07 October 2009

Deep Church

by Frank Turk

UPDATED: Paul Edwards has run out of guests, and has asked me to talk about this book and this review/recommendation today at 5:05 ET. You can listen in here. (well, not anymore)

The archived audio, saved at archive.org, can be streamed here:

The direct link to the audio for download and iPod-ery is here (right-click to download).

Two weeks ago I threatened to review Jim Belcher's new book Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional, and challenged you readers to read it before I reviewed it so we could have an intelligent discussion about it.

Now, I have an obligation to Jim, who sent me the PDF of his book (FCC: take that) to give the book its fair treatment, but since my initial recommendation, Kevin DeYoung, the most vivacious baby-baptizer in the world reviewed the book and got this comment from Jim for his trouble:
This is by far the most thorough review of my book, both in the overview it provides and the evaluation. It is well written, engaging and helpful, pointing out well the areas you agree and disagree on. It provides a good road map for further dialogue on the third way I am attempting to propose. I am grateful that you have opened up the terrain for even more people to read the book and engage in my thesis. So for that I am deeply grateful. I hope your readers will buy and engage its ideas.
So Thanks a lot, Kevin. What am I supposed to do now?

Well, there are 8 or 9 words in the book Kevin didn't address, and of course this is the pyro-centric part of the blogosphere so we have that flavor to add to Jim's book about why he's not Emergent. And after I'm done here, you folks will have your normal chance to say your piece.

The place to start is, of course, the most superficial things about the book. The regular readers of this blog will probably look at the blurbs for the book, roll their eyes, and go find something else to read. That, people, would be a massive GBA error on your part. You see: not every book worth reading has been endorsed by RC Sproul, JI Packer and DA Carson, and not every book endorsed by Tony Jones needs to be disregarded (sure: most, but ...).

In that, one of the most important attributes of this book (moving away from the superficial to the subtle) is something about it which I admit I didn't appreciate much until the end: the massive benefit of the doubt Jim gives to the "emerg*" perspective on the issues he covers. Frankly, I felt like his treatment of them was far too deferential and sort of demure -- until I got to the end and realized that he had fairly dismantled the worse elements of the movement without handing them a merciless beating, and left himself plenty of room to adopt their reasonable criticisms to seek out orthodox solutions to those problems.

I didn't realize how well he had positioned himself until the final chapter when he, anecdotally, described the real-world results of his church's vision for "Deep Church". And unlike most reviews, I'm not going to ruin it for you by giving you all the good stuff here: you really must read this book yourself.

Was it all good? No, of course not. Jim writing in the first-person was not an approach I'd recommend as it had several places where I thought it sounded a little condescending only because it was all about what "I" did. I thought his treatment of Brian McLaren was downright congenial in spite of his ultimate concern for McLaren's trajectory. And, of course, his points regarding the upside of presbyterian polity seemed to me to be unbalanced -- especially given his really broad hand of fairness for people who, as he himself admitted in the book, have plainly rejected the historical faith. There's no recourse for the independent church when it has members bringing petitions to the pastor? Really?

So my summary here is not that you must read it to believe it: Jim's book about what he is describing as a "third way" between "emerging" and "traditional" is, in spite of itself, a book which will antagonize your complacency about the church in general and your church in particular. Because Jim obviously loves Christ, and therefore obviously loves his church, he wants others to do the same -- and it's refreshing to read a new book on this subject which isn't calling people to give up on leadership, gathering together, and serious views of worship but is also calling people to love, and serve, and commit because this is actually what Christ has called us to.

Big thumbs-up from me on this book. If you haven't read it, it's your turn to read it. Go buy one and pass it around if you have to so you can find someone with whom to talk about it.

If you have read it, tell me: what was your favorite chapter, you least-favorite chapter, and why?


Pierre Saikaley said...

I'm not through reading the whole thing, but one thing, so far, made me smile and shake my head as I read Jim's early experiences in the GEN X. movement. I recalled reading similar misgivings about the evangelical church in the work of Peter Gillquist, one of the leaders of the Evangelical Orthodox movement years ago, particularly where Jim says on p.30 "this desire to be connected to something bigger than ourselves not only led us to thinking about historic connection, it also got us talking about ancient worship."

Then the 1st two of the emerging movement's criticisms that he states 1. Enlightenment rationalism and 2.narrow view of salvation, are similar to the Evangelical Orthodox views.

So, at least for me, since I had a personal experience with the Orthodox thing years ago, these concerns are interesting...in the sense that such concerns, while legitimate, end up being symptoms of deeper issues like the Word of God being insufficient for people...they need more experience and depth of experience, which leads to novel theories or ancient errors.

James Scott Bell said...

From DeYoung's review: “Even though I reject classical foundationalism,” Belcher writes, “I am not comfortable adopting a relational hermeneutic. I believe that God’s revelation in the Word tells us what is real and provides the authority for Christian community. We build our metaphysics on divine revelation. It gives us confidence that we substantially know ‘ready-made reality’” (82). In short, deep church rejects foundationalism built on reason, but accepts foundations built on belief.

Frank, would you comment on this? Because I think this is potentially disastrous. Outside the ivory tower, people are foundationalist (in the Common-Sense Reality way) and I believe it's because that's how God wired us. To reject "foundationalism built on reason" even subtly is to sow the seeds of ultimate skepticism and people leaving the church, not coming to it or staying in it.

It sounds like the book has good material, but this is a real red flag, so before I buy it maybe you could offer your thoughts.

David Rudd said...


Frank likes the content of a book, but thinks the author is too nice.

i'm on my way to the bookstore.

thanks, Frank!

FX Turk said...


Since you were reading Kevin's review, you should have read down to this part:

From Moreland and DeWeese in Chapter 4 of Renewing the Center: "Classic foundationalism, of which the Cartesian project is the paradigm example, holds that Condition C [which grounds our basic beliefs] is indubitability: the ground of the belief must guarantee the truth of the belief. It is recognized in nearly all quarters that classical foundationalism is too ambitious." In other words, there is no way to start at zero and get to a worldview of everyrhing. We all start somewhere, with some presuppositions or some beliefs.

Belcher, like everyone else, rejects this Cartesian foundationalism. But Moreland and DeWeese go on to argue for a modified foundationalism that still accepts this ideas of warranted belief, metaphysical reality (as opposed to linguistically constructed reality), and a correspondence theory of truth (truth describes things are they really are). I think Belcher accepts these same ideas. I certainly do.

I think when you look at the gospel sermons by Paul in Acts you see that he starts in different places depending on his audiences. But the heart of the message is the same. He tells the good news about Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection for our sins. We may need to help people get categories to understand this story, but the news is still the same because it is based on history.

I'd own that.

James Scott Bell said...

I did read that, Frank (thanks for the counter assumption. Sheesh), and have the same concerns. I think it's giving away the store, even with the Moreland-DeWeese formulation. But that's a larger subject perhaps for another time.

FX Turk said...

Well, if you want to be a classic foundationalist, I can't stop you. I think Jim and Kevin and Moreland and DeWeese are all right that classic foundationalism is cartesian and asks for too much, and actually is a wholly-modernist epistemology. That doesn't stop us from believing things which are historically true, of saying, "because X is a real thing, I believe it."

Maybe I don't understnd your concern, JD. Help a brother out.

Nash Equilibrium said...

"I thought his treatment of Brian McLaren was downright congenial in spite of his ultimate concern for McLaren's trajectory".

Is it right to be concerned about someone's mere "trajectory," after they've already splatted against the brick wall? Wow, that really is congenial!

note to self, word verification: unitee

James Scott Bell said...

Frank, my concern is that "soft foundationalism" is more the result of 20th century linguistic skepticism than of biblical metaphysics. I find Thomas Reid more persuasive in this (and so did the old Princeton school theologians). So yes, I'm of the Scottish Common Sense Realism school. I don't think it has been persuasively defeated, and I re-iterate that it's how I think we were made by God. Contemporary obeisance to "soft foundationalism" is, IMO, unwarranted.

So that's my concern. I think "soft foundationalism" will ultimately lead "practical skepticism."

Kyle Mann said...

Dr. William Varner from The Master's College is blogging through this book right now; his comments are insightful. http://dribex.tumblr.com/

DJP said...

Kyle, I know you mean they're also insightful.

Andrew Faris said...

Imagine that: a pyro writer critiquing somebody else for being condescending!

I kid...

And hey, Tony Jones also has an endorsement on the back of the newest version of The Cross of Christ, so there are apparently at least two books on which his name appears that are worth reading!

Thanks for the review, cent.


Kyle Mann said...

Haha, yes. ALSO

FX Turk said...


I think hard foundationalism leads to hyper-individualistic epistemology and atomizes reality into "what I think I know", ultimately making experience the arbiter of truth.

So there. :-)

James Scott Bell said...

So there.

What a hyper individualistic thing to say to an old friend.

Well, just re-read He is There and He is Not Silent and call me in the morning.

Unknown said...

I didn't see much of a review of this book here (or as much of a review as maybe I am use to). It seemed to me like a couple of superficial likes and dislikes and since he really loves Jesus and wants other to also and doesn't call for church rebellion, then it is good and you ought to read it.

I read DeYoung's review when you referred to it and was hoping for maybe a bit more detail from your review.

In other words, I don't see any reason to comment on favorite chapters based on a review that seems a bit thin (based on past reviews that you have done that have efficiently cut open flesh and ripped into meat).

Where's the beef?

Jim Belcher said...


Thanks for the review. I enjoyed it and chuckled a few times!

David Rudd's comments above also brought a smile to my face.

Frank, I think your responses above to the concern that "soft foundationalism" gives away too much is well said. Let me just add that by rejecting foundationalism we are not siding with the agents of irrationalism. I am still a fan of reason, or what in my political philosophy days, we called Right Reason. I am just not in favor of building our entire epistemology on reason the way the Enlightenment did. It is a dead end. So as I say, following Wolterstorff, is that we believe in foundations, built not on reason, but belief that is given to us as a gift of Divine revelation. This makes us post-foundational but not anti-realist. We believe in a "ready-made reality", to use Wolterstorff's phrase. Reality exists and we can't deny that.

When I asked Wolterstorff what thinker has most influenced is view of knowledge he mentioned Thomas Reid. In fact, Wolterstorff has written a full length book on Reid called, "Thomas Reid and the Story of Epistemology." Worth the read, but not easy sledding as you can discern from his book title!

Let's keep dialoguing.


Jugulum said...


My copy just arrived in the mail last night. I haven't even read the intro yet.

I can, however, say that I like the cover art better than the "hip" style of Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck's books.

Also, it's got a very nice binding, and the paper stock is just perfect.

James Scott Bell said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jim.

but belief that is given to us as a gift of Divine revelation.

Could you expand on that a bit? How does such belief differ from the "Divine revelation" given to, say, Mormons? This is the type of real world question that will be asked by the "man in the pew" and which, so far as I can see at the moment, "post-foundational realism" is ill equipped to deal with when pressed.

IOW, doesn't this system inevitably fall into the unforgiving mitts of the "Grand Sez Who?"

I've read Wolterstorff's Reid book, BTW. You're right, it's not for the faint of heart.

Anonymous said...

I have read the book and ordered a copy for our elders to read together. Deep Church resonated with me in several important ways.

My favorite chapter was Deep Preaching, mainly because it championed preaching while challenging me to improve.

The Chapter on Mere Christianity left me the least satisfied. The creeds are important and should be emphasized, but do they set the bar high enough for first tier cooperation? The Catholic Priest in town would affirm the creeds, yet he denies Paul's gospel of grace. The first tier needs a clear definition of the gospel. that goes a little further than Nicene Christianity.

His statement, "we have a low bar for membership....we tolerate differences...baptism." Ok, you knew I would balk here.

But, the idea of tiers, or what Dr. Mohler calls theological triage, is an important concept.

Overall I thought this book was more beneficial than Deyoung's because it offers weighty solutions to problems that must be addressed.

FX Turk said...

BrettR --

The truth be told: Kevin said everything I was prepared to say, and then some. I felt like parroting his review was pointless, echoing his synopsis redundant, and simply layering on my other few criticisms unreasonably negative.

I stand by my original endorsement, point you to Kevin's post for a substantive review/summary of the book, and hope that you'll read it without a lot of preconceived starting points.

If you read the book and don't want to talk about it, that's actually better than not reading the book and wanting to roast it because Jim didn't break out with the hammers and tongs.

Suit yourself.

Bill Honsberger said...

The way foundationalism, classic and "soft" (fallaballistic) was taught in my epistemology classes, showed that the difference between the two is that in classic foundationalism it was possible to have a false inference towards knowledge based on false data. The Gettier Barn examples showed that even though one was justified in thinking there was a barn, they were wrong because the barn turned out to be merely a facade. Thus the non-foundationalist complain upon reliance upon reason and sense data for knowledge. But fallaballistic foundationalism recognizes that our inferences might be proven wrong with further information and data. So "defeasibility" became a part of the mix. It is possible I might be wrong, but it will take more information and data to show that, not a leap into irrationality, or mere coherence, or emotive outbursts.
For what its worth, the two classes I had were taught by an outspoken Christian (Robert Audi at UNL) and an outspoken atheist (Michael Tooley at CU).
All this aside, what does the New Testament show in how people came to know? First John says "what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands..." Sure sounds like something akin to common sense realism or soft foundationalism to me. To go back to the barn analogy, the apostle John had already seen "both" sides of Jesus as it were, and argues that you can KNOW Him and who he was/is and what he did. Of course to the pomo/emergent types, any attempt to tie faith in with evidence and reason is a mortal sin and it doesn't matter what conclusion one comes up with. (You know - rationality is bad and here are my three reasons why...sort of thing!)
It seems in some places any swear word will preach, but the real seven deadly words are now such as "know", "knowledge", "certainty" and so on.
What a wonderfully confused world we live in. Amazing that the Lord would love any of us isn't it?

Jim Belcher said...


Good suggestion to read Kevin DeYoung's review. There are not many reviews of my book that go into that kind of summary and depth. Even where I disagree with Kevin's conclusions on my book, I am flattered by anyone who takes the time for that kind of in-depth review. And for your readers, I don't blame you for not wanting to go over the same ground. I thought what you did was the perfect amount to get the conversation going. That is really what blog reviews are for.

One chapter of the book that I thought would get lots of push back was Deep Culture in which I quote John MacArthur. Is the traditional church "tribal" as the emerging side says?

I am off to a couple of hours of meetings but I will come back and hang around for the afternoon, dipping in where I can be helpful.


FX Turk said...

Tad --

Yeah, I'm going to post at another time about why "mere christianity" is just not enough. I had a year-long brawl with Tim Enloe about that back when I started blogging in the days of ham radio, and because it keeps coming up some of that stuff probably needs a revisit.

I did actually have other comments about Jim's book which are really complaints, but here's the truth: you people (whoever you are) need to read this book and digest it rather than simply put it one theoretical pile or another. The concerns it voices are concerns we voice here all the time, and Jim has sought to achieve an orthodox solution to the problems.

Are they perfect? Not hardly. But they are tennable and actionable and if not "merely Biblical", they certainly are inside a systematic most of the readers of this blog would honor as Gospel-oriented.

FX Turk said...

Jim --

First of all, it's pretty generous (some would say masochistic) to spend you day here at our blog to be part of the discussion, so thanks for your time as it is available.

As to that chapter in particular, I think the irony in your example is that Dr. MacArthur is sort of the 800-lb gorilla in the room when we talk about traditional/non-traditional churches: he’s a guy who is sort of respected and hated by both sides. He walks the walk, and he doesn’t really give any quarter to people who don’t. I’m not sure anyone can seriously hang the accusation that he is “kowtowing to the sacred-secular,
public-private split picked up in the eighteenth century, which has led to
the reality chronicled in unChristian.” He would be in fact one of the longer-visioned independent church leaders who has been at the forefront of criticizing such a thing.

As to your Kuyperian view of Christians in culture, I respect it and I disagree with its "two kingdoms"-esque conclusions, probably because I am, all things said, a sort of rabid big-B Baptist.

I think everyone reading here would agree with you that having the "traditional" church being defined by places like First Baptist, Inc. (SBC), the Willow Creek and Saddleback models is an enjoyable little joke since, as you point out, these are pretty ahistorical manifestations of the Christian tradition. But to say that is to also say that the socially-right civil religion of our nation is not any better than the socially-left civil religion which preceded it. It all leads to the same gospel-less place, which I think we would all also agree is a bleak place.

There's nothing in this chapter as I saw it that would not already be covered by David F. Wells, and he's a local favorite with the TeamPyro readership. That you used Dr. MacArthur as a foil (for me) was interesting and (maybe) wrong, but not very controversial.

lawrence said...

probably the best comment thread I've ever read on Pyro's.

Jim Belcher said...


It was great to join you on the Paul Edwards show this afternoon. Sorry to steal some of your limelight! :) I was not only honored by what you said about my book but had so much fun in the back in forth with you and Paul. This material would make a great conference. I really appreciate your desire to postpone the differences to first make sure your readers get the book and digest it. I just hope once this is done that we can get down to discussing differences. I am really looking forward to your perspective and the chance to learn from you and perhaps deepen my understanding of these very important issues in the church. I am serious about this.
I am still learning myself.

To keep deepening my understanding on the Great Tradition I am reading some more Dan Williams, this time his "Tradition,Scripture, and Interpretation: A Sourcebook of the Ancient Church." It is outstanding. I am really interested in your push back on why the Great Tradition--mere Christianity--is not enough.

Let's keep talking.


FX Turk said...

My shekinah is big enough for both of us, Jim.

Looking forward to more on this subject.

David Rudd said...


Jim liked my comment...

now i have to skip my son's field trip tomorrow to finish the book.

Solameanie said...

I think I'm going to have to have Frank on the radio program I co-host if he'll consent sometime. Sounds like I'm missing some fun.

Phil's endured me three times, but he might talk Frank out of it.

frankfusion said...

How does being a big "B" Baptist make you non-Kyperianish? Asking as a fellow Reformed SBCer.

FX Turk said...


I have a lot of 'splainin' to do.

Scottj said...

My post is a bit late, and it is late (at night), but I wanted to make a couple of observations.

First, I am grateful for Deep Church, even if I am not happy with all of it. As I read Belcher, I begin to sense how disparate the evangelical movement has become. The emergent/traditional episode is one of so many controversies that it really does create a sense of loneliness, or alone-ness in me.

I don't blame Belcher for creating rifts, but as I consider the details, I see much of the same sort of divisions played-out and playing-out in other times in history.

Another observation, and I hope some others here might comment on it, is Doug Pagitt's relational hermeneutic. This is discussed in the chapter Deep Preaching. When reading Belcher's description of Pagitt's relational hermeneutic, I felt a kind of deja-vu. According to Pagitt, if Belcher reads him correctly, the community creates theology, creates doctrine, and is the final (though never really final) arbiter of truth (though never truth, really). Nothing is privileged, not even the Bible. If Pagitt hopes to de-privilege everything that is privileged, however, he has just swapped one authority for another.

Quite awhile ago I was contemplating Gundry's commentary on Matthew. He, Warren Carter, and many, many others have determined that Scripture was created by community. That means that Scripture does not call forth a Christian community (as in preaching), but the community created Scripture for its own purposes and needs. This is the position of almost all New Testament studies published by Fortress and Augsburg, et al. This is a position held by a large group of scholars known as "liberals." The Jesus Seminar would be a current example. This kind of thinking is thoroughly Enlightenment and Modern. This is also the position rejected by those who believe the Bible as a uniquely revealed, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. I do not know of any Christian denomination that has successfully pulled off rejecting Scripture as supernaturally revealed truth, while growing.

So this leads to two further comments: 1) Pagitt's thinking seems to place him in a modernist, classically foundationalist mindset as to current hermeneutics. What he is advocates TODAY as a model of theology, is precisely what today's liberals say was done YESTERDAY (in the years the following Christ's time on earth and the apostles, when the church "wrote" the Bible). What I mean is this: liberals say that community created Scripture; Pagitt says community trumps Scripture. This is simply another way of saying that community creates Scripture yet again. According to liberal thinking, since the Enlightenment has educated us past the supernatural, and therefore a God-breathed Scripture, we are only left with a record of mankinds thoughts about God. Is that not what Pagitt is offering today?

If the similarity between this kind of emergent thinking and old Enlightenment liberalism is as clear as it seems, does it not follow that Pagitt is actually quite the foundationalist?

It was the Enlightenment, modern, foundationalist thinking that made man the writer of Scripture rather than God. So if postmodernist wishes to be honest, why is this modern reading of Scripture still privileged? Why is the anti-supernatural bias still allowed to stand? I had opportunity to ask this question of my teachers at the Institute for Christian Studies (in Toronto). My question was, "If we are rejecting modernity, why are we still treating the Bible as though the Enlightenment rejection of its supernatural claims are still valid? My question was unanswered--either they did not understand it (which I doubt), or they thought I was too stupid for words (which I don't so much doubt).

Scottj said...

continued . . .

I have yet to find in emergent writings a commitment to Scripture that truly rejects the Enlightenment reading of it. As a Bible-believer, I would be accused of being a fundamentalist or at least, foundationalist. But this is only because my "certainty" is that the Bible is God's Word, not man's word about his God-thoughts. If I were "certain" that the Bible's supernatural claims are merely man's wishful-thinking, I would be a member of the club. Modern postmodern liberals seem pretty certain the the Bible is not what it claims to be: supernatural.

I think that many emergents are simply embarrassed by the supernatural claims of the Bible. The world of the Bible does not mirror our own in that respect, and so, according to the meta-narrative, must be rejected. And yet, emergents may be uncomfortable(!) with the liberal formulation that the Bible is "man's word about God." This, I believe, is where much of the "mystery" talk comes in. It is as if to say, "We really can't understand this book (even though it explains itself very clearly), nor can we naively accept the supernatural events as space-time facts, so there must be more to it--something different. It is a mystery."

I call that gnostic.

FX Turk said...

Scott --

Are you implying that Jim is defending Pagitt's hermeneutic?

Scottj said...


No, not at all! I'm just saddened by the discussion, by the existence of the problem that Jim describes very well. I think he just stirred (and clarified, for me) some deep-seated animosity I hold for old liberalism (I was raised LCA now ELCA Lutheran). I am very sorry if I gave the impression that Mr Belcher is defending Pagitt.