I've been trying to catch up on my reading (and my reviews) and recently finished Deep Church by Jim Belcher.
In reading this book, I think it's important to understand a bit about who Jim Belcher is. Jim is a graduate of Fuller and Georgetown, and someone who included postmodernism in his doctoral thesis. This is key to me, as I believe Belcher has credibility in this area. A lot of people are critical of the emerging church without ever really understanding it in the first place. Since there is no denomination to look at, no central body to appeal to, critics tend to find pastors who write things they don't like and assume everyone else thinks the same way. Belcher does not do this, and I appreciate his approach. At the same time, Belcher respects the "old ways" as it were, as he planted his church as a member of PCA, the Presbyterian Church in America. This combination of old and new is definitely what has brought Deep Church a lot of positive attention.
The book starts strong, as Belcher does a good job of explaining the nuances of the emerging church (if you don't like that term, say missional church, re-envisioned church, or whatever other term you prefer...) and its complaints with the traditional church. He then talks about the need for unity, which I wholeheartedly agree with. It is important that we discuss and learn from one another, not stand back and lob barbs over the wall at people who love God and are seeking the scriptures and trying to find what they believe to be the right approach to ministry (whether that be traditional, emerging, or whatever).
Belcher then delves into the enlightenment vs. postmodernism debate that rages in the church, and does an excellent job of explaining how different understandings of what postmodernism is create conflict within the church.
It is in the chapter entitled Deep Evangelism that my enthusiasm for this book began to wane. Up to this point (nearly 100 pages in) I found this book very helpful and informative. But this chapter began a pattern of emerging says x, traditional responds y, and we are z, the right way. Maybe I'm a bit overly sensitive to this, but it started a little bit in this chapter and became a constant drumbeat for the rest of the book.
I have no issue with Belcher being proud of his church. He should be! If he doesn't think they are doing it right, he has no business being the leader! The problem is that when you are trying to lay out contrasts, you tend to gravitate towards extremes. For example, in this chapter he implies that emerging churches focus only on being in community and never on a moment of decision for the gospel. While this may be true of some, I don't think it accurately reflects the predominant approach of leading churches.
It gets a lot worse in chapter six, when Belcher begins to quote Brian McLaren as the beliefs of the emerging church, and then contrasts this with the traditional church response to Brian. Suddenly we have moved from a valuable discussion of the differences between the emerging churches and traditional churches, and have instead picked an easy target and then shown how we don't think the same way.
Maybe the reason I have such a problem with it is that I don't think the book fairly compares the two sides once we reach these chapters. It's almost more of a couple of easy arguments thrown up, and then Belcher's church setup as a model that looks very different from those rather two dimensional targets. Maybe I'm a little harsh, but I was quite disappointed by this book.
The odd thing is that, for the most part, I think Belcher DOES have it right. I am a fan of the ideas he sets out and agree with him on the need for balance in church ministry.
I think I can best explain my feelings about this book by briefly talking about another book. I am a fan of science fiction, and one of my favorite books is Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick. This book is approximately 185 pages long in the copy I have. The first 175 pages are among the most brilliant works of science fiction ever written. The last 10 could have been done by a reasonably literate fourth grader. Why the contrast? I imagine PKD's publisher on the phone screaming at him "I don't care what you write, just finish the book and have it on my desk by tomorrow or you don't get paid!" and so a very disconcerting and boring ending was slapped on what should have been a landmark in science fiction, ruining the final product.
In many ways, Deep Church feels a bit like Flow My Tears. The first hundred pages or so are well researched and well thought out and very balanced, and then Belcher simply needed to finish his book. The second half of the book deals more in extremes, with Redeemer Presbyterian Church standing seemingly alone in the middle. That's really a shame, because I think Belcher laid a terrific foundation, and I really wish the second half of the book had been up to the same standard.
Is Deep Church worth reading? At the end of the day, I think it is. Despite my complaints, the book is worth it for the first hundred pages alone, and the second half is still valuable to read to challenge your thinking on what a church should look like by reading about the example of how Redeemer is doing ministry.