Book Review: “Age of the Spirit” by Phyllis Tickle with Jon M. Sweeney

Age of the Spirit,” by Phyllis Tickle with Jon M. Sweeney

Published February 2014 by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group

ageofspiritWhile not necessarily stated as such, order from chaos has been a rolling theme through the works of Phyllis Tickle for the last several years. She has a unique ability to sum histories into digestible form for lesser minds. Continuing a thread begun in “The Great Emergence” in 2008, “The Age of the Spirit” digs deeper into the complexities of the idea of a cyclical upending of culture, theology, and religious practice that seems to occur every 500 years or so.

Phyllis has referred to herself as “post-academic,” but she hasn’t entirely lost the accent. The result of that in her writing is a remarkable ability to say something so plainly that you almost believe you already knew it, but at the same time she wraps those things in explanation and historicity in a way that proves you didn’t. The 500 year bump in the road we’re experiencing right now is moving at the same molasses-flow speed as those that have preceded it. What was accomplished in “The Great Emergence” was a gentle but detailed exploration of the upheavals past, perhaps primarily to establish a framework for discussing the current upheaval in which we stand. We might not know fully where we’re going, but we’ve got some idea of how it usually works.

That conversation of the present moved forward in “Emergence Christianity,” in which Tickle lovingly describes the curious and at times unsteady growth of new approaches to God, faith, and church, much in the way that you might present a kitten to a child. Don’t hurt it, dear; it’s still finding it’s legs. And it didn’t mean to scratch you. Again her tone wasn’t making any effort to persuade or convince, simply to inform – these things have happened and are happening; here is why and how they have happened before.

Ann Arbor Pix of PT 014The Age of the Spirit” picks up where “Emergence Christianity” left off. The growing question through “The Great Emergence” and “Emergence Christianity” is a question of where God’s authority might lie. Does it lie with the church? With scripture? The threshold that “The Age of the Spirit” begins to cross flirts with a new seat of authority: the Spirit of God.

Once again, Tickle doesn’t simply tell us a thing that she can explain. Rather than predicting that authority moving to the Spirit is a possible outcome of our half-millennial cycle, she painstakingly demonstrates that such a move has almost always been a possibility. At the end, the reader is left once again to answer the familiar question: how now shall we live?

How indeed.

Kevin Alton

Kevin Alton is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter, Senior Writer & Editor for the Youthworker Movement, and co-founder of the Wesleyan youth resource Youthworker Circuit. He lives in the Georgia woods just outside of Chattanooga, TN, with his wife Britta and their two boys, Grey & Penner.

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About Kevin Alton

Kevin Alton is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter, Senior Writer & Editor for the Youthworker Movement, and co-founder of the Wesleyan youth resource Youthworker Circuit. He lives in the Georgia woods just outside of Chattanooga, TN, with his wife Britta and their two boys, Grey & Penner.

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