Mark Driscoll preaching on the Ten Commandments at Mars Hill Church

A New Reformation?

by Rassaphore Monk Angelos

This arti­cle con­sti­tutes the third install­ment in a series adapt­ed from the author’s under­grad­u­ate the­sis, An Ancient Future Church?: An Ortho­dox Exam­i­na­tion of the Post-mod­ern Chris­tian­i­ty of the Emer­gent Church Move­ment. The intro­duc­to­ry install­ment may be read here and Part II here.

Among the var­i­ous analy­ses of the Emer­gent Church Move­ment (ECM), there is one intrigu­ing the­o­ry that sets ECM well with­in a his­tor­i­cal con­tin­uüm in West­ern Chris­tian­i­ty, a pat­tern that indeed defines the his­tor­i­cal path of Chris­tian­i­ty in the West, and in those regions where  Chris­tian­i­ty has devel­oped from a West­ern model.

Portrait of Phyllis Tickle
Phyl­lis Tick­le, Epis­co­pal writer on the soci­ol­o­gy of religion.

Phyl­lis Tick­le, a mem­ber of the Epis­co­pal Church in the USA (ECUSA) and well-known writer on the soci­ol­o­gy of reli­gion, has termed ECM “The Great Emer­gence” and placed it in suc­ces­sion to a series of 500-year­ly upheavals in West­ern Chris­tian­i­ty: The Great Ref­or­ma­tion, The Great Schism, and Saint Gre­go­ry the Great.1 She has based this con­cept on the thought of fel­low Epis­co­palian, Bish­op Mark Dyer, who claims that “about every five hun­dred years the Church feels com­pelled to hold a giant rum­mage sale”2 or in more schol­ar­ly terms, “about every five hun­dred years the empow­ered struc­tures of insti­tu­tion­al­ized Chris­tian­i­ty, what­ev­er they may be at that time, become an intol­er­a­ble cara­pace that must be shat­tered in order that renew­al and growth may occur.”3

Episcopalian Bishop Mark Dyer
Epis­co­palian Bish­op Mark Dyer

In Tick­le and Dyer’s the­o­ry are three things that inevitably fol­low such upheaval. First, “a new, more vital form of Chris­tian­i­ty does indeed emerge,”4. Sec­ond, “the orga­nized expres­sion of Chris­tian­i­ty which up until then had been the dom­i­nant one is recon­sti­tut­ed into a more pure and less ossi­fied expres­sion of its for­mer self”5 in which we end up with two bod­ies: one new expres­sion of faith and a refur­bished estab­lish­ment of an old­er tra­di­tion. Final­ly, the result of the break­ing of this estab­lished Chris­tian­i­ty is the spread of the faith to places where it had nev­er pre­vi­ous­ly been.

The author’s mem­ber­ship in the ECUSA is like­ly demon­stra­tive of her eccle­si­ol­o­gy. The idea that such upheavals and con­tor­tions with­in a reli­gious tra­di­tion are inher­ent­ly pos­i­tive must sure­ly negate the con­cepts of heresy and schism, which are trag­ic and destruc­tive to any reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty. The Ortho­dox Church, with its focus on con­ti­nu­ity of the Faith and main­tain­ing of the Tra­di­tion passed down from the Apos­tles, has no con­cept of accept­able reli­gious upheaval, unless it is resis­tance to heresy.

Despite the ques­tion­able pre­sup­po­si­tions of her eccle­sial world­view, which is evi­dent­ly root­ed in the lib­er­al­ism of ECUSA, Tick­le seems to have accu­rate­ly point­ed out a fair­ly con­sis­tent phe­nom­e­non with­in West­ern Chris­tian­i­ty. Much of the scope of her stud­ies is lim­it­ed to those move­ments born out of the Ref­or­ma­tion, of which ECM is very much a con­tin­u­a­tion; but Roman Catholi­cism has not been free of such upheaval either. After all, the Sec­ond Vat­i­can Coun­cil, a source of seri­ous con­tro­ver­sy in some quar­ters of the Catholic Church, took place only about four hun­dred years after the Counter-Ref­or­ma­tion coun­cil at Trent.

In her book, The Great Emer­gence, Tick­le builds her the­o­ry on the idea that this new ref­or­ma­tion, the “Emerg­ing Church”, has arisen from a need to re-eval­u­ate the con­cept of author­i­ty with­in Chris­tian­i­ty, just as the Ref­or­ma­tion arose from dis­putes over the author­i­ty of the Pope.6 The Ref­or­ma­tion attempt­ed to fill the vac­u­um left by the absence of a papal fig­ure with the pre­cepts of Sola Scrip­tura and Solus Chris­tus, both of which, accord­ing to Tick­le came under heavy attack in the mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry onwards.

ECM, which has pre­dom­i­nant­ly arisen from evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tant cir­cles, is seen as a response to the series of defeats met­ed out to con­ser­v­a­tive evan­gel­i­cal­ism in the polit­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and social spheres, often known in the USA as the “Cul­ture Wars.” In the main por­tion of her book,7 Tick­le out­lines some of the main per­sons and events respon­si­ble for these defeats, which led to the col­lapse of the two afore­men­tioned pil­lars of Protes­tant author­i­ty and the move­ment toward a reevaluation.

The Rise and Fall of Protestant “Fundamentalism”

One of the first chal­lenges men­tioned by Tick­le is Charles Dar­win and his the­o­ry of evo­lu­tion. It was in response to this and “the kind of bib­li­cal crit­i­cism and lib­er­al the­ol­o­gy it and oth­er con­comi­tant trends were seen as empow­er­ing”8 that the Con­fer­ence of Con­ser­v­a­tive Protes­tants in 1895 issued a state­ment known as The Fun­da­men­tals,  detail­ing the essen­tial doc­trines of the Protes­tant faith: inerran­cy of Scrip­ture; divin­i­ty of Jesus Christ; the Vir­gin birth; sub­sti­tu­tion­ary Atone­ment; the phys­i­cal Sec­ond Com­ing of Christ. It was on these five points that evan­gel­i­cal­ism would stand or fall in the West and Tick­le details the ham­mer­ing that these points all took in legal, aca­d­e­m­ic and oth­er environments.

After evo­lu­tion, Tick­le also lists names and events such as Freud, Jung, Ein­stein, the advent of the auto­mo­bile, Marx and the spread of social­ism, Viet­nam and the 1960s, the Civ­il Rights move­ment, the rise of the drug cul­ture, immi­gra­tion, divorce, Roe v.Wade, euthana­sia, and women’s rights. While some of these might appear odd, Tick­le finds in each a defeat for tra­di­tion­al­ly-held, Bib­li­cal views in a cul­tur­al milieu that was accel­er­at­ing quick­ly away from the con­ser­v­a­tive, Scrip­ture-based Protes­tant moral­i­ty and world­view. Although Sola Scrip­tura lost in all of these social strug­gles, we should point out that it was not the true author­i­ty of the Scrip­tures that had been irrepara­bly dam­aged but rather the Protes­tant mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Scrip­ture. One need only point to the Civ­il Rights Move­ment here as an exam­ple of at least some Protes­tant denom­i­na­tions mis-apply­ing Scrip­ture to sup­port their racial­ly-moti­vat­ed polit­i­cal views.

Of the events and move­ments list­ed, it is worth men­tion­ing the fol­low­ing four for their spe­cial con­tri­bu­tion to the very pub­lic defeat of Sola Scrip­tura and Solus Chris­tus: the writ­ings of Joseph Camp­bell, the Jesus Sem­i­nar, Alco­holics Anony­mous, and Pentecostalism.

The first two are exam­ples of activ­i­ties, pre­vi­ous­ly con­fined to acad­e­mia, which made their way into the pop­u­lar con­science in mid-twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca. The writ­ings and tele­vi­sion work of Joseph Camp­bell, a schol­ar of com­par­a­tive reli­gion and com­par­a­tive mythol­o­gy, “were and are author­i­ta­tive attacks upon Chris­t­ian exclu­siv­i­ty and par­tic­u­lar­i­ty.”9 The books The Masks of God and The Hero with a Thou­sand Faces, and the TV series The Pow­er of Myth were incred­i­bly suc­cess­ful, intro­duc­ing a whole new dis­cus­sion to Amer­i­can soci­ety. These works, Tick­le believes, “per­suad­ed much of North Amer­i­can Chris­ten­dom that exclu­siv­i­ty and par­tic­u­lar­i­ty were a hard, if not an impos­si­ble sell. What of solus Chris­tus, not to men­tion sola scrip­tura?”10

Also enter­ing into main­stream con­ver­sa­tion was the so-called “search for the his­tor­i­cal Jesus,” which lat­er man­i­fest­ed itself as the Jesus Sem­i­nar. Although dat­ing back to the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, this dis­cus­sion became more pub­lic in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry through the writ­ings of schol­ars such as Mar­cus Borg, Ray­mond Brown, Elaine Pagels, and oth­ers. Tick­le dates the main thrust of the move­ment to Her­mann Samuel Reimarus and his work The Aims of Jesus and His Dis­ci­ples. In her descrip­tion of his work, she writes regard­ing the sci­en­tif­ic attack on con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tian­i­ty: “ ‘Scrip­ture only and only Scrip­ture’ real­ly was, if not bad­ly wound­ed, then cer­tain­ly bad­ly bruised, well before Ein­stein or Heisen­berg ever came along. Their work would only rein­force and broad­en an inves­ti­ga­tion already in progress.”11 The move­ment to decon­struct, crit­i­cize and ana­lyze the Scrip­tures dealt a seri­ous blow, not only to Sola Scrip­tura, but to the hon­or and esteem that the Bible had in soci­ety up until this point. Despite most of the crit­ics’ the­o­ries hav­ing been proven unten­able by both archae­o­log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal evi­dence,12

Lit­er­al­ism based on inerran­cy could not sur­vive the blow (though it would die a slow and painful death); and with­out inerran­cy-based lit­er­al­ism, the divine author­i­ty of the Scrip­ture was decen­tral­ized, sub­ject to caprices of human inter­pre­ta­tion, turned into some kind of pick-and-choose bazaar for skil­ful hag­glers. Where now is our author­i­ty?13

The rise of Alco­holics Anony­mous, on the oth­er hand, was a blow against Protes­tant cler­i­cal author­i­ty and a move­ment that also con­tributed to the “spir­i­tu­al but not reli­gious” cul­ture preva­lent today. Iron­i­cal­ly, the AA had its pre­cur­sor move­ments among Amer­i­can and Eng­lish evan­gel­i­cals. The removal of cler­gy as author­i­ty fig­ures in deal­ing with addic­tion was to “strike a blow at the Pastor’s Study as the seat of all good advice, holy coun­sel, wis­dom, and ame­lio­ra­tion.”14 At the same time, the AA insist­ed that one could place one’s faith not nec­es­sar­i­ly in God, as under­stood in the Per­son of Jesus Christ, or even Yah­weh, but as one under­stands Him. Tick­le sums up this idea’s effect on society:

Not only did AA, almost by default, being to sup­plant the pas­toral author­i­ty of the pro­fes­sion­al cler­gy and open the door to spir­i­tu­al­i­ty in the expe­ri­enc­ing of a non-doc­tri­nal­ly spe­cif­ic High­er Pow­er, but it also revived the small-group dynam­ic that would come to char­ac­ter­ize lat­er twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Protes­tantism and, para­dox­i­cal­ly, to enable the dis­in­te­gra­tion of many of its con­gre­ga­tions into pieces and parts… AA opened the flood­gates to spir­i­tu­al­i­ty by remov­ing the con­fines of orga­nized reli­gion.15

The resul­tant idea that one can be “spir­i­tu­al but not reli­gious“16 has left a soci­ety com­plete­ly bereft of any con­cept of spir­i­tu­al dis­cern­ment or dis­ci­pline, mak­ing tra­di­tion­al Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ary work and evan­ge­lism incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult in the West, but con­verse­ly enabling New Age move­ments to grow.

The Growth of Charismatic Pentecostalism

Anoth­er prin­ci­ple actor in Tickle’s the­sis is Pen­te­costal­ism. It is out­side the scope of this the­sis to describe the rise of the Pen­te­costal and Charis­mat­ic move­ments,17 but it is worth briefly exam­in­ing its part Tickle’s the­o­ry of the “Great Emer­gence.” The effects of Pen­te­costal­ism on Protes­tantism have been immense:

Because Pen­te­costal­ism had its roots deep in egal­i­tar­i­an­ism, it was to come into North Amer­i­can Chris­t­ian expe­ri­ence as the first, vis­i­ble ful­fil­ment of the apostle’s cry that “In Christ, we are all one body.” Pentecostalism’s demon­stra­tion of a Church of all class­es and races and both gen­ders became a kind of liv­ing proof text that first hor­ri­fied, then unset­tled, then con­vict­ed, and ulti­mate­ly helped change con­gre­ga­tion­al struc­ture in the Unit­ed States, regard­less of denom­i­na­tion.18

Photo of a pentecostal or charismatic service
A typ­i­cal pen­te­costal service

The con­tem­po­rary wor­ship style of the major­i­ty of evan­gel­i­cal church­es in the West today is heav­i­ly indebt­ed to Pen­te­costal­ism and its lat­er off­spring, the Charis­mat­ic move­ment. It is dif­fi­cult to find a Protes­tant church or denom­i­na­tion in the West that has not incor­po­rat­ed ele­ments of Pen­te­costal­ism. Due to its rapid expan­sion, Pen­te­costal­ism num­bers around five hun­dred mil­lion world­wide and is the largest Chris­t­ian body in the world after Roman Catholics.19  This fact gives con­sid­er­able strength to Tickle’s third point, that Chris­tian­i­ty (in a broad sense) has spread to pre­vi­ous­ly untouched places dur­ing this cycle of upheaval. 

Most impor­tant is Pentecostalism’s con­tri­bu­tion to the dis­cus­sion on author­i­ty. Tickle’s assess­ment of this con­tri­bu­tion is worth quot­ing in full:

Pen­te­costal­ism by def­i­n­i­tion assumes the direct con­tact of the believ­er with God and, by exten­sion, the direct agency of the Holy Spir­it as instruc­tor and coun­sel­lor and com­man­der as well as com­forter. As such and stat­ed prac­ti­cal­ly, Pen­te­costal­ism assumes that ulti­mate author­i­ty is expe­ri­en­tial rather than canon­i­cal. This is not either to say or to imply that there is a denial of Holy Scrip­tures. It is to say, rather, that forced into a choice of what the believ­er thinks with his or her own mind to be said in the Holy Scrip­ture and an appar­ent­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry mes­sage from the Holy Spir­it, many a Pen­te­costal must prayer­ful­ly, fear­ful­ly, humbly accept the more imme­di­ate author­i­ty of the received mes­sage. The same thing is true when the con­tra­dic­tion occurs between a received mes­sage and the words of a pas­tor or bish­op. Pen­te­costal­ism, in oth­er words, offered the Great Emer­gence its first, sol­id, applied answer to the ques­tion of where now is our author­i­ty.20

This is par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant for ECM, as, “prob­a­bly slight­ly more than a quar­ter of emer­gent Chris­tians and the emer­gent Church are Pen­te­costal by her­itage or affin­i­ty, and they have brought with them into the new aggre­gate this cen­tral belief in the Holy Spir­it as author­i­ty.“21 The extent and strength of Pen­te­costal­is­m’s influ­ence on ECM can be quite evi­dent­ly seen when one con­sid­ers the absence of such influ­ence by Roman Catholics, who make up rough­ly the same pro­por­tion of emer­gents. Where­as the anti-hier­ar­chi­cal ethos of the Pen­te­costal move­ment is obvi­ous with­in emer­gent cir­cles, there is no pull towards insti­tu­tion­al Roman Catholi­cism in any degree, unless we con­sid­er the emer­gent-Catholic (or Catho-mer­gent, in the lin­go) com­mu­ni­ties that have devel­oped with­in the Roman Catholic Church.

Emergent Movement as a Roman Catholic Phenomenon

It is inter­est­ing to note that, while almost all observers view ECM, at least in its ori­gins, as a specif­i­cal­ly Protes­tant move­ment, Tick­le puts major empha­sis on its shared roots with Roman Catholi­cism. Indeed, the term “Emerg­ing Church” first appeared in the title of a book pub­lished by two Roman Catholic authors.22 One of the con­tri­bu­tions to ECM that orig­i­nat­ed in the Roman Catholic Church is, sur­pris­ing­ly, the house church move­ment, which is now more close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with Pen­te­costal and Charis­mat­ic groups, as well as emergents.

The house church move­ment began in the inter-war peri­od under the lead­er­ship of Fran­cis­cans in Bel­gium and France. “By the mid to late 1930s, house-church wor­ship had become so sub­stan­tial that the Roman Church not only had to acknowl­edge its pres­ence but also had to rec­og­nize it as an accept­able mode of wor­ship upon occa­sion, albeit rarely.”23 It was from these begin­nings that the Catholic Work­er Move­ment orig­i­nat­ed, under the guid­ance of Dorothy Day and Peter Mau­rin. The Catholic Work­er Move­ment, found­ed in 1933, can be seen as a pre­cur­sor to the social vision of much of ECM, lead­ing to its being tagged as a “social jus­tice Chris­tian­i­ty.” Tick­le states that “Day’s vision of a world made holy by rad­i­cal faith, rad­i­cal obe­di­ence, and rad­i­cal Chris­t­ian prac­tice would become the ear­li­est expres­sion on a mas­sive and pop­u­lar lev­el of the vision that, over time, would come to char­ac­ter­ize Emer­gence Chris­tian­i­ty in gen­er­al.”24

The Catholic Work­er Move­ment was not the only one of its kind. Across in the Protes­tant world, the same peri­od saw the ear­ly devel­op­ments of what would become two of the most influ­en­tial new com­mu­ni­ties in West­ern Chris­tian­i­ty. In the 1930’s, The Church of Scot­land min­is­ter George MacLeod rebuilt the Abbey of Iona along with a group of fel­low cler­gy and work­ing men. In 1940, Roger Schutz found­ed the Taize com­mu­ni­ty in France. Tick­le iden­ti­fies these three move­ments or com­mu­ni­ties as the three momen­tous acts that launched ECM. It would be hard to dis­agree, as both the Iona and Taize com­mu­ni­ties have sub­stan­tial­ly con­tributed to ECM’s alter­na­tive wor­ship for years, devel­op­ing litur­gies and chants based on those found in more tra­di­tion­al churches.

These two com­mu­ni­ties are prime exam­ples of why ECM has been known as the “Ancient-Future Church,” in that they have devel­oped a mod­ern form of Chris­tian­i­ty while heav­i­ly influ­enced by ancient tra­di­tions, in par­tic­u­lar West­ern monas­ti­cism. It is worth men­tion­ing that MacLeod was a leader of the Sco­to-Catholic move­ment, a move­ment with­in Scot­tish Pres­by­te­ri­an­ism and influ­enced by Anglicanism’s Oxford Move­ment, which advo­cat­ed for the adop­tion of more(small ‘c’) catholic prac­tices in the Pres­by­ter­ian church.25 This adop­tion of ‘catholic’ (read: tra­di­tion­al) prac­tices by typ­i­cal­ly low-church Protes­tants is some­thing heav­i­ly iden­ti­fied with ECM, and a facet of the move­ment that will be explored fur­ther in this series.

Rome’s sec­ond major con­tri­bu­tion to ECM, at least in Tickle’s broad­er, all-encom­pass­ing view, is the Sec­ond Vat­i­can Coun­cil. Vat­i­can II’s pro­nounce­ments on inter­faith dia­logue, ecu­menism, eccle­si­ol­o­gy, and its accep­tance of new ways of inter­pret­ing Scrip­ture and doc­trine are hailed by Tick­le: “Regard­less of what form or forms of Chris­tian­i­ty may rise up out of the Great Emer­gence … it is safe to say that much of the think­ing and many of the effec­tu­al con­clu­sions will have their ini­tial roots in the Vat­i­can Coun­cils.”26

Tra­di­tion­al­ist Catholics con­sid­er the results of Vat­i­can II with hor­ror and Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian opin­ion on the coun­cil is var­ied but gen­er­al­ly neg­a­tive. Yet for ECM, these changes are all for the bet­ter and help to mid­wife the devel­op­ment of a new, decon­struct­ed or recon­struct­ed Chris­tian­i­ty for the post-mod­ern world. The effects of Vat­i­can II and the think­ing of its era has had such a tremen­dous impact not only on the Roman Catholic Church, but also the Protes­tant and, regret­tably, the Ortho­dox worlds,27 that we can safe­ly say that Tickle’s the­sis of ECM as a new Ref­or­ma­tion has strength.

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About the Author

Ras­s­aphor Monk Ange­los is a native of Scot­land and a mem­ber of the broth­er­hood of Holy Trin­i­ty Monastery. He recent­ly grad­u­at­ed from Holy Trin­i­ty Ortho­dox Seminary.