Book Review: Deep Church- A Third Way

Nobody is content with the church as it stands now. We are as disjointed as the modern family. On one side you have you traditional… they are the group with suits on telling the stories of the good old days of Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and Billy Bright. As you continue to look across the room you begin to see the boomers. The boomer clan is all focused on the stage and has the music booming. The band is distinctive, dressed to the nines with their shirts untucked, modern hair and wrinkles from the top of their forehead to the bottom of their chins. It’s as if the Rolling Stones were playing. Finally as you look across the room you see the last group- the emergents. Dressed in shorts, flip flops, and looking bored at the whole scene. Put off by the pomp and circumstance of the traditional, repelled by the façade of the show put on by the boomers, they simply want to go home spend time within their community and hang out.

How on earth do we all get along?  How on earth do we ever accomplish God’s call to us in being a church? The Traditional think the boomers are power hungry and think the emergents don’t care about church. The boomers think the traditional are stubborn and think the emergents are lazy. The emergents think the traditional are Pharisees and the boomers are fake.

As the church moves forward and attempts to reach a new generation, a general rejection of the boomer philosophy has been accepted as megachurches have produced big numbers through big programs and big bands all the while producing an 85% drop out rate among millennials. In light of this, churches are asking tough questions and either moving more traditional or moving to accept a new emergent point of view.

As both camps begin to see where the other is heading, the discussion begins. On one side the traditional group dresses down the emergent group, telling it that all it cares about is the social gospel. It tells the emergent church that it has no hold on the gospel. At the opposite end the emergent church tells the traditional church that it is all institution and no substance. It tells the church that it holds to a form of religion but denies its power. As both sides argue neither listens to one another.

In Deep Church by Jim Belcher he proposes a third answer to the ills of the church. He claims to have found a middle ground between the emergent church and the traditional church- the deep church.

Jim Belcher is an insider to the emergent church. Out of his ministry have come many of the leaders of the emergent of today. Many years after he led many of these trailblazers of the emergent church, he began to ask tough questions about the movement being with it in its birth and seeing it grow. As he asked those questions he came to the conclusion that the emergent church raised valid questions about how the church currently stands but had a few misgivings in some of their answers.

In this book he describes 3 churches- 1. The traditional church 2. The Emergent Church 3. The Deep Church, which is his solution for the church today.

1. The Traditional Church- This church he proposes is like a field with a fence around it. The fence is truth… to take residence within the fence you must subscribe to both the foundational truth, for example the Nicaean Creed, and to its secondary truth, issues like tongues and church government. Any one who deviates from either foundational or secondary truth is found has no room inside the fence.

One great problem he shows about the traditional church is that there is no room to discover. There is no room to ask questions. It is a place where any deviance of belief means separation from the fellowship.

2. The Emergent Church- to him the emergent church is much like a group of sheep in a field. The bounds of the flock are defined by the flock itself. In the emergent church the community is front and center. Every person is given an equal voice and any question is on the table.
The caution that the author ran into was when he walked into one of the churches, it was a warm place very worshipful in nature. As he began to dialogue with the pastor the pastor told how everyone had an equal voice in the community. He then said that scripture held one seat just as each member held a seat. For Belcher, scripture could not just be a voice in the community, it had to be the guiding voice of the community.

3. The Deep Church- For the deep church he draws the picture of the well at the center of the community. He believes that when foundational truths (the well) are at the center of the community, no person will stray too far from the living water. He believes the community is defined not by its people or its secondary truths, but instead community is defined by its proximity to the well.
As he shows that there is no room to question in the traditional church, the deep church gives you room to question without compromising its core truths. As he shows that there is no source of truth in many emergent circles, he believes the well centers the community.

Within this point there were points where I overwhelmingly agreed, and as a traditionalist there were points where I scratched my head. I have asked many of the questions that the emergent church has asked about the traditional church and yet I have also had some of the reservations that the traditional church holds to.

If there is a book that has an honest look at the shape of church today it is this book. He holds no punches from either camp, yet will build up the strengths of both. I would recommend this book for any person looking to understand what is happening in church today.

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