Tag Archives: Phyllis Tickle

Animate: Bible (Resource Review)

animate-bible

 

Introduction

What if I told you there was a resource out there that could help your church or your small group engage the Bible faithfully, critically, deeply – and have fun doing it?  Animate: Bible from Sparkhouse (a Fortress affiliate) is just such a study. I recently completed this curriculum at my church and wanted to offer you a few thoughts, since several colleagues asked for my feedback.

Who are the experts? The leaders for Animate: Bible include a who’s who of evangelical and/or progressive church leaders, pastors, and and thinkers: Nadia-Bolz Weber, Will Willimon, Rachel Held Evans, Phyllis Tickle, and others.

Who can lead it? The scope and sequence gives you a good idea of what to expect in leading or participating in Animate: Bible.  The material is arranged so that someone with little to no knowledge of the subject can facilitate sessions effectively.

Who should participate? I have a feeling that Animate: Bible was especially designed with younger Christians and seekers in mind, but I believe it would be a worthwhile study for Christians of any age and experience.  I had a mix of long-term and newer students of the Bible in my class, and everyone seemed to find the contents interesting and helpful.

What? Animate: Bible is composed of a series of 7 short, engaging videos with a journal for each participant and a leader guide for the facilitator.  The videos (remember the title) are not just “talking heads,” but effectively communicate the points being made by the speaker though drawings and animation that are both informative and whimsical.  The journals include a variety of questions that are very adaptable for the size of your group and the time frame allotted, as well as interesting illustrations and space for notes.

Why? What I appreciated most about Animate: Bible is the chance to discuss questions and topics not covered in the usual Sunday School curriculum or Bible study: How did the canon form? How should we read different kinds of scripture? How do the Old and New Testaments fit together?  Much of this material – the 10,000 foot view questions of Scripture – was new to my participants (as it would have been for me had I not been to seminary).

What worked especially well? The topics are arranged in such a way that they build upon each other quite effectively.  The materials themselves – the journal, video clips, etc. – have a quality look and feel to them that give you a sense this was put together with care.   More to the point, Animate: Bible helps your group approach difficult questions about Scripture (such as: maybe we should read Jonah as allegory more so than history?) in a way that is sensitive to where people come from, but inviting to a new manner of reading. Finally, the leaders were especially engaging; they possessed a variety of backgrounds and approaches to their topics, but on the whole the video components were quite well done.  My favorites were probably Willimon (I know, I am a company man!) and Bolz-Weber.  I even enjoyed the sessions with Rachel Held Evans and Phyllis Tickle, neither of whom I am especially fond of.  (For more on the latter, see here.)

What could have been better?  I’m a preacher, so I am critical by nature about other preachers.  I had some minor quibbles with some of the points made in the curriculum.  The session on canon ends by asking what might be added to the canon, a question which, though sensible in the context of the conversation, I find risible.  The session on grace discusses looking at Scripture with twin lenses: the “love” of Jesus and the “grace” of Paul.  I found that distinction difficult to maintain, however.  Minor points, to be sure.

Concluding Thoughts & Recommendations

Animate: Bible would be especially effective in certain contexts.  For instance, a college or young adult group, a city or suburban church, or a college town.  I believe it would be less effective in a setting where the the majority of participants would be serious inerrantists or otherwise not interested in questioning their understandings of the Bible.  I would also suggest taking the “For Further Study” recommendations seriously, as they are quite good.  I read Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book and Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible is it? in the course of leading and preaching this study. I would also suggest Hays and Davis’ The Art of Reading Scripture, a precis of which you can find here.

Oh yeah, preaching.  I preached this as a series as I led the study.  That is, I took the topics of the study and preached through them as a small group I  led worked through the sessions.  This allowed me to “double down” on learning and teaching the topics, and also allowed me reach more people with material that I believe could transform their reading of Scripture and their walk with God.  If you are the adventurous kind of preacher – and not too tied to the lectionary – I would suggest giving this a shot.  (Side note: the sample clips work great for sermon videos.)

So, if you think your church or small group could benefit from this material, run out and get yourself a copy.  I highly recommend this excellent resource and I am looking forward to checking out other offerings in the Animate series.

Since I am a company man, here’s the sample from Bishop Willimon’s session “Interpretation: Scripture Reads Us.”

John Wesley’s Case Against Phyllis Tickle

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“What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Psuedo-history is a dangerous thing.  By psuedo-history, we far too easily create a world designed to make “our side” look righteous, correct, and hip.  Like Scripture, history is too easily re-narrated to fit our own worldviews and prejudices.  Such is the case with Phyllis Tickle’s “cycles of history.”  As Andrew Thompson ably points out, this kind of
self-aggrandizing revisionism sells books, but it is not ultimately history as such.

Thompson points out* several problems with Tickle’s approach: 1) The obsession with numerology is a practice as ancient as it is misleading; 2) Tickle’s theory betrays an inescapably modern, progressive view of history – each sea change every 500 years is seen, as is the current “Emergence” – as on balance being for the better; this telling of the Christian past is not just hopelessly Protestant it is also Eurocentric in the extreme; 3) The “arbitrary” factor: Tickle has chosen events that fit her thesis but ignored major events of the Christian past that do not fit into the 500 year schema.  This is my jumping off point for something I’d like to add to the conversation.

In essence, my thesis is this: insofar as John Wesley can be identified with the theology, aims, and methods of what is named as “Emergence” Christianity, Tickle’s 500 year theory is all the more thoroughly undone.

Of course, trying to define Emergence Christianity is like trying to nail Jell-O floating in a pool of mercury.  In Emergence Christianity, Tickle lays down two goal-posts at opposite ends of the liturgical and theological spectrum: the declaration of Papal infallibility at Vatican 1 and the the reaffirmation of Scriptural inerrancy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (the essence of and motivating force behind “fundamentalism”).  It is only a slight exaggeration to say that, according to her description, everything that A) falls between these goal posts – absolute declarations of authority for either Church or Scripture – and B) is not part of Mainline Protestant establishment is, in some way, a precursor to and later an example of Emergence Christianity.  Thus, everything from the Azusa Street Revival and ensuing Pentecostal movement, to Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement, along with Taize and Iona and similar communities, form the womb of what would later grow into full-blown Emergence Christianity. (See Chapter 4)

Fast forward to today, and all manner of quasi- or anti-institutional expressions of church – almost all of them politically progressive while theologically and liturgically eclectic – are claimed by the Emergent/ing/ce (???) crowd. House church? You’re in. Neo-Monastic (which is to actual monasticism what the Episcopal Church is to Roman Catholicism) communities are emergent.  So are the hyphens: the Metho-Costals and the Angli-Charismatics and such.  The missional church is also included, for good measure.  As I read it, therefore, Emergence Christianity is in many ways a clearing-house for all expressions of Church that are united in their desire to different than that perennial boogeyman known as “The Institutional Church.”

How does Wesley figure in to the picture? Because Wesley was doing most of these “Emergence-y” things in the middle of the 18th century – smack dab between those magical 500 year cycles.  His was a movement connected to the institutional church but also subversive of it.  The early Methodists took the gospel to the people before Rauschenbusch ever told the rest of Protestantism to do so.  John and Charles Wesley explicitly held together much of what the Christians of their day separated: Scripture and tradition, justification and sanctification, personal and social holiness, “knowledge and vital piety.” (I owe this line of thought to Randy Maddox.)  Wesley was fascinated by the science of his day before doing so made you interesting.  Methodists emphasized the work of the Spirit like few others besides the Quakers, and re-emphasized the Eucharist at a time when it was not hip among his own Anglican church (the Wesley brothers also embraced mystery when it came to their Eucharistic theology, a move that was much more counter-cultural in its day than it is in our own postmodern context).  They insisted that faith was lived in community before community was a buzz word.  Wesley couldn’t get a church and so he proclaimed the world his parish.  He was both a rebel and a loyal Anglican until the day he died.  In short, John Wesley was doing most of what Emergence Christianity touts at a time when Phyllis Tickle’s theory says it shouldn’t have happened.

I do not claim to be an expert on all things Emergy, but I have read a couple of Tickle’s books.  Color me unconvinced.  Rather than being the next big phase in Christianity, Emergence Christianity, to me, appears to be little more than liberal Protestantism that has retraced its steps a bit and recovered important pieces of the Christian past.  This is, of course, a good thing.  I like candles and sacrament as much as the next Christian.  But this is nothing new – regardless of how much one cherry-picks the historical narrative to make it look like the next Wittenberg.

P.S. I may sound a bit triumphalist about Wesley and the early Methodist movement.  I am, of course, a lover of my own tribe, but I do not intend to suggest that Wesley is the end-all and be-all of Christianity.  Rather, I present he and his movement as a kind of test case against the historical narrative that Tickle has created.  While I respect the breadth of her knowledge, and much of the thought and practice of the movement for which she is a figurehead, I find this telling of history to be too self-serving to be taken seriously.  I welcome your feedback about ways in which I have misunderstood Tickle’s argument or Emergence Christianity.

*I have attempted to both summarize Thompson’s points and put them into my own words.  Something may well have been lost in translation and I encourage you to check out his original, thought-provoking post.