Saturday, December 20, 2008

a cycle for arrogance

The Right Reverent Mark Dyer, an Anglican bishop known for his wit as well as his wisdom, famously observes from time to time that the only way to understand what is currently happening to us as twenty-first-century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. And, he goes on to say, we are living in an through one of those five-hundred-year sales.
Tickle, The Great Emergence, p. 16

This isn't the first time I've come on this concept. I think it was McLaren who said much the same thing in one of his books.

I think there are some questions we can ask abou this, though.

For example, Christianity has only been around abot 2100 years, so how much can we infer from a seeming 500 year cycle when we've had so very few of them? In what stone is it written that about every 500 years something drastic is suppose to happen in Christianity?

Also, why 500 years? Let's grant that maybe Tickle and those historians who have taught her may have noticed something, still, what if they have picked other numbers of year? For example, 400 or 300.

A bit later in the book, Tickle tries to support her claim by refering to things that happened in those +-500 year cycles that have been given the moniker "great"--Gregory the Great, the Great Schism, the Great Reformation (though I'm not familiar with that moniker for the Reformation; she says it's used a lot, but I can only raise the eyebrows at that claim). Which I guess is meant to support her claim the we are now in the Great Emergence.

But I can't help but find that a bit of a convenience for her--if every 500 years something "great" happens, then since we are now 500 years from the last "great" we should be in the middle of a "great" happening now.

But is that so? Why should we assume that?

If, for example, we went back 400 years, or 250, or even a not-round number like 137, what would we see happening at those times? 400 years might take us to the conquering and settling of the new world, 250 would put us close to the American Revolution, 137 may be close to the industrial revolution and the "discovery" of evolution.

In terms of Christianity, what may be significant about those times? Well, the new world was seen, among other things, by some as a land of escape from religious persecution. Despite claims by such as Tickle, the American Revolution and founding of the United States were events highly influenced and grounded in the Christian religion and biblical thought, and the result was a nation where people were given the freedom to worship God as they saw fit without the government telling them how to do so or not do so (within the realms of moral laws, of course; meaning that child sacrifices were not allowed, for example).

Evolution, of course, has had a quite large effect on religion, and is in fact still a point of division.

My point is simply this--don't take Tickle 500 year cycle as being anything but an observation that may be worth something, but isn't necessarily as much of a thing as she wants it to mean, and certainly don't think that simply because emergents happen to be around at the point of some arbitrary 500 year cycle that they have any right to claim to themselves being epoch-making. It's an appeal to ego, a way of making emergents feel central and important, and that is all it is.

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