Phyllis Tickle may look like a sweet grandmother, but do not be fooled. She’s sassy, smart, and always does her homework.
Tickle is founding editor of the religion department at “Publishers Weekly,” the author of multiple books, and a matriarch among many progressive Protestants. For several years, she’s argued that Christianity undergoes a massive transformation every 500 or so years and is currently entering a period she has labeled “the Great Emergence.” Here, we discuss her newest book, “The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church,” and the revival of interest in the Holy Spirit seen in churches across the theological spectrum. Her answers, which she labels “heresy,” will undoubtedly make some Christians squirm.
RNS: Phyllis, you’re always out there stirring up trouble and I can assume you’re doing no less with this book. Why did you want to write a book about the Holy Spirit?
PT: You cut right to the chase, don’t you Mr. Merritt? I began the whole business of chasing emergence Christianity when I was at “Publishers Weekly” and I began to write about how this was one of many upheavals in Christian history. When my first two books on the topic were finished, it was clear that this thing that what was happening—whatever you want to call it—was going to have the significance of what we saw 2000 years ago. And one of the key characteristics of this period is the completion of the Trinity, whereby we engage the third part of the Trinity more.
This is I call a “continuing maturation” of the faith, and it is heresy. I can already smell smoke from my burning flesh as they roast me for it. In the Old Testament days, we see a greater clarification of and engagement with God the father. Then when Christ comes, God reveals God’s self, showing what God would look like in human flesh. This allowed humankind to know Godkind within time and space. But then there would come a time when the third part of the Trinity would also move as easily in and out of human affairs and human worship as had God the father and God the son. That was the prophecy of the mystics.
RNS: A lot of this has been built on the rise of emergence Christianity. But a lot of folks have observed what may be called the decline of the so-called Emergent Church. What once had commercial appeal and a mainstream following seems to have somewhat disbanded. How does this affect your thinking?