Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional by Jim Belcher
I couple or more weeks ago I completed the book Deep Church by Jim Belcher. There have been a number of very detailed and thoughtful reviews for this book, so I don’t feel compelled to echo what has already been shared (Google Deep Church or check the amazon.com site for more in depth reviews). One thing I can say about this book is I connected with it in a big way…although I may have missed the point; maybe.
The book is about, in several ways, the history of the emergent-emerging church movement in North America; it is also about something more, and that something more is what appealed to me so much. The subtitle of the book is “A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional,” and many reviewers and much more knowledgeable people than myself have agreed that Belcher’s proposal in Deep Church is a “third way” (opposed to the traditional church and the emerging church). I, on the other hand, do not think of it as much as a third way as much as the way. Let me share my thoughts on why.
First, my thoughts and conversation may seem somewhat out of context to talk about without some knowledge of the book, so let me say that a working knowledge of the emerging-emergent movement as well as the orthodox evangelical movement is needed if you plan to track with my thinking.
Jim Belcher has done a wonderful job on the research end of this proposal. Much of the opening dialogue of the book shares Belcher’s personal testimony and “insider’s look” at the formation of the emerging movement. Not only does he share experiential insight, but Belcher is well-read and well-informed outside his personal experience. I find his (seemingly) unbiased and educated insight very helpful in filling in some gaps in my own understanding. The book is extremely well documented and the endnotes are a treasure trove of resource references.
More to my personal connection with Deep Church was the heart with which Belcher conducted his study. It seems, if I am not mistaken, that he has a deeply passionate love for the Church, the Living Bride of Christ. I do not know Jim, although I traded emails with him, but I get the impression his motivation is sincere and God-pleasing…with a desire to help grow the church into becoming the glorious spotless bride the Bible ultimately proclaims that She will be.
One of the things I appreciated most about the book and why I consider it less a third way and more “the way” is the convergence of method, ritual, and worship that Deep Church represents. My opinion and my personal Bible study weigh heavily here, but I believe that God has given His Church the gift of history and tradition. This doesn’t mean the church is relegated to living in the past, but rather incorporates the beauty of it (the past; history and tradition) into the ever evolving and growing glorious now and future-eternal. We have the privilege of a rich history; tried and time-tested methods of teaching and growing our people. We also have ritual and sacrament that have been handed down to us from the prophets and the earliest church fathers. Additionally, we have holidays, festivals, and celebrations, some of which were instituted by God Almighty, or so says the Biblical record. All of these are for the development and teaching of the Church. I also believe that God has given the Church permission and freedom to create. I think this creative permission allows the Church to construct new expressions of worship and celebration as well as create and incorporate new methods of instruction. These new creations of style, method, celebration, and worship are necessary to reach new generations and utilize the tools of our evolving culture (ie., technology, media, language, etc.). The incorporation of tradition and history help us to keep grounded in our history with memory of who we are and from where we came…belonging to something much bigger, even eternal, than a current movement or fad. History and tradition also gives us form and structure which is a necessary accountability measure…a check and balance. History and tradition also calls us to a place of “remembrance” keeping the entire acts and revelation of God before us.
Jim Belcher has done an excellent (IMHO) job of bridging the two camps described in Deep Church. In part two of the book he goes into detail breaking down his explanation of the Deep Church describing individual components. I found these descriptions very edifying, affirming, and at times…exciting. My goal in reading this book and subsequently reviewing it was not to test or compare theology and ecclesiology with Jim Belcher; nor was my purpose to nitpick the virtue and vice of the emerging-emergent church opposed to the traditional orthodox evangelical church. My purpose was to explore convergence and synergy which is, my belief, God’s intended purpose for the evolution of His Church. My take away from the book might be very different from folks, but I can’t recommend this work highly enough. As I have said, there are many reviews that summarize and analyze the Deep Church in much more studious ways than I am capable; those reviews are easily found on the internet. My suggestion is to get a copy and read it for yourself giving it thoughtful consideration. God has given us history and tradition for a reason…He has also given us a future for the same.