May 26, 2017

Recommendation and Review: Deep Church by Jim Belcher

9780830837168mJim 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.

Comments

  1. can’t wait for my copy of the book to dig into and read for myself. Appreciate the review Michael. If anyone is interested in an interview Belcher did recently with Michael Horton here’s the link, I found the interview very helpful in better understanding the emergent (or emerging or…) movement which I have found tough to put my finger on–let alone understand since hearing about it . Glad someone like Belcher has decided to offer a perspective and offer more than just criticism or praise.

    http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/The_White_Horse_Inn/archives.asp?bcd=8/9/2009

  2. Ordered a copy last week after hearing other folks I admire talk it up. Can’t wait till it gets here so I can dig in.
    Thanks for the recommendation, Michael.

  3. “…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.” Wow, that says a lot, Michael!

    Nice review of what sounds like a very wise book.

  4. Looking forward to it even more now! Thanks! Also, Happy Birthday!

  5. It is in my cart at mazon, waiting for my gift card to show up. I headr Belcher on the White Horse Inn and he was a breath of fresh air for that program.

  6. Is it OK to disagree?

    Sadly, as much as I agree with the coming evangelical collapse and I respect the views of Jim Belcher and the iMonk, I hate not to jump in the “rooted in tradition faith” wagon. As much I wanted to believe for years that this was the answer for the future of the Church, I’ve come to see that we need to go “deeper”. Nicene tradition IMHO is not deep enough.

    The roots of Christianity run deep in biblical soil. The christian faith is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ and the apostles doctrine… and sadly I see a great disconnection between that faith and the 4th century faith of institutionalism.

    I know this is not a very popular view, and I’ve been treated as an heretic for questioning the “church fathers”, and I’m aware that I have all the “orthodox” history against me, but… it is precisely that history that makes my point valid. I believe that the endless circle of corruption-collapse-reformation-corruption-collapse-reformation started when the church cut herself from their true roots and built her new faith upon the sand of greek-roman philosophy.

    Jim’s book is very well written and he makes an excellent assessment of the shortcomings of the movements he critics, but his “Third way” proposal for reformation fails in not being “deep enough”

    Sorry IMonk, but can’t agree with you this time.

    Looking forward to your book

    Peace & Love.

    • charles.hr.

      Since I’m making few concrete proposals for the church in my book, I’d be interested in specifics where Jim’s “third way,” which I don’t really see as a true via media at all, falls short and falls short of what.

    • Charlie – I don’t completely disagree with your view that the ongoing cycles of corruption-collapse-reformation throughout church history are rooted in setting the baseline too high. But, I don’t think restorationist movements such as the Anabaptists and Campbellites have been any more successful at “going deeper” than the orthodox party. A few months ago I attended an Emergent gathering and asked one of the leaders if the Emergent Movement, with its emphasis on the Kingdom of God, is just another version of restorationism. While he strongly denied that, he couldn’t really explain why that isn’t the case. Are you looking for some new expression of restorationism or are you proposing something different?

      • I’m not a restorationist in a Anabaptist or Campbellites way (Although I find their stand against the reformers correct in SOME areas).

        My problem is specific with our 4th century greek-roman brand of christianity, ’cause that is what IMHO is the root of our modern religion. And from my point of view, THAT is the problem! Although we claim “sola scriptura” every time a “new reformation” begins, it come’s back to this point in history (4th century). And I ask myself, why? Isn’t our bible enough? (this is not a naive or rhetorical question) I’m not sure that the “church fathers” rendered our “orthodoxy” very well; and what really bugs me is that they put a curse on anyone throughout history who disagrees with them. That’s far from the freedom and love that you can smell in the air of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

        Yes I’m proposing something different. It’ll be impossible to explain it in a few words without the risk of being misinterpreted or banned. But I’m willing to share it with anyone who likes to discuss it in a kind and loving way.

        Actually I’m writing a book about it; it’s called… DEEPER CHURCH! 🙂 (Just kidding), but yes I’m writing about it and gladly will share it and love to have some feedback from different perspectives.

        P.S.: I want to make clear that I’m not just looking to rant against tradition, I’m very serious of what I think is a very sensitive issue.

        • Dean Cameron says:

          I would be curious to hear what your feelings would be regarding the theology of this Denomination. http://www.abc-usa.org/portals/0/ABC10FactsBrochure.pdf

          • I have a great respect for baptists (I’ve been one for most part of my life), and what is written in this brochure is perfectly sound with biblical teaching…

            but…

            As I said before, I’ve been convicted by what the apostle Paul tells the church in Corinth about “taking sides around names”.

            I know that (especially) in this blog there’s a great respect for people in different traditions and denominations; and what really amazes me is the incredible ability that the iMonk has to be able to swim in these diverse waters. I understand that for the majority of us, institutional denominationalism within christianity is a very common and useful thing…

            But… I’ve started to believe that, from biblical perspective, is a sin. No matter how we try to justify it. The moment we feel the “need” to distinguish ourselves from the rest of our brothers and sisters in Christ, for whatever reason (and theology is the biggest single reason for division within the church); that is a departure from biblical faith based on love, freedom, joy in the Spirit, etc (Romans 14).

            I know by heart all the justifications for denominationalism, I had use it myself for a very long time; but as a person who is trying to understand the gospel of Jesus and how it works in the relations within the kingdom of God, the more I struggle to keep thinking that adding a label to our simple faith is a good thing.

            Jesus said (John 17) that the world will know him because of the love that we have for each other and the unity that they will see. This unity is certainly not a theological one but a familiar one where we are united by one name: Jesus Christ.

            But enter the 4th century…

            Suddenly, a community united by love and freedom, became an institution bound by academic institutionalism (faith?). If we let someone to take control of “what” we believe under the threat of damnation, no matter how you put it or the motives you have to do it, you are ripping apart the foundation of our simple faith: Love and Freedom.

            Certainly, is not an easy task to live the life in this love and freedom. Humanity has an intense addiction to religion (rules, liturgy and “special” people telling us what to do or believe). Paul told the Galatians to not go astray of the grace and freedom that had been given to them, and the writer to the Hebrews insisted to leave behind the bondage of religion and move forward to a mature faith in Jesus Christ.

            But here we are, 1700 years later, still wondering why we are in need of another reformation. I’ve come to believe that you cannot reform what is rotten from the root. As William Esaum rightly puts in one of his books… the church is not in need of reformation but resurrection.

            I believe that Romans 12:1-2 can stir a lot inside present christianity…

            The keyword… TRANSFORMATION.

            Peace & Love.

          • OK everyone. Jim isn’t writing about denominationalism and this thread isn’t discussing denominationalism or non-denominationalism.

        • I share your feelings and frustrations. As I see it, the church and kingdom of love and freedom that Christ planted was completely upside down from the governmental, religious, and institutional systems of this fallen world. That’s why these systems tried so hard to exterminate the church early on. And while I think the church had already been seriously currupted by religious control freaks well before the fourth century, it was in that century that the world system stopped trying to exterminate the church and decided to marry it and began a process of systematically redesigning the church in its own image. Sadly, I’m not sure it’s possible (as far as human efforts anyway) to completely undo what has been done. The institutionalization of Christianity runs 17 centuries deep, and far too many people are still in love with systematic religion.
          I and a number of like-minded Christian friends decided to leave institutional church several years ago to try and rediscover a more New Testament-style way of being a church family, but I must admit that, in many ways, we still live under the religious yoke that was passed down to us through the centuries.
          All I can say is keep on searching and questioning and plugging on — and pray that Christ will someday move on His church and restore those things that have been lost.

  7. I got my copy last week, but haven’t had a chance to dive into it yet – although I have read the chapter Deep Gospel and appreciated Jim’s ability to critique McLaren without vilifying him. Jim does a good job of exposing the deficiencies of Emergent thinking while at the same time challenging traditionalists to listen to their much needed emphasis on the Kingdom of God.

  8. Man, you’re killing my reading budget here – just got my copy of Jesus Girls, and once I get to $25.00 on my Amazon order (free shipping, he says, grinning) I’ll have a copy of this one on it’s way as well. Which should work out just fine – I think I have 4 books left on my current reading list.

  9. The book is ok, but he doesn’t deal with a key dividing question, which is the doctrine of scripture. I’m afraid what he’s basically advocating is conservative Presbyterianism with a smile. I wish there was some assurance that it’s “deeper” than that.

  10. Since several folks here are searching for a deeper view…

    Here is a link to my recent review of DEEP CHURCH, in which I briefly outline several ways in which I believe we are called deeper in our ecclesiology…

    http://bit.ly/3oGIvy

    Chris Smith
    Editor
    The Englewood Review of Books