Book Club Discussion: Big Important Questions

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Today we continue our discussion about Phyllis Tickle’s fascinating book, The Great Emergence. As we learned last week, Tickle’s premise is that the Church experiences a great paradigm shift every 500 years, and we are in the midst of one presently.

According to Tickle, each time of re-formation has the same central question:

Where, now is the authority?

During the Great Reformation, Christians challenged the authority of the Pope and rallied around the cry sola scriptura, scriptura sola (only the Scripture and the Scriptures only.)

“Now, some five hundred yeas later,” writes Tickle,  “even many of the most die-hard Protestants among us have grown suspicious of ‘Scripture and Scripture only.’ We question what the words mean—literally? Metaphysically? Actually? We even question which words do and do not belong in Scripture and the purity of the editorial line of descent form those that do. We begin to refer to Luther’s principle of “sola scriptura, scriptura sola” as having been little more than the creation of a paper pope in place of a flesh and blood one. And even as we speak, the authority that has been in place for five hundred years withers away in our hands.” (p. 46)

Tickle goes on to say that, in addition to the authority question, (which is foundational),“each reconfiguration also has at least two dominant, unrelenting questions that attend it and may not be unique to it.” (72)  Tickle sees two overarching, but complementary questions of the Great Emergence:

  • What is human consciousness and/or the humanness of the human?
  • What is the relation of all religions to one another?  

 “Those torturous questions, “ she writes, “which have bobbed along in human history for centuries, now come to us with a militant ferocity, a ferocity that enjoys a line of direct, uninterrupted descent straight down from Michael Farady and Charles Darwin. The other great truth here is that we can not be said to have truly entered into any kind of post-Emergence stability until we have answered them both.” (73)

Those who have read the book know that Tickle goes into much greater detail about the questions and challenges raised by cognitive science, literary deconstruction, higher criticism, Freud, Jung, Campbell, Einstein, Heisenbuerg, and many other philosophical/scientific/cultural movements.  Tickle does a good job of explaining complex theories and scholarship clearly, and she makes a good case for why this stuff matter so much to the faith. I like that Tickle doesn’t waster her time vainly criticizing postmodernism, evolution, deconstructionism, etc., (as some conservative evangelicals tend to do), but instead takes these things seriously enough to think Christians can learn something from them.

However, Tickle never directly answers  the question of authority...or of humanness or religious pluralism...which leaves the reader hanging a bit.

So, here’s my question for you: Do you find yourself questioning the notion of sola Scriptura/ the sole authority of the Bible? If so, why? And second, do you feel that questions regarding 1) humanness and 2) religious pluralism are the most important of our time?

My response? A past post delves more deeply into my own questions regarding sola Scriptura. (Also, see my comment below.) Over the past few years, I’ve come to question the notion that the Bible can be inerrant on a practical level if it must always be interpreted by an errant reader.  Also, I agree with Tickle that questions regarding religious pluralism will be huge. I myself have struggled with that issue, on a lot of different levels, for many years.

What do you think?

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