Deep Church– A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional, by Jim Belcher is a book worthy of the reading if you are interested in what has been and still is transpiring in the contemporary church in the West, especially in the United States. I would go further to say that this is a great book for anyone new to the church planting game, or who have been largely oblivious to the meta trends that have been in- force for the last 20 + years in church growth, or in the case of the old mainline denominations, contraction. This book does a good job of comparing the streams of ministry that represent the opposing ends of the continuum of ministry style which the author correctly describes as traditional and emerging. And importantly, he also points out some of the dangerous, and even heretical doctrinal positions that characterize the emerging/emergent stream.
Belcher is a pastor of a PCA congregation, so that positions him in the most conservative of the presbyterian-styled denominations in the U.S. This fact afforded me, as a reader, the benefit of starting from a common Reformed tradition when it comes to his doctrine. And because I found no reason to contend with him doctrinally, it was easy to absorb his observations and assessments. But that said, I found myself several times anxious for some “ah ha” finding. And there were relatively few for me. I will credit that to the fact that I am an interested spectator in the church growth/church planting game. While I would never characterize myself as an expert in this field, I did find myself somewhat disappointed that I really did not find anything revolutionary about the author’s findings, or recommendations. And perhaps that is a good thing. Much of what Belcher describes as the so-called Third Way, are methods, styles, and practices that I perceive are being implemented in many churches that still cling to the Great Tradition, while acknowledging that the traditional church has become a bit long in the tooth and has been slow to adopt practices that appeal to church goers and the unchurched in the third millenium.
There are others much more skilled than I at taking on the specifics of Belcher’s conclusions, and I will leave it to them to do so. My impression of the book is that it’s findings are excellent for those who are late to the party, but still interested in what has already transpired in terms of trends in church growth. But the Third Way that Belcher recommends is already here and has been for a while, and is not really a “new” third way going forward.
I enjoyed the book, would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the behind the scenes aspects of “doing church” in our current age, but for anyone who is already a reasonably well informed observer, don’t expect anything particularly startling between the pages. You have already seen it, heard it, or read it.