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Ah yes, another book on the emergent church. I admit I both really wanted to read this book and really didn't. The wanting is because, as you may know, I too wrote a book on the emerging church. So naturally I was curious what another author-one with blurbs from the likes of Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, Rob Bell, Scot McKnight, and Tony Jones-had to say about the movement.

But a big part of me didn't want to read the book. Believe it or not, I don't live for controversy and I don't wake up in the morning hoping to jump back into emergenty thoughts. I spent a year of my life researching and writing about the emergent church and then another year teaching and doing interviews about it. That was enough for me. Besides, perhaps I'm naive, but I think most people can now see the emergent movement for what it is. There are enough resources out there now for people to make up their minds and decide whether this is a healthy reform movement or a conversation pushing the boundaries of evangelical faith and sometimes jumping the bounds of orthodoxy itself.

Keeping Up With the Conversation
But, alas, I feel some obligation to keep informed of the conversation. So it was with a feeling of apprehension and intrigue that I read Jim Belcher's book Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional. I was preparing for the worst when I read in the blurbs that this book "avoids the clamor for extremes" (Scot McKnight), is "the first to be truly gracious" and is great "for any who are tired of straw man arguments and polarizations" (Mark Oestreicher), and rises above "the usual shallow, facile critiques of the emergent church movement" (Tony Jones). I can’t help but assume that Why We're Not Emergent is one of the "extreme", "straw man", "facile" critiques they're thinking of. What would I be getting into with this book?

I am always skeptical of "third way" books anyways. Usually, the "third way" is basically the same as one of the other two ways, only a little nicer. In this case, I was expecting the third way to be emergent-lite with a less caustic attitude toward evangelicals. But actually Belcher was just the opposite. He is an evangelical-a traditional evangelical I would argue-who seems sound in his theology (he is a PCA minister after all), but wants to be non-traditional in a few ways. If I were titling the book I would call it "Why I'm Not Emergent, But I Like Many of the Emergent Folks and I Want to Do Church Differently Too."

What is Deep Church?
The heart and soul of Deep Church is Belcher's dream for traditional and emerging camps to find unity in the Great Tradition and not blast each other over second-tier differences (67-68). Chapter 3, "The Quest for Mere Christianity", is the most important chapter in the book for understanding what Belcher is aiming for with his third way. On the one hand, Belcher wants to avoid the fundamentalist error of seeing every other kind of church as heretical and suspect. On the other hand, he also wants to avoid the liberal error of seeing theology as infinitely malleable. Belcher's vision is for the traditional church and the emerging church to find common ground in the consensual tradition summed up in the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed (54ff.).

Second-tier doctrines are not unimportant. Many of them are weighty, and individual churches will come down in different places relative to these doctrines. But binding all churches together is a tradition of orthodoxy. It's the Great Tradition, then, that matters most, not our respective traditions. For the Great Tradition unifies us and ought to arouse our greatest passion. Belcher’s book is a winsome plea for a return to Mere Christianity and the humility and unity that goes with it.

What Are the Camps?
The traditional camp is not well-defined by Belcher (a weakness I'll come back to later). At times it seems to be the same as fundamentalism (61). In other places, the traditional camp refers to anyone who has critiqued the emergent movement, including John MacArthur, Ron Gleason, Kevin DeYoung, Ted Kluck, and D.A. Carson. Belcher acknowledges the traditional camp is not monolithic. But he suggests "the groups comprising traditional evangelicalism share similar views of culture, epistemology and the church" (10). Still, in the end, I'm not sure what makes someone a part of the traditional camp in Belcher’s estimation, other than that they have been critical of the emergent camp.

Having said that, Belcher's analysis of the emergent side is much more helpful. I won't retell his own story, but Belcher has the advantage of having been an insider in the movement at its inception. He knows the journey of the emerging church well and he knows well many of the key players. This is what makes his book unique and why the emergents have received it more warmly. Carson was a total outsider in their minds. Ted and I were at least demographically similar and culturally conversant, but still outsiders. Jim is a true insider.

But also an outsider. He writes: "As much as I feel like an insider to the conversation, I also feel at times like an outsider because of some reservations I have with aspects of the emerging conversation" (28). Similar to what Ted and I said in Why We're Not Emergent, Belcher feels like emerging voices are raising good questions, but their answers are often disturbing. Similar to Carson, Belcher defines the emerging movement (which he makes clear is not identical to Emergent Village) as a protest movement.

The emerging church is protesting against the traditional church on seven fronts: (1) Captivity to Enlightenment rationalism. (2) A narrow view of salvation. (3) Belief before belonging. (4) Uncontextualized worship. (5) Ineffective preaching. (6) Weak ecclesiology. (7) Tribalism.

Under the label "emerging" are three different camps: the relevants (e.g. Driscoll, Kimball, and some Young, Restless, and Reformed types) who are trying to contextualize ministry while still maintaining conservative theology; the reconstructionists (e.g., Cole, Hirsch, Barna, Viola) who are experimenting with organic house churches and monastic communities; and the revisionists (e.g., McLaren, Jones, Pagitt) who are questioning key evangelical doctrines on theology and culture (45-46). Belcher's analysis focuses mostly on the reconstructionists and the revisionists because they have gotten the most attention and faced the most push back.

Protesting Protestants
The bulk of the book deals with the seven areas of protest. Each chapter follows a similar pattern. Belcher usually begins with a personal experience that led him to see a problem with the traditional approach to church. Then Belcher explores the emerging solution, often interviewing key leaders in the movement and raising some possible objections along the way. Next, Belcher looks at the response of the traditional church to the emerging answers. And finally he proposes a third way that seeks to combine the best of both camps while avoiding the worst extremes.

Here's a thumbnail sketch for each chapter/protest:

1. Deep Truth – Emergents reject classic foundationalism, which is good. But while they are right to reject self-evident truth, they are wrong to embrace a postmodern "constructivist" epistemology. "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.

Similarly, deep church is centered-set instead of bounded-set or relational-set. This means the church focuses on drawing people to the Well (Jesus Christ) instead of guarding all the fences (like the traditional church). It also means the church knows what it should be focusing on (the center), instead of allowing the community to determine truth for itself (like in the emerging church).

2. Deep Evangelism – The traditional church insists that belief must precede belonging. This has the effect of slamming the door on spiritual seekers. The emerging church insists on belonging before belief. But every community must have some standards and everyone in the church must be challenged to repentance, faith, and obedience at some point. So is there a third way? According to Belcher the third way understands that there are two circles around Jesus. There is an outer circle of seekers and an inner circle of committed disciples. Deep church welcomes everyone into the outer circle, regardless of their beliefs, but challenges them to become a part of the inner circle.

3. Deep Gospel - The traditional church has made salvation too personalized, too much like fire insurance. The message of individual salvation is important, but it must be balanced with Jesus' teaching on the kingdom. We must avoided reductionist gospels and remember the gospel has a public dimension. We must not shrink the gospel to the forgiveness of sins. But, Belchers adds, penal substitution and justification must form the foundation for everything else we say about the gospel. The kingdom cannot be ignored, but it must be linked to the doctrines of atonement, justification, union with Christ, and our need to be forgiven (118).

4. Deep Worship – The emerging church tries to contextualize its worship, but in so doing it sometimes becomes untethered to history and too much a product of the culture around it. What is needed is not just a sampling of tradition, but a return to the Great Tradition. Belcher's third way looks like this: "worship that embodies a genuine encounter with God, had depth and substance, included more frequent and meaningful Communion, was participatory, read more Scripture in worship, creatively used the senses provided more time for contemplation, and focused on the transcendence and otherness of God" (124).

5. Deep Preaching – Traditional preaching is often boring and uninspired. There is little drama to it. Most sermons boil down to two things: you suck; try harder (142). The emerging church tries to suggest a better way. In practice their "sermons" sound like sermons, except with a little more interaction from the congregation. But underneath the emergent view of preaching (at least that espoused by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones) is a radical shift, a hermeneutic of community that says nothing is privileged, not even the Bible, over the community in discovering and living out truth (145). Belcher rejects this hermeneutic, seeing that it leads to a rejection of classical orthodoxy. So neither traditional nor emergent preaching will work. We need a third way that is not deductive and legalistic like traditional preaching, nor open-ended like emergent preaching. Instead, those who belong to deep church "preach Christ in every text, laying out and analyzing the human condition through Scriptures and experience, and exposing the radical, shocking grace of God that enters our situation, transforms us and empowers us to live differently" (157).

6. Deep Ecclesiology – Traditional church gets bogged down in meetings, paperwork, and organizational bureaucracy. This is bad. So the emerging church calls for a more organic, open-source model for church. But even organic churches cannot survive long without structure and accountability. What we need is a third way that calls the church to be both institution and organism, respects the offices of elder and deacon, celebrates worship as a means of grace, and cultivates and learns from tradition.

7. Deep Culture – The third way between traditional and emerging approaches to culture accepts Abraham Kuypers distinction between the church as institution and the church as organism. The church as an institution focuses primarily on preaching, sacraments, worship, and caring for the body. The church as organism works to train secret agents who go out into the world, work for the shalom of the city, and create culture. With this institution/organism approach, our churches can have a deep culture, one that is neither a copy-cat of culture nor irrelevant to it.

As you can see, there is much to affirm in these chapters. Belcher understands the issues well and clearly rejects the worst of the emerging movement. His church sounds like a good church, and Belcher (whom I never met) strikes me as an honest, thoughtful, irenic pastor. I agreed with much more in this book than I thought I would. As a part of the PCA, Belcher is not only tied to the Great Tradition, but to the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition. As such, I imagine our theology is quite similar. We are on the same team. My agreements with him outnumber my disagreements.

Nevertheless, I have a few critiques for Deep Church. Let me mention four, each in the form of a question.

1. What is the gospel?
Belcher makes clear that he affirms penal substitution. He thinks it is foundational to the other views of the atonement. He believes that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins and take away our guilt. This is all wonderful. But I'm still a bit perplexed.

Belcher's church holds to four core commitments: gospel, community, mission, and shalom. He admits that the church struggled the most to define the first of these four. "We had spent five years translating or contexualizing the gospel to the Orange County setting, and we wanted to be sure we had not reduced it any way" (120). First of all, I'm puzzled by the effort to translate the gospel. It seems to me that the news is still the same: Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day. Ministries may need to contextualize, but the gospel?

More importantly, I'm puzzled by the definition of the gospel Belcher's church came up with.

The “gospel” is the good news that through Jesus, the Messiah, the power of God's kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. Through the Savior God has established his reign. When we believe and rely on Jesus' work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us. We witness the radical new way of living by our renewed lives, beautiful community, social justice, and cultural transformation. This good news brings new life. The gospel motivates, guides, and empowers every aspect of our living and worship (121).

This is a fine statement of Christian theology, but is it the gospel? Surely, 1 Corinthians 15 gives us the best summary of the gospel and there we find no mention of cultural transformation or renewing the whole world. But we do here about sin, the cross, and the resurrection-three items given no specific mention in Belcher's definition of the gospel. This is a problem.

2. Is unity possible?
Belcher's dream is that traditional and emerging camps would find unity in the first-tier doctrines of the faith. But what if the Great Tradition is not a controlling tradition for the emergent church? "John and I," Belcher writes speaking of John Armstrong and himself, "concluded that they [Jones and Pagitt] seemed to reject any commitments to the classical orthodoxy of the Great Tradition…I asked John, 'If we are understanding them correctly, does this view put them outside of evangelical bounds as to many of their critics have been saying?’" (146). To which I wanted to reply, "Yes! And not just evangelical bounds, the bounds of orthodoxy too." Belcher recognizes that Pagitt does not hold to the "rule of faith" or "classical orthodoxy.” The Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed do not define mere Christianity for him (148). So why do people keep talking about Jones and Pagitt as if they are part of the evangelical conversation, when they aren't even orthodox Christians?

In the end Belcher agrees that the traditional camp is not overstating its case when it comes to Pagitt's views (152). So I don't have a problem with Belcher's theology on this point. In fact, I commend him for providing an honest assessment of the revisionist camp of the emerging movement. But I wish he would have stated more strongly and clearly that unity is not possible with those who reject the Great Tradition. True, Tony, Doug, and Brian are on the far left of the movement, but then at least let's warn people about the far left of the movement. The hall of heterodoxy is not the same as the hall of Mere Christianity, and those standing in one hall cannot share spiritual unity with those standing in the other.

As much as Belcher doesn’t want to have a bounded-set church, if orthodoxy is to be a defining part of his church, it must have boundaries and those outside those boundaries are dangers to the sheep and the church’s shepherds should say so.

3. Is the Great Tradition enough?
I'm all for making the main things the main things. I'm all for differentiating between first- and second-tier issues. But is it enough to say the Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed define orthodoxy, let alone evangelicalism? These creeds addressed certain pivotal issues that faced the church in its first few centuries. But what about other issues that have arise since then, like the atonement, justification, the authority of the Bible? I would say these are first-tier issues too, even though they were not specifically addressed by an early council or creed.

Along these lines. I was bothered by the references to "the version of the doctrine of the atonement that Piper holds dear" and "Pagitt and Jones don't hold to Piper's view of the atonement" (11, 12). Elsewhere Belcher explains that McLaren and others are not against "atonement theories" (111). This sort of language about the cross rubs me the wrong way. When evangelicals talk about Christ's death in our place to propitiate the wrath of God as a “version of the atonement” or one favored theory, they give away too much.

True, there are different aspects to the atonement. But penal substitution is not a mere version. “So substitution is not a ‘theory of the atonement,'” writes John Stott. “Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others. It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself.” Penal substitution is the plain truth of Scripture. I know that sounds hopelessly modern, but sometimes I just can't help it. Christ dying in the place of guilty sinners deserves to be called more than "a view of the atonement that Piper holds dear."

4. Is Deep Church a genuine third way?
In the end, the thing I liked most about the book is also my biggest criticism. Belcher's way, despite is few differences in shape and tone (see critiques above), is not a genuine third way but the traditional way mediated through Tim Keller. Don't get me wrong. I like that way. I love Tim Keller. I wasn’t disappointed to see that I agreed with Belcher on a lot. But if I’m traditional (which I am in the Deep Church taxonomy) then I think Belcher is too. Come to think of it, D.A. Carson is in the traditional camp too (in Deep Church) and he and Keller are very close friends. They started the Gospel Coalition together so I assume they agree on an awful lot. So is Carson another third way?

Deep church is essentially traditional doctrine with a softer edge and more cultural engagement. That’s not bad. It can be very good if done faithfully. But I don't think it is a third way. Very few of the extremes of the traditional camp rejected by Belcher are footnoted or attributed to any leader in the traditional church. Consequently, I don’t think he is rejecting the traditional church as much as a bad experience of it.

Likewise, most of what Belcher offers as a third way are not new ideas to the traditional church. Almost all the conservative Christians I know reject classic foundationalism. Every conservative church I know of welcomes seekers and allows unbelievers to be a part of the church in the outer circle, even if they can't be members until they believe certain things. Every good homiletics course teaches the difference between imperatives and indicatives and the need to preach Christ from all the Scriptures. In fact, I don't think there is a single insight from the emergent church that cannot be gleaned from the best of the evangelical, and specifically the Reformed, tradition. We don't need a third way between emergent and traditional. We need a revitalized, reformed evangelical church.

Deep Church
confirms again that there are very serious problems with some of the theology coming out of the emerging church. It also confirms again that hide-bound, legalistic, unfriendly, uncaring traditionalism is not the way to go. If you need a refresher on either of these two points, this book will do the trick. Jim Belcher has given us an insider’s and outsider’s look at the most controversial church movement of the last decade. And though I have some disagreements with the book, in the end, he reaffirms the importance of the faith delivered once for all for the saints. And that's a very good thing.

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42 thoughts on “Deep Church: A Third Way?”

  1. vizaviz says:

    Kevin, do you have an issue with foundationalism? I can't tell if you're representing Belcher's view or your own under your first point in the review (Deep Church).

    Coming from a Van Til-ish/Frame/Nash background on philosophy, I've always thought of foundationalism as a good philisophical representation of Romans 1 truth. Maybe I'm just misinformed or mistaken. Wouldn't be the first time.

  2. Lisa Joy says:

    Thanks for your book reviews! They always help me decide whether it's worthwhile to check out a book or not. Thanks for putting so much thought and preparation into them!

  3. Jason says:

    Kevin, here is a question for you.

    Do you think the message of the cross is contexualized in Scripture differently to the Jews than it is the Gentiles?

    I think it is. The message to the Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians seems to be contexualized differently than it is in say, Romans or Hebrews. Belcher's gospel definition appears to highlight the Gospel as it is contextualized to Gentiles. i.e. Adoption, Co-Inheritance, Dividing Wall Destroyed, Transformation from wickedness to virtue, Death to Flesh, Alive in Christ – in contrast to a gnostic understanding of body/spirit, etc.

    I agree with you, that a Gospel without sin, the cross, and the resurrection seems empty. But, I do think the Gospel is contextual in its proclamation. A Gospel that Initial belief might not be possible for someone if they only hear a penal substitution By that I mean, a part of the sanctification process is a process of learning. As one is convicted of the biblical definition of holiness and sin, the need and desire for sacrificial atonement of that sin, and justification, which is necessary to impute righteousness comes into focus.

  4. walt says:

    thanks for the review. if you get a chance, i'd also appreciate a comment on foundationalism (i don't know too much philosophical jargon). if not, perhaps a link for further reading on the topic?

    i'm not sure if i can speak for kevin on this, but i think the essence of the gospel is the good news of Christ, the work that He's done, and so the 1 Cor. 15 version is the gospel. there are many things that flow out of the gospel, like cultural transformation and social justice, but i don't think it's proper to call them the gospel.

    but, you have to define your terms. some people will say the gospel includes the effects of the work of Christ, while others will limit it to solely the work itself and any necessary background info that is necessary to make sense of the work (creation, the fall, divinity of Jesus, etc.). does that make sense?

  5. Kevin DeYoung says:

    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.

  6. StepUpToTheCall says:

    Outstanding review Kevin! I was quite concerned that this book promoting a 'third way' would be something way off-base, or a soft middle ground. From your description though it's got a lot of excellent material and is worth reading for those looking to stay true to the evangelical camp but wanting to change how they do things. I love what you would have used as your title :)

  7. bpun says:

    Kevin- one question for you. You use Stott's quote which says that substitution is at the heart of all the atonement theories or images. But then you say that penal substitution is the "plain truth of scripture." Do you mean that penal substitution is the essense of all the atonement theories? I agree that penal substitution is the plain truth of scripture. But I would say the SUBSTITUTION is at the heart of all theories of the atonement, but not PENAL substitution. The penalty is one part, and perhaps the crucial part. But I think Stott's point is a better way to understand the atonement — it's all about substitution — Jesus suffers my penalty, he fights my battle against Satan, he fulfills the law in his life instead of me. Perhaps we need to stress the other non-penal aspects of the atonement (not at the expense of the penal aspects).

  8. Jason says:

    Excellent review, Kevin. I say that probably because I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment, particularly with your points of critique. I especially commend you for again reiterating that penal substitution is not to be relegated as "one among many" theories/views of the atonement. It is, in fact, the predominating, underlying reality that makes Bible sense of what exactly happened on the cross, cosmically speaking.
    Sorry I missed your conference the other week. I would have enjoyed you and the others, I'm sure.

  9. Jim Belcher says:


    Thank you for a very fair and in-depth review. I really enjoyed the way you set up the review. I am so glad you got over your apprehension to review it!

    BTW, I laughed out loud at what you would have titled it (even though I really like my title).

    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.

    I am wondering what you readers think (especially those who have read Deep Church) about the seven points of disagreement you raised? I would love to hear their thoughts because you have brought up some good points. Honestly, I look forward to sitting down with you some day over a beer and talking about these.

    I will keep up with the comments today and jump back in if I can be of any help.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to review my book with such depth and care. You are a gifted reviewer. I love reading reviews of my book that are like this, even when I disagree on some points. That is a sign that the review is fair and balanced.

    Jim Belcher (Deep Church)

  10. bpun says:

    Kevin, on Belcher and 1 Cor 15's definition of the gospel, here is one solution. "according to the scriptures" = Jesus is the Messiah, that is the promised Messiah of the OT. "Jesus died for our sins" = We rely on Jesus' work and record instead of our own for relationship with God. "and was raised on the third day" = the gospel empowers renewed life, and the resurrection life embodies itself in community, social justice and culture renewal. Kevin, I am guessing you are taking issue with the last point, that resurrection = cultural engagement. I think cultural engagement/social justice is a natural implication of the bodily resurrection.

  11. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Hi Jim, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you found the review to be fair and balanced (to coin a phrase). I imagine you may want to press me on a couple issues. Hopefully we can meet in person sometime and enjoy a cold beer (though I prefer the root variety – I am a traditionalist you know:).

    P.S. I hate doing :) but I didn't want you to think I was taking offense.

  12. Bill Honsberger says:

    Good review (from a good friend of your uncle Curt!) I would argue that most people argue against foundationalism because they literally have no idea of what it is. Deweese explanation is great but when you throw out words like "warranted belief" most of the Christians in your audience went numb and a few of the posters have admitted it. If you had to read Franke/Grenz or some of the other emergent "theologians" and thats all you had read – you would have a terrible slant on the enlightenment and what it was trying to do. The argument between Descartes, Hume and eventually Kant was largely based on epistemology – or how do we know what we know. None of them (in the place of their followers) agreed with each other and so the fight went. When pomo syncophants like Maclaren talk about the evils of "modernity", (as if the enlightenment thinkers agreed on hardly anything!) it is a completely ahistorical attack. The equivalent today would be like saying "postmodernism teaches us" as if Derrida and Ricouer, Lyotard and the rest agreed on what they taught. Or maybe nearer and shown in your review – "all emerging/emergent people say X" which would have them in convulsions of rage. The reality is that the kind of limited foundationalism that Deweese et all is describing has nothing to do with the enlightenment but rather with how all people think we know things. I see a tree outside my window, I touch the tree, I smell the tree, I have a memory of seeing the tree outside the window yesterday. I can say on the basis of these "foundational" experiences -that I know there is a tree outside my window. Nothing too profound here. This type of realism permeates the world long before Descartes got bored and went into his little outhouse. And it is the type of thinking one sees all over the Bible, and oh btw Roman books, Greek books, and yes even Hindu writings. The Apostle John tells us that which he saw, which he heard, which he handled with his hands, this he reports to us. Peter says we were eyewitnesses of his majesty, not inventors of fairy tales.
    Back to "warranted belief" – that simply means that we have actual reasons (such as physical evidence, eyewitness testimony, logical arguments, etc) for what we believe. The Apostles claim was built on all these – contrast this with say the belief that Muhammed fly on his horse to slice the moon with his scimitar – an "event" recorded many generations after his death. There is no actual account of this in any of the early Muslim literature. No living eyewitnesses discuss it, etc etc. So the Apostle knew that Jesus was raised from the dead in the same exact way that I know there is a tree outside my window. And that is how they reported – this we saw!!!. Biblical Christianity is actually wonderfully and profoundly premodern. When Maclaren and crew want to deride the evangelical churches for their clinging to this vague "modernity" – to me it shows either he has no idea what he is talking about or is completely agenda driven – hmm which way do I interpret him thinking? Not too hard to see… (Everything must change you know…) If you want to see churches that bought the enlightenment model – you need go no further than your local liberal seminary and denomination or some of the EC's good friend at the Jesus Seminar like Borg and Croissant. They are the ones who have embraced the enlightenment, particulary the anti-supernaturalism of Hume and Kant. Fundamentalists may have many problems, but denying the miracles and supernatural world view is not one of them.
    Just some food for thought.
    Bill H

  13. ryan says:

    Jim I am curious what you would say to Kevin's push back on how you seemed to lump to much of the "traditionalist" church together, and not nuance it the way you did the emergin church.

    I wondered this same thing as I read your book (which I really enjoyed and learned a lot from).

  14. Virginia Knowles says:

    I appreciated this review, and plan to eventually read the book. (I already read yours.) I studied Ephesians 4:13-16 this morning and was noting that it takes the "whole body" of Christ, not just isolated local churches or denominations, to keep us all in balance. Each church has the privilege and responsibility of setting an example for others and learning from others.

  15. B-U-R-L-Y says:

    Maybe you two (Kevin & Jim) could pursue a "third way" and enjoy a cup of coffee together instead. Actually, maybe you should each have your own cup of coffee with H1N1 floating around …

  16. Nicholas P. Mitchell says:

    Why is 1 Cor 15 the BEST statement of the gospel? We have four entire books called "gospels" and they don't only talk about the forgiveness of sins, although that is absolutely central (and I actually mean that….there is no kingdom without forgiveness….no return from exile without a restored relationship with God). They speak of the Messiah breaking into history, how he went about proclaiming and demonstrating the kingdom of God (he pushed against the curse), how he died under "darkness" to bring about forgiveness, and how he rose from the dead on the third day (which recalls Israel's history of being dry bones but returning from their dark exile. cf Hosea 6)….If you want the best statement of the gospel….then go to the gospels.

  17. Nicholas P. Mitchell says:

    p.s. I don't think Belcher's definition is all that satisfactory. I just think sometimes people latch onto Paul's statement "first importance" and make TOO big a deal of it. As if everything else about the gospel is secondary.

  18. dle says:


    I would offer respectfully that the definition of the Gospel has been too narrowly espoused, particularly by those with a Reformed/Calvinist leaning. While the 1 Cor. 15 position is true, just as true is Luke 4:17-21, a position often neglected. This side is the one most often espoused by those in emerging circles. We need to merge the two. The Gospel of the Kingdom ideal embraces both.

    I would also offer that the works of Francis Schaeffer very capably show how the Gospel embraces cultural transformation. It is a shame those in the Reformed camp have largely forgotten Schaeffer, as his prophetic voice rings as true today as ever. As noted in your post, Kuyper capably speaks to this as well.

  19. Jim Belcher says:

    Great comments everyone!

    Regarding Kevin's concern that I did not do enough to explain what the traditional church is–that is a fair criticism. It is one that I got from some of my outside readers during the writing stage. But ultimately we decided to not spend as much time defining the traditional church as the emerging because 1. we wanted to focus more on the emerging side of the equation and 2. we did not want the book to get too long!So we had to take some shortcuts.

    One of the challenges I had in writing the book was finding pointed traditional church push back on each of the seven protests. So much of the traditional critics focus on one or two hot button issues like postmodernism. So I had to borrow the critiques of a few reformed thinkers like Kevin and Ron Gleason, which somewhat muddied the waters of what I was trying to do with the traditional church.

    So how do I define the traditional church. Overall, the traditional church to me represents the low-church, independent, non-creedal, side of the evangelical church. These are the traditions that are "no creed but Christ" who at their start wanted nothing to do with the church fathers and the Great Tradition. They just wanted the Bible and to reach the world around them for Christ. They rejected the Magisterial Reformation as too compromised with Rome and the Church Fathers.

    Over time, the way they did things in worship and practice became ossified (in my opinion) into a tradition (small "t"). So we see them as traditional but really they are not part of the Great Tradition, which I am arguing for, but were at one time "anti-traditional" and have done things the same way for so long that they are now a tradition. Does this make sense?

    My fear with the emerging church is that unless they connect into the Great Tradition, the way they do things today (even with their samplings of the past), will eventually get ossified and become just another tradition with a small "t".

    It is the Great Tradition, along with our paramount commitment to God's Word, interacting with the context of culture, that keeps us always reforming. Bible–GreatTradition–Cultural context. These three keep us from two mistakes–being too much like the culture around us or being irrelevant to the world around us. As I say in Deep Church, the emerging church (without deep roots in the Great Tradition; sampling is good but is not the same thing) is in danger of becoming too much like the culture around us. On the other hand, the traditional church (small "t") is in danger, if not already there, of being irrelevant to the postmodern culture around us. Only the third way has the potential of avoiding these two (God willing) and steering into a new vibrant path. Does this make sense?

    I hope this helps!

    Dle, I think you have summarized well what I was trying to get at in my book. The gospel about the Kingdom and the saving work of Jesus. They cannot be separated.

    Let's keep talking.That is, in part, how we learn.

    BTW, our family is going camping in about four hours (I still need to pack the truck) so I may not be able to respond again until Sunday at the earliest. Thanks for the interest in my book. I hope you will read it and help me spread the word. I am passionate about the church and so much want to see it unified and biblical faithful in its teaching, community, mission and transformation of the world around us.

    Jim Belcher

  20. ryan says:

    Wonderful response Jim, and thanks for taking the time to answer. I agree and get what you are saying about the traditional church, and admire your willingness to strive for unity.

  21. Stephen Jones says:

    Thanks for the review, Kevin. You've not only summarized Belcher's book, but helped us better understand the Reformed and emergent camps as well. This healthy dialogue should cause all of us to move closer to Christ and become more discerning.

    As a fellow young pastor, I agree wholeheartedly there's "not a single insight from the emergent church that cannot be gleaned from the best of the evangelical, and specifically the Reformed, tradition. We don’t need a third way between emergent and traditional. We need a revitalized, reformed evangelical church."

  22. The Common Loon says:

    Let's see if I've got this.

    Kevin likes the parts where Jim critiques the emerging church's flaws, but not the parts that critique the traditional church's flaws.

    Kevin likes when Jim's Reformed background shines through, but not when his ecumenical streak leads him to suggest that unity with some emerging Christians is possible.

    At the end of the day, Kevin and Jim are both in the 'traditional' camp, but there's a noticeable distinction between the DeYoung/Piper/Challies sort of traditional and the Belcher/Keller/Tchividjian sort of traditional.

    I think I'm with the latter group on this one.

  23. John says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I heard your 9 Marks interview the other day; it was great. I immediately ordered Why We Love the Church and Just Do Something. I'm looking forward to reading them.

    Keep up the great work.

  24. danabbey says:

    fantastic and highly informative review. i hope to buy this book one day soon. as an aspiring pastor, i've always wanted to "do church" slightly different from how i was brought up (fundamental baptist) although i do not want to jettison orthodoxy and pursue an endless "conversation". i'm intrigued with the ideas in this book and appreciate the way you (kevin) have highlighted its strengths as well as your own ideas… all very interesting and encouraging. thanks!

  25. Scott says:

    Rev. DeYoung, thanks for your great work. You probably saw this, but McKnight gave "Why We're Not Emergent" high marks in his top 5 books on the emerging church in October's Christianity Today.

  26. Tim Coomar says:

    Hi there Kevin! Great review – I do hope people will still buy and read the book, despite the feeling that they have already received the essence of it just from your review ;-)

    First of all, just to frame my comments, I have to say that I can’t agree with The Common Loon’s position in preferring any Belcher/Keller/Tchividjian camp over and against a DeYoung/Piper/Challies ‘camp’ (for lack of a better word). I love all of you guys and think most/any differences can probably be ascribed to slightly different contexts. (My personal pet theory – probably way off! – is that Piper is a pioneer in communicating the gospel to the world of the churched/evangelicals and Keller to the world of the unchurched/disgruntled evangelicals).

    My comment is that I find it remarkable that in all the talk of a third way between emerging and traditional (which are artificial, unhelpful categories at best anyway), there has been no mention of the ‘useful’ third way discussion (brilliantly expounded by Clowney/Keller – a la ‘The Prodigal God’) and how the emerging/traditional conflict fits into the gospel categories brought out by the Prodigal God.

    I think in light of the Prodigal God there is no question that we need to be talking about and promoting the idea of a third way, but this third way is not between traditional and emerging but between the heart attitudes of individuals rejecting God in either a religious or irreligious way.

    It is when we observe that ‘traditional’ Christians have a tendency towards legalism (religion) and that (some) ‘emerging’ Christians have a tendency towards liberalism (irreligion) that we realise how relevant the Prodigal God discussion is to this discussion. Of course these are stereotypes and generalisations but surely indicative of some very real trends that must be addressed…?

  27. Neal Edward Wagner says:

    I am in about the middle of reading Deep Church, and just finished reading Ray Anderson’s An Emergent Theology for the Emerging Church. I am just a regular Joe Christian with a bad habit of reading theological-type books and probably don’t belong in this discussion. But, here goes…

    As a non-Calvinist inspired by more Wesley and Anabaptist-type theology and practice, I have a few general comments about this whole thing. One, there was a church before the Reformation (and before any other movement) so I don’t hang my faith on that. Two, whenever there is a growing concern about the condition of the church, there are various, competing, and even off-base views as several who sense there is something wrong with the status quo are trying to find a better way. Some preach because of ego, some out of sincerity. From pre-Reformation (Zwingli, Hus, etc.) through the actual Reformation (Luther, Calvin, etc.) there was arguing, dissenting, bashing, and even some killing of those with different ideas – and they were supposed to be on the same side against Roman Catholics! I hope that there are Christians all along the spectrum who are willing to not demonize others and can covenant together in prayer and discussion of these matters. It is called humility. Aren’t we all just trying to figure out the best way to be the church and still be true to God’s revelation and Spirit? Is it possible that the problem of the church is the lack of the unity? I don’t hear any talking of throwing out the Gospel in favor of a big group hug. It is possible to have good theology and good praxis. Most churches and Christians seem to be able to do only one or the other. The real Gospel is both. I know that Brian McLaren has become a favorite whipping boy. I have a few of his articles but I am not ready to burn him at the stake. He may have said some really out there things, but I have yet to encounter them. The radicals among us may have value in shaking things up now and again. God can handle it. I think that Jim Belcher was way to kind to the Traditionalists in his book (so far). You may now proceed to dissect and destroy me (Not really). Just my 2 cents worth.

  28. SERMONJAM says:


  29. Stan says:

    Kevin please let me know where I can read more of what this “revitalized” church looks like.
    Thank you.

  30. Maria says:

    I found the review very interesting. Having not read the book, I base my premises solely on the review. As I read the review,I felt that Pastor Belcher was using Hegelian logic to reconcile opposing theologies in order to arrive to his conclusion. Is it bad to use this method of reasoning? Well…my foremost concern is that in doing so compromise is employed. It reminds me of what Deitrich Bonhoeffer once said in a short aphorism depicting two polemics such as radical change and compromise. He writes,” Radicalism hates time, and compromise hates eternity. Radicalism hates patience, and compromise hates decision. Radicalism hates wisdom, and compromise hates simplicity. Radicalism hates moderation and measure, and compromise hates the immeasurable. Radicalism hates the real, and compromise hates the Word.” He would know what compromise is all about, he lived in it.

    I agree with your statement, “We need a revitalized, reformed evangelical church.” But we must stick to Scripture as the inerrant Word of God, transcending history of mankind as timeless Truths.

    Thank you Pastor Kevin for your insight.

  31. Hier nennt der Autor Zeiten wie: Wegzeit zur und von der Arbeit; Fahrzeiten mit dem Auto, den öffentlichen Verkehrsmitteln (Bahn, Bus,…); Wartezeiten jeder Art; Zeiten während Routinetätigkeiten (Hausarbeit, Gartenarbeit,…); usw.

  32. Now this is just what I call a well thought out posting. Very clear as well as the point. I’ll certainly watch out for additional material such as this.

  33. Spencer says:

    Kevin, I don’t think you did all of your homework on this one.

    When I recently heard of this book and learned that the author was a church planter and pastor (doesn’t the former necessitate the latter?), I looked up the church he planted to see what his ideas looks like in practice. After all, you will know them by their fruits. Having reason to believe there is a continuance between what he began and what that church is now, it’s clear that his philosophy is in no way theologically solid.

    In God’s providence, I met a relatively young reformed man who was at the church this author planted. He told me it was far from reformed and that he told his church planting pastor that he desired a deeper church. It seemed to him that the author got his language of ‘deep church’ from him. I don’t know if that is so and it really doesn’t matter, but I am confident that he was correct in recognizing that this PCA was not reformed. Gratefully, this brother is now in a reformed church.

    You wrote that the author “seems sound in his theology (he is a PCA minister after all)….” That equation of being ordained in the PCA and being ‘sound in theology’ is simply false. There is a PCA in Pasadena near the college that the author now presides over. Sadly, I know dispensational churches that are closer to the reformed faith than that PCA is. Given the connections between this PCA and the school, I would not be surprised if the author was a member of this PCA. When the PCA divides – and unless God gives such the grace of repentance, it will divide – those who are actually reformed will join the OPC or ARP and the author, that church he planted, and the PCA in Pasadena will be among the unfaithful who join the EPC and PCUSA.

    Bottom line, when someone “wants to do church differently” (to speak of ‘doing’ church is utterly vulgar), they are seeking creativity and comfort, not godliness, not submission to the word of God, and not the glory of God.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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