I first met Jim Belcher at the Catalyst West conference in Irvine, California. We had corresponded over Facebook prior to that about mutual interests, so it was great to meet in person to put a face with the name. While I haven’t yet made a visit to the church that he pastors, I am that much more motivated after reading his new book, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional.
The book, Deep Church, offers a refreshing perspective in contrast to the bickering during the past decade about the “emerging church” — debating what changes did the church have to make in a fast-changing culture in order to be effective with its Gospel ministry. The author, Jim Belcher, does not write as an academician who is analyzing words from printed publications, although he certainly is qualified with academic credentials. Nor does he position himself in an adversarial posture against any church leader. He writes as a peer of the younger leaders typically actively involved in the emerging church conversations.
What I love is how the book is written in a narrative style that retraces Belcher’s own theological development and how to incarnate that into the form of a church. The book plays this out with conversations and stories of changed lives, showing the implications of theology in real life. Much better reading than propositional rhetorics of a typical theology book.
What he masterfully does is to listen carefully to what is written and what is said, and delves behind those assertions to surface the assumptions and presuppositions. In so doing this deconstructioning, it helped me to better understand and not give in to knee-jerk reactions and mischaracterizations. In other words, it”s not what is said (or written) that matters, it’s what is meant by what is said (or written).
This was the first book I’ve read that labels the contemporary mainstream evangelical church as the “traditional church.” That day has come far sooner than I ever anticipated. Traditional church used to refer to the parish church with pews, hymns, and Sunday school. Could this book mark the turning point of what we call the American evangelical church of the late 20th century?
Belcher addresses 7 areas of contention: truth, evangelism, Gospel, worship, preaching, ecclesiology, and culture. He finds value in what the traditional church asserts, and also in what the emerging church asserts. Plus, he draws upon value from the great traditions of the church as well as the church’s role in culture. The author takes all that’s valuable and weaves it together into what C.S. Lewis calls the deep church. “Deep” is not to connote superiority. “Deep church” is a richer and more wholistic picture of what the church can be, both organizational and missional, both traditional and innovative, both relevant and yet set apart.
I won’t be writing a book summary here. You really ought to read the book to get the full thought process of finding this third way of a deep church. For more about the book, see www.thedeepchurch.com
As Tim Keller is quoted on the cover, “This is an important book.” Jim, thanks for being a great mediator and writing this book.