Deep Church: A Short Review

When I heard that Jim Belcher’s book, Deep Church, was getting a lot of buzz from diverse quarters of the evangelical and post-evangelical community, my ears perked up.

The Emerging/Emergent discussion was completely off my radar screen until late 2006 or early 2007 when “Emergents” were being denounced in toto in conservative evangelical circles. I was familiar enough with the reactionary tendencies of some of these conservatives to be leery of their judgment. However, because I write for Christianity Today, people began asking me what I thought. So I read some things online and went to the American Academy of Religion Conference in San Diego, where I listened to a helpful discussion by Tony Jones, Scot McKnight and Diana Butler Bass. I also heard N.T. Wright dismiss the “fluffy” post-moderns there and other speakers entirely ignore  them.

I have never been interested enough in the topic myself to actually read a book about it. I did, however, talk to Dallas Willard about the philosophical underpinnings of Emergent philosophy and was hardly any clearer afterwards. It seemed to me though that if the Emergents were guilty of anything beyond questionable theology, it was hubris, particularly in their careless criticism of the Church, our mother.

Jim Belcher’s book is not only the first I’ve read on the topic, it is also the only resource I have encountered that has clearly and thoroughly answered my philosophical questions. The chapter I most appreciated, and the one I will reread until I have it down, is the “Deep Truth” chapter on philosophy. Len Hjalmarson summarizes it nicely here, so I won’t do so myself.

If any bias comes through in Deep Church, it is a bias toward Presbyterianism and popular reformed voices like Tim Keller, whom Belcher lionizes. There’s nothing wrong with expressing one’s own convictions and preferences, but here it weakens his “third way” argument because what he’s really advocating is not a third way for all believers, but a third way for the evangelicals and post-evangelicals whose tribes have denounced Emerging/Emergent.  Similarly, I came away from the book with the sense that for Belcher “deep ecclesiology” means Presbyterian ecclesiology. As an Anglican and former Baptist who attended a Mennonite college, my witness diverges on this matter.

Nonetheless, as long as readers understand the context in which this book was written and who its audience is, they’re likely to find much to appreciate.

4 Comments on “Deep Church: A Short Review

  1. i think you are right on in your review. there is a ton of good stuff in jim’s work, and i love the case study approach he uses in many of the chapters. but i feel like the bandwidth is too narrow to truly be a third way. i am reading deep church with some peers and we are using it as a platform to push the conversation and our practice of church in a way that reflects a faithful, catholic third way.

  2. Hi Terry, Thanks for your input. I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in my response. Blessings to you. Hey, where are you in that avatar photo?

  3. christine,

    the picture was taken in guraghe, ethiopia. our community of faith has a partnership through world vision and it was the experience of lifetime for me. i am hopeful of returning sometime in 2010 to facilitate some training experiences for the local leaders and pastors and to learn from them as well about building adn nurturing christian community.

    grace and peace – tt

  4. Oh yes, I read about that previously. Forgive me.