Jim Belcher’s Deep Church has been at the top of my book review stack for over a month. After living with my nose in my own book- a book stuffed with criticism of the current evangelical scene- it was a refreshing experience to read Belcher’s good work.
Deep Church seeks to examine a third way between the traditional and emerging camps, a way Belcher has discovered in his own journey from early years as an emerging church advocate to more recent experience as a PCA church planter. The narrative- and this book is just as more narrative as teaching- is a fascinating one, as Belcher doesn’t hesitiate to name names and to characterize positions bluntly and honestly. If anyone can be said to attempt an impartial moderation of the emerging/traditional divide in evangelicalism, it is Belcher.
It is, however, my opinion that Belcher’s book, despite a valiant attempt to be impartial, amounts to a thorough revelation of the failure of the emerging church to offer an answer for evangelicalism, and a clarion call to the position this web site has taken for most of its history: the post-evangelical appropriation of the the great tradition; the wisdom of the broader, deeper more ancient church, in meeting the evangelical challenge today. A chastened, invigorated traditionalism, re-rooted in deeper, better soil and paying attention to the younger voices and cultural changes, is the better evangelical future.
Over and over, Belcher returns to Nicene level confessionalism and ecclesiology as the practical answer for the issues raised by the emergers and the failures of recent evangelicalism. He affirms the centered nature of the church over the attempt to nail down a bounded identity, and he rejects the “belief before belonging” model that has forced contemporary conservative evangelicals into a position of defensiveness and exclusion. Belcher sees congregtionalism at its best facilitating the movement that Jesus himself initiates and sustains, a movement that allows vulnerability and inclusion within lowered boundaries of theological affirmation while working toward committed congregationalism and meaningful confessionalism for disciples involved in ministry.
Belcher’s version of the church takes the agitation and questions of the emerging movement and combines them with the ancient wisdom, pragmatic realism and more culture-savvy approach of the ancient church. Within the respect for structures and boundaries of the traditional church, Belcher suggests and illustrates how to build a church worthy of the concept of “Mere Christianity/Deep Church” that Lewis talked about.
Belcher is not a polemicist, and his measured responses to some of what he discovers in the emerging quarter and among the truly reformed underplays the seriousness of what is discovered. But Belcher has grasped what many of us have been hoping for: this is not an either/or discussion any more. It is a matter of evangelicalism’s future.
I was especially interested in how Belcher discovered, by way of church conflict, the good aspects of having a denomination: Not to tell you what to do or believe as much as to provide a team to help and provide back-up when times are difficult. Denominations in evangelicalism might be surprised how their image can change when they are coming to the rescue and not providing reasons for embarrassment or abandonment.
There are jewels galore in this book. It’s careful, wise, well-written and I believe essential for this stage in the evangelical journey. What’s it’s not is the last word in the battle between Tony Jones and John Macarthur. It is, thankfully, a book everyone who resonates with post-evangelicalism needs to read. Belcher’s refusal to join a team and commitment to learn from others provides a remarkable backdrop where Nicene “Mere” Christianity never looked better or more practical.
This is a “must-read” on the bookshelf of any church planter or missional-minded evangelical.