Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Jim Belcher: Deep Church – A third way beyond emerging and traditional

I’ve just finished reading Jim Belcher’s book, Deep Church. Although I had heard a lot about postmodernism during the early to mid-nineties, I was really introduced to the topic of postmodernism while my wife and I attended a course in children’s evangelism in 1999 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. An extremely bright young New Testament professor (whose name I forgot) spoke to us on a number of occasions during the course of the training to open our eyes to the postmodern view of life to help us to understand that youth need to be approached in a different way than when we were their age. On his recommendation I later bought D A Carson’s The Gagging of God which extensively researches the topic of postmodernism.
Over the past few years I read a number of books from so-called emerging church authors and a lot of what they said impressed me – authors such as Alan Roxburgh, Brian McLaren and many others. From many of these books I could sense a desire for the church to reach its full potential as described in the book of Acts. But there were also things that I felt uncomfortable with, almost as if some of them wanted to apologize for being a follower of Christ. When I recently read a review on Jim Belcher’s Deep Church, I ordered a copy and immediately felt that I could resonate with his way of thinking. Starting with a discussion of the main points of concern that the emerging church has against the traditional church, Belcher, who comes from a Presbyterian background, then proceeds to discuss these points of concern by critically evaluating both the traditional view as well as the emerging view and then merging (no pun intended!) the positive points to come up with what he describes as a third way or the way of the deep church, a term borrowed from C S Lewis who described the body of believers committed to mere Christianity as “Deep Church”.
With positive reviews from leading authors such as Tim Keller, Scot McKnight, Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball and Rob Bell, this is a book which cannot be ignored.
One of the concerns that Belcher has with certain proponents of the emerging church (not all of them) is that they recognize the problem of the postmodern world view which the church needs to address, but their solution is that the church itself and its message also needs to become postmodern. So instead of making adjustments in the method in which the message needs to be proclaimed, the message itself needs to be adjusted.
The seven points which Belcher identifies as the main points of concern that the emerging church has with the traditional church, are the following:

  1. Captivity to Enlightenment rationalism: The church had no way of standing apart from the world view of the culture which resulted either in a social gospel or fundamentalism
  2. A narrow view of salvation: The church focused too much on how an individual becomes saved and not enough on how such a person lives as a Christian
  3. Belief before belonging: A person needs to believe the correct theology before they are welcomed into the church
  4. Uncontextualized worship: Music and traditions that are hundreds of years old are used in the church and it does not speak to the present culture
  5. Ineffective preaching: The preacher is the fountain of all knowledge and therefore he is the only one who speaks
  6. Weak ecclesiology: The church is more concerned with form than mission. It cares more about institutional survival than being the sent people of God
  7. Tribalism: The church is known more for what it is against than what it is for. It has lost its ability to model a different way of life.

In the second part of the book Belcher looks at each of these points, both acknowledging the truth of the emerging church’s protest but also looking critically at its solution and indicating the weak points in their solutions – a method which I personally like to use when evaluating something. (At least this gives me the impression of greater objectivity.) Belcher’s solution then is to search for the “Deep Church”, through Deep Truth, Deep Evangelism, Deep Gospel, Deep Worship, Deep Preaching, Deep Ecclesiology and Deep Culture.
An excellent book as far as I’m concerned with serious challenges both to the traditional church as well as the emerging church.

Monday, January 11, 2010 - Posted by | Book Review, Church, Evangelism, Mission, Theology

5 Comments »

  1. Fascinating. I’ve not heard of this book before, but it sounds like the type of thing I’ve heard several others express over the last few years. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

    Comment by Justin | Tuesday, January 12, 2010 | Reply

  2. I read through the argument by David Bosch as he approached postmodernism in Transforming Mission, and cannot help but gather from this that indeed it would be irresponsible to think that we should not become postmodern. His whole argument seem to be that theology is not done to “reach” a paradigm, as if we have the perfect theology already, but from the vantage point of a specific paradigm. When he writes something such as “it would be irresponsible … not to continue pondering the possibility that Truth may indeed differ from what we have thought it to be” (p 360). I dare say this is not a rethinking of methods, but an openness to a rethinking of the message.

    Comment by cobus | Friday, January 22, 2010 | Reply

  3. It might be worth examining just how Western Christianity contextualised itself into Enlightenment rationalism, because it wasn’t always there. I’m not sure that anyone has actually examined the process, though Comaroff & Comaroff do describe the results.

    Comment by Steve | Tuesday, January 26, 2010 | Reply

  4. Steve, the problem I have with the debate (working in rural Swaziland) about things such as Enlightenment and Modernism and Post-Modernism, etc, is that these are all terms thought out by our Western phylosophical minds. And the Christians in Swaziland don’t give a hoot for Post-Modernism and – so it seems to me – the Western modern Christians don’t give a hoot for how people within Africa experience God.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, January 26, 2010 | Reply

  5. Arnau,

    Yes, quite. That’s what Comaroff & Comaroff point out — Western missionaries among the 19th century Tswana-speaking people had problems bringing their gospel contextualised into modernity to people whose worldview was mainly pre-modern. The solution some of the modernised missionaries arrived at was that civilisation had to precede Christinisation. People needed to be given modern problems so that the pre-packaged solutions of the modernised gospel would fit them. But the modern solutions didn’t fit the problems of premodern people, things like witchcraft, for example. But then the missionaries translated the Bible, which was a throroughly pre-modern book, and the result is thousands of African independent churches which have recontextualised the gospel back into premodernity. But perhaps you have to be postmodern to see this🙂

    In Exodus, Aaron’s stick turned into a snake. Pharaoh’s magicians threw down their sticks, which also became snakes. Aaron’s snake ate the others. Premodern missionaries, in Ethiopia, Cornwall, Ireland, and the forests of northern Russia understood this. Modern missionaries didn’t. They build schools to teach people the Enlightenment concept that sticks don’t turn into snakes.

    Comment by Steve | Sunday, January 31, 2010 | Reply


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