Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Review of Deep Church: A Third Way Between Emerging and Traditional

We are living in a time of profound cultural change. Postmodernism has made its imprint on our society’s worldview, and its effects are noticeable practically everywhere. The church is not exempted. Many are the complaints the “traditional” church hears about its perceived shortcomings, such as its modernistic intellectualism, its individualism, tribalism, tardiness in interacting with the prevailing culture, tendency to fragment, and intolerance of the views of outsiders. In the evangelical world the discontent has given rise to a separate movement, that of the emerging (or emergent) church. That movement, which is steeped in the postmodern worldview, is spreading widely and is affecting not only evangelicalism but other churches as well. That is not surprising, since it is in accord with the prevailing climate of opinion. Some authors therefore predict that its features will become the “new normal” of the Christian church in the West. Is that disturbing? If so, what should be our response? Should the entire movement be rejected as apostate, as conservative commentators tend to think, or are some of its aspects worthwhile?

Jim Belcher, pastor of a PCA church in California, proposes a “conservative” answer to these questions. A one-time member of the movement, Belcher believes that the emerging church asks some legitimate questions that deserve the traditional church’s positive attention. He also, however, enumerates its shortcomings and relates that in the end, because of what he calls his “Calvinist misgivings,” he left the movement. He describes the weak and strong points of the emerging church in a recently published book, entitled Deep Church: A Third Way Between Emerging and Traditional (IVP, 2009), which is written as the record of his spiritual journey from a traditional evangelical church (Southern Baptist) via the emerging movement to his work as a PCA church planter and pastor. My review of this balanced and informative book can be found in our “Collected Papers” (see the sidebar); a direct link is here.