Review of "Deep Church" + Your Thoughts on Creeds


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

One of the perks of blogging is that sometimes you get free books in the mail to review on your site.  I have to admit that I was somewhat skeptical about Deep Church, the most recent book I received, in which Jim Belcher examines the divide between the emerging church and the traditional church in an effort to forge a third way.

I know what you’re thinking.

Define emerging. Define traditional…Oh, wait, you can’t.  How can there be a clear third way between such diverse, multi-faceted, and nuanced perspectives?

This is a problem that sneaks up on Belcher every now and then, but for the most part, he handles it with more clarity, intelligence, and compassion than just about any author I’ve read.  What sets Deep Churchapart is that it explains the emerging church phenomenon without putting it in a box. Belcher allows the diversity of the movement speak for itself, and does an excellent job of dispelling some of the myths and mischaracterizations that have dogged the emerging church and its proponents.

Highlights for me included:  1) Belcher’s call in Chapter 3 to find common ground in classic/orthodox Christianity (the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed) which, if applied, would dramatically reduce some of the name-calling and accusations of heresy that have been most unhelpful in the discussion between the emerging and traditional camps, 2) Belcher’s fabulous treatment of postmodernism and postfoundationalism in Chapter 4, where he rightly explains that when talking about postmodernism,  folks in the emerging church and the traditional church are using the same term to refer to two completely different things, and where he concludes that “a third way rejects classical foundationalism and hard postmodernism,” and 3) Belcher’s fair handling of the atonement issue in Chapter 6, in which he clarifies that most emergering church leaders “are not against atonement theories and justification, but want to see it balanced with the message of the kingdom of God.” These are just a few examples of Belcher's remarkably balanced approach, which is such a breath of fresh air.

Of course, in a book like this, it is inevitable that those of us who tend to identify with one side or the other will nitpick some of the author’s characterizations or claims. For example, I disagree with complementarian positions that limit the role of women in church leadership, but I don’t think this puts me in the category of “revisionists” who are “open to questioning key evangelical doctrines on theology and culture,” as Belcher asserts on page 46. I felt that occasionally, Belcher’s Calvinism got in the way of his third way, (particularly in Chapter 6 on “gospel” and Chapter 10 on “culture”), but I am of course a bit oversensitive to that because of my general aversion to systematic theology, particularly Reformed Theology. 

These are little things considering Belcher’s ambitious goal of trying to both define and bridge the gap between the emerging church and the traditional church—which he does marvelously. I am deeply grateful for his fair treatment of the subject and his commitment to pursue unity and understanding within the Church.

Blessed are the peacemakers!

Now, on to the subject of creeds in the context of “A New Kind of Fundametnalism”:

The part of Deep Church that I found to be most relevant to our conversations here at “Monkey Town” was Chapter 3, in which Belcher issues a stirring call for unity around classical Christianity. Citing Robert Greer, Belcher advocates developing a two-tiered approach that divides the essentials of orthodoxy from the particulars of differing traditions within the boundaries of orthodoxy.” The top tier, writes Belcher, “matches the creeds of the early church that have historically and universally defined orthodoxy. The bottom tier corresponds to the distinctive of each individual church body.” (p. 60)

Belcher identifies these creeds as The Apostle’s CreedThe Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

I thought that this subject could really augment our discussion surrounding my recent post about A New Kind of Fundamentalism, in which I argue that a commitment to love God and love people provides the foundation for the Christian faith. The post generated a variety of responses (both here and on other blogs), with some folks calling for a doctrinal element to this kinds of fundamentalism.

So what do you think about this approach: Love + Affirmation of the Nicene Creed = Orthodoxy.

It differs from traditional fundamentalism in that it acknowledges love a fundamental element of faith, but it remains distinct from mere moralism in that it includes certain basic beliefs about God and Jesus Christ.

(To clarify, this is my take on the issue, not Belcher's.)

What do you think? Is such a definition of orthodoxy too limiting or too broad? Is trying to define orthodoxy counterproductive or helpful? Which creed do you think is most useful for defining orthodoxy? 

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