Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Great Emergence

My colleague Mike Young loaned me his copy of Phyllis Tickle’s new book, The Great Emergence, so that I could do a quick scan. The thesis of the book is that we may be experiencing a seismic shift in the nature and practice of the Christian faith. This change may well “rewrite Christian theology—and thereby North American culture—into something far more Jewish, more paradoxical, more narrative, and more mystical than anything the Church has had for the last seventeen or eighteen hundred years.” (p. 162)

There is much to consider in this little book, but here is one item that certainly impacts how we operate as Fellowship Baptists. Tickle explains the difference between “center-set” and “bounded set” Christian movements. “Bounded-set” groups define their boundaries. Their rules determine who is in and who is out. “Center-set” groups are doing what they are committed to do and allow individuals to decide how close they are to the center. Traditional churches are “bounded-set” people while the emergent churches are “center-set” people. Traditionalists practice a “believe—behave—belong” approach to bringing people into the fold while the emergents tend toward a “belong—behave—believe” approach.

In theory, I think that Fellowship Baptists want to practice the “center-set” approach, allowing individuals and churches to decide the level of their involvement in the movement. In practice, we tend to set boundaries that determine who is in and who is out. The latter approach is the way of the past; the former is the way of the future. Which do we want to follow?

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