Saturday, May 08, 2010

Deep Church review

I have found that with so many changes going on in the church (my church as well as the Western church), I have been drawn to reading books on Ecclesiology. Back in seminary I remember comparing Resident Aliens with Rediscovering Church. It seems that I was the only one in Scott Wenig's Church Administration class who felt more aligned with Hauerwas and Willimon's book (RA) than with the exceedingly popular book by the Hybles. The pragmatic work of the Willow Creek megachurch just seemed too shortsighted to me.

I just worked my way through Deep Church by Jim Belcher (2009, IVP, Kindle Edition). In this book he investigates the debate between traditional and the emergent models of church. This is a raging debate in Christian leadership circles. If you aren't a leader, you might not think you care, but the truth is, the model of church will effect the way, the purpose and the form of your relationship with believers. Belcher talks briefly about the pragmatic movement of the church grow/seeker sensitive movement, but does not analyze it beyond deeming in dead. (Interesting that less than a dozen years ago, most of the students in my class were inline with this movement.)

In the end, Belcher is trying to set up a third way between the traditional church (fundamentalism) and the emergent church. His third way envelopes three elements for defining the body that Christ left for his work on Earth. They are the Bible, traditions and culture. Of course, both the traditional and emergent church believe they are using the Bible in their development, but they see the Bible in very different ways. The traditional camp interprets the Bible based on traditions. The emergent side works from a context of understanding the Bible according to the culture.

In the end, I think that Belcher has presented an excellent option to these Ecclesiologies. He calls this third way the deep church. I struggle a bit with his discussion on politics and worship. While I agree that those in the emergent camp too often focus on arts when talking about culture and agree that Christians need to be involved in all aspects of culture, I think that Christians need to be careful here. Too often we have adopted a worldly political system and named it Christian (whether it be conservative or liberal). We cannot afford to do that and maintain our witness. At this point of very divisive politics, Christians need to be questioning hard both poles of the political spectrum. Belcher hints at this but the warning needs to be stronger.

On my second issue of traditions in worship. I do not disagree that we need to understand and connect with our historical context as we worship as the body of Christ. But that is always going to be difficult. What tradition do we connect to is always going to be a difficult question. A glance at Belcher's Redeemer Presbyterian Church website shows a very western church image. How do we account for which traditions we follow? How do we discount an inappropriate tradition? It would seem that we need to ask these questions or the church will be driven to adopt practices of by-gone cultures which do not draw us closer to the Cross. For example, while the author chose his denomination over (among other things) a strong belief in ordination. The tradition of ordination, of course, came from the same tradition that gave us the totalitarian papacy. At the same time, while hymns are the history of the church that grew up in the west, why do we usually ignore African spirituals or music from eastern cultures?

In the end, I was quite impress and swayed by Deep Church. The issue I have are minor and I like the way that Belcher is working to bring the positive of both extremes in the church debate together. I would love to hear from others as we work out the issues of worship and culture. Do you think Belcher found a reasonable middle point?