Emerging Church

Review: Deep Church by Jim Belcher

6a00d83452063969e20120a574ee7d970c-800wi Deep Church - Jim Belcher (@jimbelcher) (Buy)

Let me give you a part of my story: Six and a half years ago I had finished my education at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and was living in Lexington, KY, working as missionary to international students. I started to hear about something I know now as the "emerging church" (EC in this review). 

At the time I was already concerned about how "locked in" traditional churches were to a programmatic mindset, a cold orthodoxy, professional pastoring. I was reading my Bible and seeing something different. I started reading books by people in or around the "emerging church conversation" and found the same hunger for community, authenticity, and church vitality. 

About five years ago, after coming to northern Illinois to pastor a 45 year old SBC church, I started a blog called "Emerging SBC Leaders" (later called Missional Baptist Blog) with the intention of creating a place for young SBC'rs (especially pastors and seminarians) who wanted to enter the emerging conversation. I considered myself to be in the conservative side, strongly tied to the foundations of my faith including traditional elements. But I also saw a need for great changes in the "traditional" church. My goal for the blog was to encourage young leaders to stay in the convention and work for change rather than leave. What I found through the blog was a number of younger evangelicals who like me were dedicated to Scripture, solid theology and a love for Jesus, but who were also troubled at the state of the church (including traditional, reformed and contemporary/seeker).

Today, five years later, the blog is no more. It served its purpose. But I'm still a part of a larger conversation, or movement, of younger evangelicals who are working to see the church move in a more missional and biblical direction. I feel my thinking is headed where the always reforming church should be headed. 


When I saw Deep Church by Jim Belcher was coming out, I had to get my hands on it. I too have been looking for "a third way beyond emerging and traditional." Without using those words, that's the place where I already considered myself to be. This book showed me exactly where I am on the map and why I'm there, how I got there, and why this is where the church needs to be.

The difficulty in discussing Deep Church is that I didn't merely read the book. I experienced it. It kept me up one night. It had me giddy on another. Rather than give a typical review, I want to give you four things that came to mind first when processing this helpful book. I'm still processing.

I should start by saying there are two main sections of the book: 1. How Jim Belcher took a journey in both the traditional and emerging church to get to the Deep Church, and 2. The Deep Church explained through the seven protests of the emerging church (issues of truth, evangelism, gospel, worship, preaching, ecclesiology & culture). 

1. You had me at "hello" -- It only took about 10 minutes to know I was going to love this book. Belcher's story resonated with my own story in many ways, and my own longing as a pastor now. If you have a story somethign like mine, I think you will quickly attach to Deep Church. In chapter 1 Belcher wrote about his longing to discard the superficial and "develop geniune family" among Christians. He started a weekly meeting that grew to a couple hundred within a few years. These were 3-4 hour meetings of in depth discussion - and it wasn't a church plant. 

It's easy to hold up remarkable examples and expect it to be the norm when they will never be. But I think Belcher is on to something, born out of a love for the gospel and sharpened by the dissatisfaction of the EC to the current state of evangelicalism. It's where I am.

2. Amazing analysis -- While I'm not an expert on the "emerging church, I don't think I'm going too far to say that this is probably the best analysis of it to date. Scot McKnight, who has spoken much on the EC, has a blurb on the back cover saying the same thing. I think Belcher gets Emergent/EC issues right, McLaren right, and several other EC voices right. He has not just read their books, but gives great detail from experiences talking with EC leaders and visiting their worship services. A great resource for all interested in the good and bad in the EC.  

But Belcher isn't just an analyst-critic of the EC. He's living with a foot in the EC world and the traditional church world. He speaks to both with grace and restraint. Where there is true criticism, he goes to great lengths to explain how he gets there. Deep Church isn't just a guide toward a "third way," it's also an example of speaking from a truely "generous orthodoxy." He tries to understand first, and then offers critique.

3. The Well - Born out of Frost and Hirsch's The Shaping of Things to Come, it's the idea that what we need is a centered-set church. A bounded-set (traditional) church builds fences, much like a farm would for livestock. But for Belcher a better approach is a centered-set where a well is in the middle of a farm without fences, knowing that cattle will only stray so far because they are dependent upon clean water from the well. The Well for the church is Jesus Christ.

This is a key idea from the book, from the chapter Deep Truth. And it's crucial to the approach of Belcher to these very divisive issues, as well as to the "third way" he is describing. Though this idea isn't totally new to me, it has hit me afresh and affected my thinking about my church deeply. It works well with the conversation lately about being "gospel-centered." 

4. Restrained application -- Far from a "how-to" book, Deep Church carefully threads the needle with practical advice. Often it's not merely advice, but rather a "how we do it" explanation of Belcher's church, which allows us to see the "third way" in a context rather than as an abstract. If you want a book about quick, superficial changes for your church so that you can baptize more people asap, look elsewhere. Belcher makes you think and rethink so that your conclusions will be reasoned and deeply rooted.

Conclusion -- I think the bottom line is that Deep Church is about the roots of the traditional church, the helpful questioning and critique of the emerging church, and better answers than many in the EC could deliver. You could say that Belcher (as one in the EC) finally found the answers to the EC's questions while staying thoroughly biblical and theological, solidly traditional and historical. These are the answers so many of us have been looking for and only finding in bits and pieces along the way. They aren't new answers. But they have never been explained better as they pertain to the emerging church and the traditional church. 

This book needs to be read by those in or interested in the EC. It needs to be read by pastors in traditional churches who see the need for change. I think it will be very helpful for those who see "missional" as a key term for our churches, a key correction for the traditional church. 

I highly recommend Deep Church to you. But it at Amazon. If you've read Deep Church, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Check other reviews from Scott Armstrong at Common Grounds Online and lukefourteenthirtythree.

Books I'm Reading

I'm into three books right now that really have me excited. Wanted to encourage you to check them out. I have reviews coming soon.

3716 1. Deep Church - Jim Belcher (@jimbelcher) (Buy: Westminster, IVP, Amazon: out of stock)

I'm 140 pages in and just love this book. It's analysis and critique of both the emerging and traditional church with a compelling "third way" beyond those two. The analysis of the emerging church as well as Brian McLaren has really been outstanding. Belcher's understanding of the third way resonates very strongly with me.

Fightclubscover1 2. Fight Clubs - Jonathan Dodson (download for free, buy copies at Resurgence)

Jonathan is a friend and I've been looking forward to this booklet for a while. "Fight Clubs are about promoting gospel-centered discipleship, groups of two to three men or women fighting the fight of faith." It's fairly short and is an easy read. Practical and helpful advice from a Gospel-rich author and pastor.

39227286 3. Counterfeit Gods - Tim Keller (releases on Oct 20th - Amazon)

Have you heard of Tim Keller? :) I am preaching a series on idolatry starting on September 6th and will be using this book as a resource. I can't say much yet as I've only gotten a little of the way in and so far haven't seen much beyond what I've read or heard from Dr. Keller in other places. But I'm pumped about this book and can't wait to get deeper into it.

Lots-o-Links 10.2.08

Molly Update: Molly has been really worn out, feeling sick to her stomach, and has been in bed most of the time after returning from surgery.  Because of that she has been very frustrated and wants to feel better.  I'm just trying to remind her to take it slow and realize this is a long term healing thing.

Mark Devine has mentioned me in his new book. The chapter is found here

Jonathan Dodson: Why Evangelism Methods Must Change, Tools for the Missional Church, & Church Planting Manuals Reviewed.

Ahh, the growing Covenant Theological Seminary Worldwide Classroom.  What a great resource.

Justin Taylor: From John Piper's new book, Spectacular Sins, What To Do, and What Not To Do, With Evil.

Mark Driscoll is releasing the book Porn-Again Christian online for free.  It will be released progressively over the next several months. 

Josh Harris' Preaching Notes series: Mark Driscoll.

Ahh, the baseball playoffs are here.  Love it.  Love baseball.  Inspiration...

Lots-o-Links 12.28.07

Trevin Wax has done some excellent work on N.T. Wright.  Here's an interview with Wright, and a list of links to Trevin's 18 part review of John Piper's critique of Wright.

There's a new book coming out called Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be).  It seems from the sample chapter I read and blurbs on the back of the book that this book is going into the pile of folks who miss the point and encourage others to do the same.  I hope I'm wrong, but it looks like I'm not.  Look for yourself.

Satan fears small churches more than megachurches.

Looking forward to some new Schreiner: New Testament Theology.

M'Cheyne Bible reading plan with resources.  Don't forget the ESV online Bible reading plans with Scripture, including M'Cheyne.  The Crossway folks have also provided a way to read the Bible/devotions/reading plan on your mobile phone.  Great resource.

Lots-o-Links 12.2.07

Ben Arment announces the White Board Sessions.  Love the idea.

Vote your top albums of the year at NPR's All Song Considered.  My top 30 (or so) are on the way soon.

With The Golden Compass releasing soon, the Christian demon-recognition email-forwarding machine is fully active.  Everyone seems freaked at the murder of God in the Philip Pullman's books.  My question is, Is Philip Pullman killing the Christian God, or is Philip Pullman killing a false view of God?  I think it's the latter, and is probably a god we would want to kill too.  Jeffrey Overstreet at CT writes head along those lines with "Fear Not the Compass."  Oh, and check out Carl Trueman's post on the matter.

Ain't No Party Like a Holy Ghost Party - Shavey and Resurgence interviews Sam Storms.

What Leaders Can Learn from Rob Bell: I'm convinced that Bell is one of the most engaging and important communicators of our time.  Regardless of what you think about his message or his theology, I think he knows how to engage with listeners better than most.  You can still pull 5 clips from his Everything is Spiritual tour on iTunes, or on the Everything is Spiritual site, or...

New Mission to Suburbia Links
-Cutting Edge Summer 2007 on Suburbia - Vinyard Church Planting (HT: Kevin Cawley in all his awesomeness)
-Suburban Spirituality by David Goetz
-Patio Man and the Sprawl People by David Brooks
-Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks
-God of the Latte: Faith in the Suburbs by Lauren Winner (on Hsu's The Suburban Christian and Goetz's Death by Suburb)
-Seeking God in the Suburbs (printable) - interview of Hsu and Goetz
-Religion in the 'Burbs by Agnieszka Tennant


Lots-o-Links 11.15.07

Me and a certain pastor friend are going to see this tomorrow.  I'm pumped! 

-Bob Hyatt is good reading, as usual.  80-20 and the Organic Church Part 1 and Part 2
-Harry Potter as "Shared Text"
-Seth Godin's "Unleashing Your Ideavirus" (Part 1 and Part 2) was an excellent and thought-provoking read.  It's not very new (2000), but it was good.  More Godin here.
-I really dig this creative photography of kids.
-Must reading for those mashing the Thanksgiving potatoes.

Doug Pagitt on Way of the Master

Doug_2Holy Cow.  I try to be biblically generous, but Doug Pagitt makes little sense in this short interview with Way of the Master's Todd Friel.  It's just a small segment near the beginning of the show.  Look, I'm no Way of the Master fan or defender, and Friel really could have done much more with this conversation, but Pagitt shows both wacky theology and an inability to have a meaningful conversation based on...words...and ideas.

Best quote from Pagitt: "There?" 

Fundamentalism and the Emerging Church

Fundamentalism is really losing the war, and I think it is in part responsible for the rise of what we know as the more liberal end of the emerging church.  Because a lot of what is fueling the left end of the emerging church is fatigue with hardcore fundamentalism that throws rocks at culture.  But culture is the house that people live in, and it just seems really mean to keep throwing rocks at somebody's house.

Mark Driscoll in the Sept 2007 Christianity Today, "Pastor Provocateur"

Brewing Battle

Christianity Today has a short article recapping the situation with Missouri Baptists: Brewing Battle.  Nothing terribly new or informative to those who have been keeping up, but concise with some helpful external links at the end for those needing to catch up.

The policy addresses an ongoing SBC debate. Baptistshave championed alcohol abstinence since the late 1800s, but a growing number want the SBC to reexamine the issue, said Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School.

"There is growing discontent, people saying that we shouldn't be mandating things that aren't spoken clearly about in Scripture," George said. "It's hard to argue that the Bible requires total abstinence."


Allelon - "a movement of missional leaders" -- They have a website which has a number of resources, but I'm really loving Alan Roxburgh's netcast (especially the audio podcast) the most.  There are things said that I don't like or agree with, but in general this is a great podcast for seeing the emerging missional church for what it is and what it claims to be in different locations.  The interview with Steve Taylor is really great.

Theology Unplugged (TUP) is a podcast by some Dallas Seminary profs.  They say, "The uniqueness of TUP is that we speak on theological issues of the day with clarity, honesty, and openness. TUP allows the listener to make informed judgments on the most important theological issues today."  Their seven part series on the emerging church is a great example of that.  I'm through the first three episodes and I'm pretty shocked at how well they do in trying to understand the emerging church.  Well worth hearing. (HT: Internet Monk Radio)

Peter Leithart finds ways of saying things that just make sense to me...

One of my recurring frustrations with recent debates in the Reformed world is a widespread failure of theological imagination. Too many seem to operate on the assumption that we have everything already figured out; we have all possible categories and positions ready to hand. All we need do is deploy these categories on whatever happens our way. It'll fit, Procrustes says.

Thus, it is seriously proposed that someone is either on the road to Rome or the Road to Geneva - with no possibility of a third (or fourth, or fifth) destination, with no possibility that there might be something in between (though in between is where much of the Christian world lives). And if I suggest that we Reformed might still have something to learn from the Bible about justification, then I must be Rabbinic or Roman Catholic - there simply is no other alternative.

The Evangelical Outpost (Joe Carter) wonders why Southern Baptists would create boundaries with alcohol that would exclude Jesus from leadership in the convention.  He asks, "Can we be more ethical than Jesus?"

Darryl Dash hears Tim Keller and blogs: Tim Keller on Spiritual Fruit and Ministry.

Desiring God Blog: 25 Ways to Help Kids Love to Read

Drew Goodmanson on Missional Eldership.

Miniature Earth -- "If the world's population were reduced to 100, it would look something like this..."

English 101 (we all make mistakes, but some of us make too many!)

Some Videos...

Children See, Children Do...

Doll Face...

Stop Motion Beatbox...

Bill Hybels Loves Mark Driscoll

Hybels_driscoll_banner_bubble_3It just kills me how hard some folks (can anyone say Missouri Baptist Convention?) are trying to distance themselves from the "emerging" Acts 29 organization and Mark Driscoll.  Driscoll is all pomo and truth has no meaning for him.

Then in Bizarro world Bill Hybels (a pastor of a moderately influential, smallish church in suburban Chicago) has poked him publicly for his fundamentalism after viewing Driscoll on video at the National New Church Conference.  He basically didn't like Driscoll's male-centered approach to church planting and let that be known from the platform.  That resulted in Acts 29 eating thousands of Driscoll's videos because the conference decided not to hand them out as originally planned. 

From Driscoll on the Resurgence website...

Last year I spoke at a large church planting event along with a number of other church planters and church planting movement leaders. The event was held in Florida, went well, and did a very encouraging job of bringing together a number of denominations, networks, and organizations that otherwise would not have benefited from such a partnership.

This year I was invited back but declined because the few-day round trip from Seattle to Florida to give a very short message (last year it was less than twenty minutes) seemed like too much in light of other responsibilities. So, the sponsors of the event asked me to instead put together an eight-minute video on church planting that could be shown at the event and then handed out to each of the 1,500 attendees. So, in an effort to be helpful, the video crew from Mars Hill Church and I spent half a day in freezing weather at a military cemetery shooting scenes that were then edited for the video. Apparently the video was shown at the event, was well received by the attendees, and then criticized by Bill Hybels from the stage because it did not speak of women church planters. And, not wanting a bigger fuss, the organization hosting the event then made a decision not to hand out the video as they had promised, leaving the guys from our Acts 29 Church Planting Network who had hauled suitcases of the videos to Florida with thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of wasted effort. The leaders of the event are good guys whom I still consider friends, and I've never met Bill Hybels so I won't speak about him personally. But, I thought we should at least post the banned video online, so here it is:

The Forgotten Ways

ForgottenwaysAlan Hirsch's book, The Forgotten Ways, is causing me to ask a lot of good questions of my theology, my ecclesiology & missiology.  It's good, challenging stuff and I recommend you pick it up.  I've been meaning to read/review this book for some time and it has been too long in coming.  Over the next few weeks or so I'm going to make the effort to post a few quotes, reflections, and/or questions about the book and the issues it raises.  Please feel free to interact with the ideas.

Alan_hirsch_2 I wish I had time to do the book more justice, but Scot McKnight (for one) spent a good deal of time on the book (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).  You might also want to check out Jordan Cooper's epic first half review here. I encourage you to go to these links for a good recap of the arguments of the book.

If the heart of discipleship is to become like Jesus, then it seems to me that a missional reading of this text requires that we see Jesus's strategy is to get a while lot of little versions of him infiltrating every nook and cranny of society by reproducing himself in and through his people in every place throughout the world. (p 113)