Just wrapped up Jim Belcher’s book Deep Church.
I know there have been countless reviews written on many blogs about it, many of them dissecting the chapter on the gospel. My initial thoughts are, this is a must read for any pastor. This book, more than any other book, clearly articulates what a missional church looks like within our world today.
It is that good.
In fact, this book more than any other describes the journey of Revolution and where we are headed in many ways. Now, since Revolution is different from Jim Belcher’s church, it does not lay out everything about us as a church, so don’t take that as gospel. But, if I had to pick one book that articulates my view of church, this would be it. It is next on the reading list for our staff and elder teams.
What this book did that no other book has been able to do is clearly and fairly lay out the differences between the emerging and traditional church conversation. Too many books lay out straw man arguments and then blow them over. What I appreciated about Belcher’s views is how easily his journey corresponded with my journey.
I grew up being a part of the traditional or a seeker sensitive church. While there were aspects of those churches I enjoyed and saw a lot of value in, there were things that I did not like. When the emering church conversation began for me while I was in college, there was a lot that I appreciated about it. The longer the conversation went, I began to see problems with it. As doctrines were questioned and traditions let go of that I held to, I struggled with what to do.
I remain an insider and an outsider to the emerging conversation. There are many areas of emerging theology and ministry with which I wholeheartedly agree. They desire many of the things I embrace, and they dislike many of the things I don’t like about evangelicalism. But I also have deep misgivings about areas of their thought and practice. I am caught in between, and am comfortable with this ambiguity. It allows me to learn from both the traditional church and the emerging church as I follow a different route – the deep church.
This is where Belcher’s boook begins. How to move forward from here.
He looks at the emerging church and the traditional church viewpoint on a variety of issues. He talks through the strengths and weaknesses of both and offers a third way. This third way is often right on. A few times I found myself scratching my head wondering if he was really offering a third way or just throwing one of the views out, but overall, I felt like he found legitimate third ways for each of the issues he tackled.
Belcher describes the deep church as a centered set church, which is, “a church that is defined by its core values, and people are not seen as either in or out but rather by their relationship to the center. In this sense, everyone is potentially part of the community. These churches are Christ-centered. Centered-set churches see the gospel as so refreshing that lovers of Christ will not stray too far from him. And outsiders will be drawn into the community like thirsty pilgrims seeking water.” If that doesn’t sum up the vision for a church, I don’t know what does.
But the question is often asked how you reach those who don’t know Jesus while growing up those who do. Do you have to sell out for one or the other to be a church?
As part of a centered-set church, the pastors at Redeemer (Belcher’s church) attempt to preach and lead worship in a way that is sensitive to the seekers in our midst. Humbled by our own sin and need for the gospel, we remember what it feels like to not believe. We don’t want to be bombastic or arrogant know-it-alls. We don’t set up unnecessary boundaries for those who are searching for meaning. But this does not mean we are not confident about the Well in our midst. We are not hard postmoderns. Our confidence is in Christ, not ourselves. When it comes to the gospel, we are confident, even dogmatic, because the message comes from God’s revelation. He has spoken to us in his Word and made the message of salvation clear. Thus we confidently proclaim the existence of the Well in our midst. Through preaching, liturgy, weekly Lord’s Supper, and a community of believers united in Christ, we want to provide a cup of living water to a dying world. We want to see others drawn to the source of life.
What I most appreciated about the book was how Belcher seemed to move past the typical discussions and arguments and got the heart of the problems. He was able to move past the fluff to the real issues and offer real solutions as a way forward for a church that wants to be on mission, true to the Bible and still be a light to a dying world.