Sep 112009

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 Churchdeepchurch, 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

As Tim Keller is quoted on the cover, “This is an important book.” Jim, thanks for being a great mediator and writing this book.

Mar 262008

It is indeed a rare occasion to get Eugene Cho and Gideon Tsang in the same room, and this recent Asian American Leadership Conference pulled it off. Both of them are being the church in a new way within their local context, often asking the question: “What would it look like…” That workshop was titled:

“Emerging Into Mission: The Substance And Over Hype Of The Emerging Church” What is an appropriate response to the emergent buzz over the last decade? Join us, with the context of your city and community, in a conversation on emergence and mission. (Eugene Cho, Quest Church/Q Cafe, Seattle, WA and Gideon Tsang, Vox Veniae, Austin, TX)

I caught the last hour of the 3-hour extended workshop (which supposedly was entirely recorded in whole by the event organizers, if the technologies don’t glitch, they’ll get it online by next week or so)

I turned on my digital recorder, which sat in the front row, so it’s not production-quality acoustic. I was surprised LT Tom didn’t turn on his webcam, as he’s been known to do.

You can eavesdrop like a digital fly on the wall, and hear what they said in the raw:

What questions would you ask Eugene and/or Gid? The conversation continues, right here, online.

Jan 182008

With the turn of the century, there’s a lot of new developments in the church world — which is exciting for some, confusing for others. Particularly, the new kinds of churches being described as emerging church or emergent church, are all over the map (and around the world) in terms of what it looks like, what they believe, and how they worship. And, if one adds “missional church” to the mix, one’ll get some contemporary evangelical churches under the big tent too.

There’s been more than a handful of attempts at explaining what the emerging church is by using taxonomies, categories, types, classifications, and/or models. Here are some of the more oft-quoted articles about emerging and/or emergent churches::

Five Streams of the Emerging Church: Key elements of the most controversial and misunderstood movement in the church today by Scot McKnight (in Christianity Today, February 2007)

Understanding the emerging church by Ed Stetzer (in Baptist Press, January 2006), 3 descriptors were proposed: Relevants, Reconstructionists, and Revisionists; for more background and context about this article, see Ed Stetzer’s blog entry on Understanding the Emerging Church

Four Models of Emerging Churches by Wess Daniels — a more nuanced listing of 4 proto-typologies and their influencers: deconstructionist, pre-modern, open Anabaptism, foundationalist (ht: emergent village; January 2008)

Darrin Patrick lectured at Covenant Seminary on “streams of the emerging church“, presenting 3 main streams: Conversational, Attractional, Incarnational (ht: emergent village; October 2007)

An Emerging Church Primer by Justin Taylor (at 9 Marks, a broadly reformed perspective)

And, Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church, Seattle) in “A Pastoral Perspective on the Emergent Church” (in Criswell Theological Review, Spring 2006) re-stated Ed Stetzer’s categories, but has more recently reframed those into: Relevants, Revisionists, and Relevant Reformed, including himself in the latter, cf. Conference examines the emerging church (Baptist Press, September 2007) though he was interviewed in 2006 citing 4 categories, adding Relevant Reformed to Stetzer’s original 3.

For more comparative opinions, see Mark Driscoll’s Critique Gets Mixed Response over at emergent village.

And what would Tim Keller say to the emerging church? Keller has added his comments at Tallskinnykiwi’s Anabaptism and the Emerging Church and emergingpensee’s Should Emerging Church Settle?

[update 10/8/08] Doug Pagitt on video weights in with Emergent and Emerging Church Distinction | see Emergent Village for their network of on-going conversations | history of how emergent church emerged | read September 2008′s month-long Emergent Blogologue (a blog-based conversation) between Christian futurist Bill Easum and Tony Jones, in 5 parts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) | Scot McKnight observes that “Emergent is no longer just emerging. It has in many respects emerged.” in McLaren Emerging (CT, Sept 2008) and blogs about emerging movement fairly regularly at

Jul 092007

Here’s a brief history of the “Emergent Church”, excerpted from the paper presented by Tony Jones at a 2007 Wheaton Theology conference but rejected from the publication of the conference proceedings::

What Is the Emergent Church?

First off, the name: Emergent. The tags, “emerging church” and “emerging leaders” were being used by organizations like Leadership Network in Dallas back in the late 1990s, particularly as they sponsored some of our early work; under Leadership Network, we had been called the “Young Leaders Network,” the “Theological Working Group,” and “Terra Nova.” By 2001, we were out on our own, and felt that we needed a name, a banner, of sorts, under which we could gather. In May of that year, about six of us were on a conference call, brainstorming possible names.

Then Brian McLaren, a devoted environmentalist, said, “You know, when a forester visits a forest to determine its health, she doesn’t climb up into the old growth trees. Instead, she gets down on her knees and digs around in what they call the ‘emergent growth’ at the forest floor. In the ecology of the American church, there are lots of organizations who are tending to the old growth trees, but we seem most interested in what’s taking place on the forest floor, at the emergent church level.”

So, we settled on the name “Emergent” and bought the domain name, “” And we started connecting with others around the globe who were examining the same shifts from modernity to postmodernity that had so intrigued us and had, really, brought us together starting in 1997. The alt.worship crowd in the U.K. became friends, and we made connections with people in Australia and New Zealand. The success of Brian’s book, A New Kind of Christian, brought a great deal of attention, too, and increasingly, Emergent Christianity has become a “brand” of its own, for good and for ill.

Both Emergent Village, the organization with which I am affiliated, and the broader emerging/emergent church movement have grown steadily in recent years. But the growth has not been particularly quantifiable, as other ecclesial movements might be. In fact, some (like Dwight Friesen) have suggested that church growth in the 21st century might not reflect the linear, organizational growth structures of the industrial age, but instead the open source growth typified by the Internet and by pandemic viruses. In open source–also known as “scale free networks”–growth looks more like a non-hierarchical web, with hubs of potency that, in turn, foment new strands of growth.

Download the full paper (and accompanying powerpoint) from Tony Jones’ Theoblogy blog.

May 182007

I’ve been occasional conversational partner with the emergent church/ emergent village thing. I have no official roles or titles, never been to one of those secret meetings, but I have a handful of friends who are more on the “in” and even other non-Anglos got published in their latest book, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope. When my friend Steve Knight, a member of the National Coordinating Group for Emergent Village, affirmed what I said as a more concise summary of what the emergent church conversation is about. I’ve pulled it from the depths of the comment thread at BlogMinistry:

I think the first comparison of emergent being like abstract art is mostly fitting. “Emerging church” is a very broad label to describe the many kinds of new churches being formed in the 21st century that are different in small or big ways from the previous generations of church. “Emergent church” is not a definition, not a movement, not a theology. “Emergent church” is best described as a conversation about theologies and/or practices of doing life in the way of Jesus. So, “emergent” is a very broad umbrella that brings together people from all kinds of theological persuasions for conversations, imagination, and other kinds of things. The point is not to work at arriving towards a consensus for a statement of faith. It’s an opt-in conversation, so if you’re okay with having friendship and/or fellowship with other people who don’t share your same identical theological framework, you too can join the emergent conversation.

So rather than reading through verbose narratives about the history of emergent / emergent church / emergent village, maybe this summary above will be helpful to those who wish for a more definitional approach to all things church and all things theological. And, maybe I’ll one day get an (elusive?) answer to why their multi-author book got published by a big-time publisher, when most multi-author volumes are usually passed over.

Feb 222007

Ed Stetzer’s been making the rounds on the speaking circuit this week. You might have heard of Ed for introducing the 3-category understanding of the emerging church: relevants, reconstructionalists, and revisionists.

Ed has a slot at the Resurgence blog, and apparently a more established blog presence at The Missional Network. He recently gave his take on Why cultural relevance is the big deal (also here).

Ed Stetzer spoke on 2/17/07, Toward a Missional Convention at the Baptist Identity Conference (48:57)

[cf. TallSkinnyKiwi also noted this; download PDF of address too]

And then he spoke on 2/19/07 on The Future of Church and Mission at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, both lecture and Q&A recorded for you to listen:

[update] Ari live-blogged the lecture here and here and a final word.

Ed Stetzer has a new book to be released this June, written in conjunction with Elmer Towns and Warren Bird, 11 Innovations in the Local Church: How Today’s Leaders Can Learn, Discern and Move Into the Future. (You can pre-order it.)

Book introduction from the publisher Gospel Light:

11 Innovations in the Local Church: THEY DARED TO BE DIFFERENT- AND YOUR CHURCH CAN TOO!

The Church of today doesn’t look or act like it once did. Take a look around communities nationwide and you’ll see local churches taking on a variety of forms and expressing themselves in a multitude of ways. Now you can join three seasoned church-growth experts on an insider’s tour of the most exciting innovations in churches today! Throughout this engaging book, you’ll discover multiple profiles of cutting-edge churches that have implemented each innovation in their own way.

You’ll explore churches that have dared to be different, from Ancient-Future Postmodern Churches to Cyber-Enhanced Churches to churches that are intentionally multicultural. More than a show-and-tell tour, each chapter offers a solid takeaway as you learn from the innovative direction that other churches have taken and come up with your own. The authors also provide guidance and wisdom through scripturally based assessments of both the positive and negative implications of implementing innovations for your church.

There are many ways to present the gospel. God is using innovative expressions of the Church today to reach many different types of people. Come discover with Towns, Stetzer and Bird, how God has blessed churches such as yours as they have stepped out to find their unique signature. There’s never been a better time to explore innovative new directions for your church and reach more people for Christ.

Oct 252005

Some great recent conversations in the blogosphere about church diversity, or the lack thereof. Don’t have the time to add my own thoughts and comments, but I’m tired of holding back all these links in my draft folder. Here’s some I’ve found, in no particular order:

…what about some other brothers and sisters?

“Every emergent gathering I’ve been to in recent years is extremely white concerning skin tones. What possibilities of inter-racial and ethnic working together are being talked about…and actually done…within the Emerging Church…especially in North America?”

Postmodernegro in The Church, Embracing Grace, and Racism links to Jesus Creed’s Church, Embracing Grace, and Racism Part 1 and Part 2, who used tapas, salad, and other foods to describe diversity models, whereas I had used ice cream flavors to describe multiethnic churches, similiarly.

Quite a thread going at funkateer74′s xanga about the lack of diversity in the “church that is emerging” conversation.

“I really don’t see real racial reconciliation coming out of the emerging church just yet. It really seems like a largely white movement here in the states.”

One Voice podcast is finally online with Mark La Roi, who had previously noted that God is not colorblind!

“I don’t believe that the different colors of people are “races”. Why? Because if you accept the term “Human Race” as valid, everything else is sub-division. I’m not sub-human, are you?”

More personally and poignantly, Andrew Seely ponders on his own ethnic identity:

Or this just is an ongoing issue between how I see myself, how others see me. … It is my hope that people look beyond the initial appearance that I carry with me and look deep into my character in God’s eyes.

And, this Leadership Journal article slipped through my radar, from Spring 2005: An Army of Ones: Does diversity in the church work? This was a panel discussion of sorts with Craig Keener, Larry Osborne of North Coast Church, and Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church.

[update] Plus, let’s not forget the lively thread over at Seeking Diversity in Emergent, with 46 posts to date, and counting.