Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional

Over the past decade we have heard and read about the emerging church movement’s dissatisfaction with the traditional church. And in return, those of us who are in the traditional mainstream question how far the “emerging church” will push the bounds of orthodoxy? Jim Belcher, in his award winning book, Deep Church, seeks to define the issues separating the emerging from the traditional and then to chart a third way embracing the best from both camps.

As a self confessed insider/outsider, Belcher begins with his own story of discontent with traditional evangelicalism. He and his friends were put off by what they saw as weaknesses in the traditional church such as: a narrow view of salvation, belief before belonging, ineffective preaching, and weak ecclesiology. In his search for a more “authentic Christianity,” Belcher became friends with a number of the leaders of the emerging church so he understands the what and why of the movement. As an outsider, he has embraced reformed theology and ecclesiology as a PCA pastor and church planter.

Given Belcher’s perspective, Deep Church is an excellent survey and tutorial of the issues dividing the emerging church and the traditional church. To his credit, he does not lump all emerging church practitioners into one camp, but follows Southern Baptist Missiologist, Ed Stetzer’s sub-division of the emergent church into the relevants (eg. Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball), the reconstructinists (eg. Alan Hirsch, George Barna), and the revisionists (eg. McLaren, Pagitt). Belchers’ greater concern is with the latter two sub-camps pushing the bounds of orthodoxy.

Part 2 is the meat of the book where he defines the positives and negatives of the two camps and charts a more irenic third way to travel which he calls, Deep Church, taken from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.Belcher writes in a gracious, winsome, pastoral style and draws you in to his desire to find common ground between the two camps. We can learn much from his approach to those with whom we may disagree. However, is there really a third way, or is it a call to return to Biblical Christianity and it’s passion for Jesus Christ, his Church, and Kingdom?

By calling us back to the Great Tradition (the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed) as common ground for his third way, Belcher avoids the emergent’s objection to Reformation theology as being captive to “enlightenment rationalism.” But in doing so, he looses the Reformers anchor in the authority of Scripture and their clear definition of the Gospel of Grace in the doctrine of Justification.

In writing Deep Church, Jim Belcher has given us a primer on the ongoing and growing divide between the traditional church and the emerging church. It is a good starting point for the necessary dialogue between confessed brothers.

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