "they" have been saying, but perhaps can't pinpoint exactly where and when she read something. Nonetheless, as an aspiring scholar who wants to write on these topics for my dissertation, it would have been very helpful to know what her sources were. (Fortunately I'm Facebook friends with Phyllis, and I already warned her at the last speaking engagement I saw her at that I wanted to do my doctoral research on this stuff and that I'd be contacting her for some of these details.)

Anyhow, I wish this book had been about twice as long, with the extra space given entirely to specific illustrations of the broad trends she is describing, but I suppose that just leaves something for others like myself to come along and fill in later.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 5:32 PM | Permalink |


At 2/05/2009 07:39:00 PM, Anonymous Wesley

My thoughts exactly, Mike. I would have liked it to be twice as longer and ten-fold more thorough.. I'm not working on a dissertation as of yet but I hope to be some day and this topic has been of interest to me.

But for what it is, not being academic, I think Phyllis did a great job at offering a glance at the current state of Christianity in North America. Albeit, a 40k feet fly-over of the situation.

I hope it'll be the first of many books on this subject, and that you and others (and hopefully one day myself!) will be able to peruse through this subject with great attention to detail and bring so much more to the emerging conversation!

Grace and Peace,


At 2/05/2009 11:28:00 PM, Blogger Kelsey

If you just read this book I actually found a book that I probably read before you did! ;) I read it about a month or two ago, because we are using it for up/rooted stuff right now, and so I read it. I thought that it was actually a pretty easy read, and while I understand what you are saying about a lot of things not being very specific, and the book being too short those seem to be some of the things that made the book attractive and easy for me to read, without it being intimidating enough to deter me. I actually read it in two days


At 2/06/2009 01:27:00 PM, Anonymous Adam Moore

I completely agree Mike. This book was the most over-hyped book of 2008. After reading it I was left wanting so much more. It's not bad, but not particularly insightful either. I can't think of anyone I would recommend it to.

But it seems like everyone has praised it. What's with that? Is it just because it's an official Emergent Village sponsored book? I can't figure it out.


At 2/06/2009 02:59:00 PM, Anonymous Drew Tatusko

I concur. It's not like I comb through a text looking for footnotes and the more the better, but when words like trend are used, it demands evidence of a pattern not just the assertion of one that is "emerging". Far more interesting is Hout & Greely's work on conservative Christians, Wuthnow's work on post-boomer Christianity, and Christian Smith's work on adolescents. Those three books together paint a more robust picture of what is actually happening with American religion - there are several others too that I am currently reading...


At 2/07/2009 08:58:00 AM, Anonymous Julie Clawson

I think in many ways it was a both/and sort of book. it was general enough that people could read it as an introduction to the topic and still get stuff out of it. But she made enough references to historical events that if you've studied history you understood a lot more, or at least had the resources to go deeper if you wanted to put in the time.


At 2/07/2009 05:12:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Don't get me wrong, I liked the book. It wasn't really anything new for me, but that's only because I've heard Phyllis speak on these same topics several times now already. I thought her theories were good overall, I just wanted more.


At 2/15/2009 07:58:00 AM, Blogger Tripp Hudgins


Yeah, it's like that. But I think her purpose was to start a conversation about what is happening. Those of us who are already in the conversation may want to read some detailed history of the Reformation. But to start the conversation is a different task. That's what she's after, I think. So, in a sense, the book was not written for you.

Have you seen her present these ideas? There is more detail. She is an historian, after all.

Thanks for this review.


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