A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional?
- Thursday, November 05, 2009
7. Deep Culture - The third way between traditional and emerging approaches to culture accepts Abraham Kuypers distinction between the church as institution and the church as organism. The church as an institution focuses primarily on preaching, sacraments, worship, and caring for the body. The church as organism works to train secret agents who go out into the world, work for the shalom of the city, and create culture. With this institution/organism approach, our churches can have a deep culture, one that is neither a copy-cat of culture nor irrelevant to it.
As you can see, there is much to affirm in these chapters. Belcher understands the issues well and clearly rejects the worst of the emerging movement. His church sounds like a good church, and Belcher (whom I never met) strikes me as an honest, thoughtful, irenic pastor. I agreed with much more in this book than I thought I would. As a part of the PCA, Belcher is not only tied to the Great Tradition, but to the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition. As such, I imagine our theology is quite similar. We are on the same team. My agreements with him outnumber my disagreements.
Nevertheless, I have a few critiques for Deep Church. Let me mention four, each in the form of a question.
1. What is the gospel?
Belcher makes clear that he affirms penal substitution. He thinks it is foundational to the other views of the atonement. He believes that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins and take away our guilt. This is all wonderful. But I'm still a bit perplexed.
Belcher's church holds to four core commitments: gospel, community, mission, and shalom. He admits that the church struggled the most to define the first of these four. "We had spent five years translating or contexualizing the gospel to the Orange County setting, and we wanted to be sure we had not reduced it any way" (120). First of all, I'm puzzled by the effort to translate the gospel. It seems to me that the news is still the same: Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day. Ministries may need to contextualize, but the gospel?
More importantly, I'm puzzled by the definition of the gospel Belcher's church came up with.
The "gospel" is the good news that through Jesus, the Messiah, the power of God's kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. Through the Savior God has established his reign. When we believe and rely on Jesus' work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us. We witness the radical new way of living by our renewed lives, beautiful community, social justice, and cultural transformation. This good news brings new life. The gospel motivates, guides, and empowers every aspect of our living and worship (121).
This is a fine statement of Christian theology, but is it the gospel? Surely, 1 Corinthians 15 gives us the best summary of the gospel and there we find no mention of cultural transformation or renewing the whole world. But we do hear about sin, the cross, and the resurrection-three items given no specific mention in Belcher's definition of the gospel. This is a problem.
2. Is unity possible?
Belcher's dream is that traditional and emerging camps would find unity in the first-tier doctrines of the faith. But what if the Great Tradition is not a controlling tradition for the emergent church? "John and I," Belcher writes speaking of John Armstrong and himself, "concluded that they [Jones and Pagitt] seemed to reject any commitments to the classical orthodoxy of the Great Tradition…I asked John, ‘If we are understanding them correctly, does this view put them outside of evangelical bounds as to many of their critics have been saying?'" (146). To which I wanted to reply, "Yes! And not just evangelical bounds, the bounds of orthodoxy too." Belcher recognizes that Pagitt does not hold to the "rule of faith" or "classical orthodoxy." The Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed do not define mere Christianity for him (148). So why do people keep talking about Jones and Pagitt as if they are part of the evangelical conversation, when they aren't even orthodox Christians?
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