The Great Emergence – Chapter 1

I like baseball.  I’m not particularly good at playing the game, nor do I spend a lot of my time watching regular season games.  I do, however, enjoy reading box scores, analysis, and commentary about our national pastime.  Even though “chicks dig the long ball“, I’ve always been mesmerized with art of pitching.  Growing up and collecting baseball cards in the late 1980s, you would usually see two different pitchers – a starter and a closer.  Assuming everything went according to plan, the starter would pitch 7-8 innings, and the closer would take care of the last 1-2.  It was an inexact science, but it worked more times than not.  Dave Stewart goes 7 innings, Dennis Eckersley wraps up the last 2.  Done and done.

Within the last decade-ish, however, a new pitching phenomenon has occurred.  It is not uncommon these days to see at least 3 pitchers in a game, and often 4 or 5.  Starters are on strict pitch-counts (usually no more than 100 pitches) to preserve their arm throughout the rigors of pitching once a week.  Closers rarely see more than one inning of work.  The new demand is for “set up men”.  Managers use these guys to bridge the gap between the starter and the closer.  Set-up pitchers may throw 5 pitches or 5 innings.  These guys are all about situational pitching.  They have become increasingly valuable to teams throughout the season; but some baseball purists think set-up men are unnecessary and overrated. 

The opening pages of “The Great Emergence” are like a set-up pitcher.


Phyllis Tickle spends a substantial amount of time giving historical and contextual explanations for Christian trends in the past 2000 years.  I sense that the preface, introduction to Part I, and chapter 1 are all laying the groundwork for something more.  I hope the subsequent chapters launch me (and other readers) into a compelling case for why the Emerging Church conversation is, indeed, the next “great” thing.  I have every confidence that it will…but I’m a bit like a baseball purist watching set-up pitchers.  

The main thrust of the first 31 pages is that Christianity has a big shake-up every 500 years.  Jesus…Fall of Rome (Gregory the Great)…The Great Schism…The Great Reformation…  It’s certainly an interesting observation, but I’m not yet convinced that we are necessarily living in the next “Great” thing.  If anything, this claim typifies the rush to judgment that is prevalent in the 21st century.  I don’t know how many events in the last few months have been dubbed one of the “greatest of all time”.  The greatest speech…the greatest economic downturn…the greatest athlete…the greatest game…the greatest charitable donation.  Have we lost all objectivity in our rush to validate our myopic perception that we’re living in a pretty awesome time?  

(Case in point, The Dark Knight has been in the Top 5 of the Best Movies of All-Time list…but it didn’t even receive a Golden Globe nominee for Best Picture.  Over 312,000 movie fans have decided that it’s the greatest movie they’ve ever seen, so it must be among the greatest ever.)

Last spring I visited with a leader of the Unification Church in Minneapolis.  He, too, talked about the 500 year trends in Judeo-Christian events; only his assertion was that the 500 year “great” thing happened a few decades ago with the coming of Sun Myung Moon.  While I tend to give more credence to Ms. Tickle’s observations, I am not convinced that the Great Emergence is the next semi-millennial event any more than I am convinced that Moon is the second coming of Jesus.  The former seems more likely than the later, but I require more persuasion.

I’m looking forward to future chapters, just as long as I don’t have to watch many more set-up pitchers.


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