A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional?
- Thursday, November 05, 2009
Ah yes, another book on the emergent church. I admit I both really wanted to read this book and really didn't. The wanting is because, as you may know, I too wrote a book on the emerging church. So naturally I was curious what another author-one with blurbs from the likes of Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, Rob Bell, Scot McKnight, and Tony Jones-had to say about the movement.
But a big part of me didn't want to read the book. Believe it or not, I don't live for controversy and I don't wake up in the morning hoping to jump back into emergenty thoughts. I spent a year of my life researching and writing about the emergent church and then another year teaching and doing interviews about it. That was enough for me. Besides, perhaps I'm naive, but I think most people can now see the emergent movement for what it is. There are enough resources out there now for people to make up their minds and decide whether this is a healthy reform movement or a conversation pushing the boundaries of evangelical faith and sometimes jumping the bounds of orthodoxy itself.
Keeping Up With the Conversation
But, alas, I feel some obligation to keep informed of the conversation. So it was with a feeling of apprehension and intrigue that I read Jim Belcher's book Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional. I was preparing for the worst when I read in the blurbs that this book "avoids the clamor for extremes" (Scot McKnight), is "the first to be truly gracious" and is great "for any who are tired of straw man arguments and polarizations" (Mark Oestreicher), and rises above "the usual shallow, facile critiques of the emergent church movement" (Tony Jones). I can't help but assume that Why We're Not Emergent is one of the "extreme", "straw man", "facile" critiques they're thinking of. What would I be getting into with this book?
I am always skeptical of "third way" books anyways. Usually, the "third way" is basically the same as one of the other two ways, only a little nicer. In this case, I was expecting the third way to be emergent-lite with a less caustic attitude toward evangelicals. But actually Belcher was just the opposite. He is an evangelical-a traditional evangelical I would argue-who seems sound in his theology (he is a PCA minister after all), but wants to be non-traditional in a few ways. If I were titling the book I would call it "Why I'm Not Emergent, But I Like Many of the Emergent Folks and I Want to Do Church Differently Too."
What is Deep Church?
The heart and soul of Deep Church is Belcher's dream for traditional and emerging camps to find unity in the Great Tradition and not blast each other over second-tier differences (67-68). Chapter 3, "The Quest for Mere Christianity", is the most important chapter in the book for understanding what Belcher is aiming for with his third way. On the one hand, Belcher wants to avoid the fundamentalist error of seeing every other kind of church as heretical and suspect. On the other hand, he also wants to avoid the liberal error of seeing theology as infinitely malleable. Belcher's vision is for the traditional church and the emerging church to find common ground in the consensual tradition summed up in the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed (54ff.).
Second-tier doctrines are not unimportant. Many of them are weighty, and individual churches will come down in different places relative to these doctrines. But binding all churches together is a tradition of orthodoxy. It's the Great Tradition, then, that matters most, not our respective traditions. For the Great Tradition unifies us and ought to arouse our greatest passion. Belcher's book is a winsome plea for a return to Mere Christianity and the humility and unity that goes with it.
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