Note: In this three part series I have devoted two posts to summarizing Part 1 and Part 2 of Jim Belcher’s book Deep Church. In post 3 I will offer some concluding thoughts – highlights and critical reflection.
Summary of Part 2 – ‘Protest, Reaction, and The Deep Church’
The emerging church argues that the traditional church has gone too far in using the tools of Enlightenment reason and science to prove that the Bible is true. On the other hand, the traditional church has argued that the emerging church has denied the great metanarrative that makes sense of reality by rejecting any notion of transcendent truth. Belcher argues that we need to move beyond foundationalism and hard postmodernism to a deeper understanding of truth.
“If its true that the traditional church’s realism is correct but not its foundationalism, and that the emerging church’s postfoundational critique is on target but not its metaphysics, what is the alternative?”
For Belcher, this third way rejects classical foundationalism and hard postmodernism. What does this mean? While no philosophical system can uphold our way of knowing, this does not leave us with an “everything goes” mentality. Belcher explains that Deep Church believes in foundations, but the foundations are built on belief, not reason. He explains that “this does not make us timid”, but gives us proper confidence. “We realize that we are sinners, prone to see reality through our selfishness and conceit.” The point is to pull away from confidence in ourselves, but trust in Christ.
Simply put, people need to be “drawn to the well.” The emerging culture often places belonging before believing. ‘Belonging’ to a group means that you feel welcome, are able to be honest and open, you can simply come as you are. Belcher reflects on a conversation he had with friend Steven Cooper to explain how this works. Cooper argued from a pattern in the Gospel accounts that there are three stages to move from belonging to believing;
“In the first part of Jesus’ ministry, he’s training disciples so they would know exactly who he is. Through his teaching and miracles, his actions, his ministry, Jesus is answering the disciples questions about Jesus’ identity…[but then there is transition 1] Notice that Jesus asks the disciples the ultimate question, ‘who do you say that I am?’…[Finally transition 2] In the final section of the Gospels, Jesus unveils that he will…be rejected, suffer at the hands of men, be crucified, and then be raised again. Directly following this revelation, Jesus calls his disciples then to take up their cross and follow him.”
The point is simple. People are to first enter into the community. Once they have moved deeper into the community, truly belong, they are called to believe in Christ.
In the traditional church, Belcher posits, salvation is primarily personal- being saved from our sins and living morally before God. “This consisted mostly in doing stuff for God, saving souls, supporting our foreign missions program and having our quiet times…But Christianity is bigger than just me and my personal life.” He argues that the phrase ‘Kingdom of God’ is rarely talked about or properly explained in traditional churches.
Belcher exposes that there are weakness in the emerging churches as they react to the traditional churches who rarely talk about the ‘Kingdom of God.’ While he appreciates the focus on kingdom living, the descriptions often will leave one “powerless to enter the kingdom and live it out. The emerging leaders tend to react against the traditional church so there is little talk on the key doctrines of salvation. With no focus on the blood of Christ we are left with nothing more than ‘virtue ethics.’ So, what is supposed to be so liberating becomes legalism with a fresh face.
Deep gospel is explained as Belcher describes how their church contextualized the gospel message for Orange County.
“We wanted to stress the atonement as well as the Kingdom of God. We wanted to make it clear that Christ’s cross, which paid for our sins and took away our guilt, is the foundation for Christ’s victory over evil and oppression, and allows us to join God’s family and his kingdom reign.”
‘Worship wars’ are still being fought in the trenches of many local churches across America. It seems to me, from what I have read (and experienced) that much of the ammo comes from nothing more than ‘proof text’ and musical preference rather than a theologically robust understanding of scripture. On a larger scale corporate worship has taken many forms, most notably when one compares the emerging movement and the traditional church. Again there is the tendency to swing the pendulum too far away from tradition (emerging) or attempt to suspend worship within traditional forms (traditional).
Belcher argues that “in order to be faithful we must draw on not only Scripture but tradition as well. But we also draw on our cultural sensitivities and our desire to ‘worship before the nations,’ making sure that our worship is accessible to an outsider. Keeping all three- Bible, tradition and culture- in mind, we are able to craft a worship gathering that is neither irrelevant nor syncretistic.” Belcher shares that his desire is to see a deeper worship looks like this;
“Worship that embodied a genuine encounter with God, had depth and substance, included more frequent and meaningful Communion, was participatory, read more Scripture in worship, creatively used the senses, provided more time for contemplation, and focused on the transcendence and otherness of God.”
Belcher mentions that he grew up hearing sermons that lacked inspiration. He heard the typical ‘three points and a poem’, which often comes across, in my opinion, as “plastic”. Sermons should have unity, clarity, thoughtfulness, and dramatic movement. What was typical in the churches that Belcher grew up in was preaching that exhorted the people to “love Jesus more, live more faithfully, avoid the world, and serve obediently in the church.” I agree with Belcher here, and I am deeply saddened when most of the preaching Christians hear is nothing more than an emotional plea to motivate better living. This is so powerless, and often leads to nothing more than “moralism or legalism.”
What is lacking is a sense of homiletical drama. Belcher argues that we should strive to “preach Christ in every text, laying out and analyzing the human condition through Scriptures and experience, and exposing the radical, shocking grace of God that enters our situation, transforms us and empowers us to live differently. Thus we don’t exhaust our energies preaching against the world- we have enough worldliness inside of us for sermon material. We don’t exhaust our energies preaching the need to try harder, love better and be more holy with our first exposing our inability to do so apart from the transforming power of the cross and the resurrection of our lives. Anything less is legalism- which ends in discouragement.” People need to be drawn to the well.
When Belcher analyzed his first experience working on a church staff he realized that “over 60 percent of the week was taken up by meetings, committees, paperwork, and other institutional chores…institutionalism was killing our church.” The rest of his time was spent cramming for sermons and organizing programs and events. He came to the conclusion that many churches that function like institutions become ingrown and care more about survival. When this happens “church members are no longer interested in missional Christianity, that is, being sent out into the world to be salt and light. They want safety, not challenge; security; not risk.”
Is there a better way to form a more organic church, knowing that the more ‘networked organic churches’ cannot survive long without some form of structure? Each side, traditional (more institutionalized) and emerging (more organic) believe that they are biblical? Is there another way? Belcher argues that “tradition and history act as checks on our views of the Bible and the world. If we neglect this vital history of the church and God’s faithful working on it, we are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past. Instead, we need to learn from the mistakes, be recalibrated by the wisdom of the past, and work out what it means to be in the church today in light of the Bible, mission and tradition.”
The Christian community is divided over culture, “a unified witness to the world around us does not exist.” The emerging voices often react against the culturally narrow fundamentalist approach of traditional church often being sectarian. While the traditional church pushes back at the emerging church for being succumbed to the worst forms of syncretism. “These standoffs breed distrust.”
Belcher hold’s up Abraham Kuyper’s example of the church being an institution and an organism as the better way. While the church as institution seeks to uphold and refine the traditional elements of the church that are true to the biblical mandate. The church as an organism works to train secret agents who permeate world and create a culture within the city. In one sense, our churches are to present a radical alternative community to the world, but also called to take their new perspective into the surrounding communities as salt and light.
 Belcher defines Foundationalism as follows; “the view that knowledge can be based on self-evident truths that don’t need any backing from religion or any other external authority, that is knowledge that has ‘invincible certainty.’”