A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional?
- Thursday, November 05, 2009
In the end Belcher agrees that the traditional camp is not overstating its case when it comes to Pagitt's views (152). So I don't have a problem with Belcher's theology on this point. In fact, I commend him for providing an honest assessment of the revisionist camp of the emerging movement. But I wish he would have stated more strongly and clearly that unity is not possible with those who reject the Great Tradition. True, Tony, Doug, and Brian are on the far left of the movement, but then at least let's warn people about the far left of the movement. The hall of heterodoxy is not the same as the hall of Mere Christianity, and those standing in one hall cannot share spiritual unity with those standing in the other.
As much as Belcher doesn't want to have a bounded-set church, if orthodoxy is to be a defining part of his church, it must have boundaries and those outside those boundaries are dangers to the sheep and the church's shepherds should say so.
3. Is the Great Tradition enough?
I'm all for making the main things the main things. I'm all four differentiating between first- and second-tier issues. But is it enough to say the Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed define orthodoxy, let alone evangelicalism? These creeds addressed certain pivotal issues that faced the church in its first few centuries. But what about other issues that have arise since then, like the atonement, justification, the authority of the Bible? I would say these are first-tier issues too, even though they were not specifically addressed by an early council or creed.
Along these lines. I was bothered by the references to "the version of the doctrine of the atonement that Piper holds dear" and "Pagitt and Jones don't hold to Piper's view of the atonement" (11, 12). Elsewhere Belcher explains that McLaren and others are not against "atonement theories" (111). This sort of language about the cross rubs me the wrong way. When evangelicals talk about Christ's death in our place to propitiate the wrath of God as a "version of the atonement" or one favored theory, they give away too much.
True, there are different aspects to the atonement. But penal substitution is not a mere version. "So substitution is not a ‘theory of the atonement,'" writes John Stott. "Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others. It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself." Penal substitution is the plain truth of Scripture. I know that sounds hopelessly modern, but sometimes I just can't help it. Christ dying in the place of guilty sinners deserves to be called more than "a view of the atonement that Piper holds dear."
4. Is Deep Church a genuine third way?
In the end, the thing I liked most about the book is also my biggest criticism. Belcher's way, despite is few differences in shape and tone (see critiques above), is not a genuine third way but the traditional way mediated through Tim Keller. Don't get me wrong. I like that way. I love Tim Keller. I wasn't disappointed to see that I agreed with Belcher on a lot. But if I'm traditional (which I am in the Deep Church taxonomy) then I think Belcher is too. Come to think of it, D.A. Carson is in the traditional camp too (in Deep Church) and he and Keller are very close friends. They started the Gospel Coalition together so I assume they agree on an awful lot. So is Carson another third way?
Deep church is essentially traditional doctrine with a softer edge and more cultural engagement. That's not bad. It can be very good if done faithfully. But I don't think it is a third way. Very few of the extremes of the traditional camp rejected by Belcher are footnoted or attributed to any leader in the traditional church. Consequently, I don't think he is rejecting the traditional church as much as a bad experience of it.
Likewise, most of what Belcher offers as a third way are not new ideas to the traditional church. Almost all the conservative Christians I know reject classic foundationalism. Every conservative church I know of welcomes seekers and allows unbelievers to be a part of the church in the outer circle, even if they can't be members until they believe certain things. Every good homiletics course teaches the difference between imperatives and indicatives and the need to preach Christ from all the Scriptures. In fact, I don't think there is a single insight from the emergent church that cannot be gleaned from the best of the evangelical, and specifically the Reformed, tradition. We don't need a third way between emergent and traditional. We need a revitalized, reformed evangelical church.
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