I have had a strange reaction to Jim Belcher and his book Deep Church. I know, I’m almost a year late on this (I can explain later). I think the book is written well, the narrative style keeps it moving. Jim’s a good writer. I think Jim is a smart dude, able to summarize the issues well. He isolates truth, evangelism, gospel, worship, preaching, ecclesiology and culture as the key issues of this kind of post-evangelical territory of the emerging churches versus what he calls the traditional churches. He nicely describes the ideas that animate the two sides. I learned from this book. It’s irenic. It delivers on these levels. I don’t know Jim, but I think if Jim and I met, we could enjoy a good friendship.
But Jim is a Reformed thinker, pastor. It’s obvious eh? And because of these theological commitments, for me, it is questionable whether he comes up with a “third way beyond emerging and traditional.” To me the formulations of Deep Church amount to a revision of the Reformed evangelical theology that got evangelicalism into trouble in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, I am an evangelical. (I could be described as a Neo Anabaptist Missional-Holiness Church- Evangelical -Baptist Seminary -professor person). I am painfully aware that there has been a creeping malaise in this country over the sons and daughters of evangelicals for the last fifteen-twenty years. Thus came the emerging church. Over in the more protestant mainline world the Gospel and Our Culture Network was responding to a different problem. That work gave birth to the Missional church which later spread to evangelicalism. In reaction to the perceived inadequacies of these movements, but also appreciating the very real issues being posed by them, people like Tim Keller advanced a version of Reformed church (what some have called Neo Puritan) that sought the renewal of the gospel and its engagement with culture. The impact of his Redeemer church in NY and beyond has, in some respects, been breathtaking. A lot of good has come forth.
But this is not a third way.
In forthcoming posts, I want to outline why the Neo-Reformed movement of the Gospel Coalition, Tim Keller & the Redeemer churches, leaves me asking for more. I have learned much from people like Tim Keller and Jim Belcher. But there are profound limits to this “brand” of theology. This is not a third way.
In order that I might maintain the readership on this blog, I offer the following salvo that should give you an indication of where I am going in my contention that the Neo-Reformed Missionals are not a third way.
Neo-Reformed Theology is built on the same logic as evangelical theology. In fact this is also the same logic as the protestant mainline theology and for that matter the Emergent theologies. They all rely on the cultural foundations of the West and in particular the Enlightenment. And, for me, this means all of these movements will eventually fail to engage the new and changing cultures of Post-Christendom in the West for the gospel, they will fail at resisting the consumerist forces of modern American society, they will fail at tranfromational engagment (eventually). They will all end up repeating the fate of evangelicalism – i.e. being successful at harvesting those who are already in some way culturally inclined towards Christianity but not capable of inhabiting the new post Christendom cultures of the West for the gospel. THIS IS WHY WE NEED A THIRD WAY!! Of course, this doesn’t mean that Neo-Reformed thought won’t be immensely successful at gathering in Christians and ministering to the Christendom populations that still exist in the US (and they are many). But the surging post Christendom populations shall continue to be unreached (and grow). This is the reason why I think we need to continue to talk about a third way (although we may want to think about forgetting “the third way” logic).
I know I have just aggravated even the best of my friends and so I ask for a little grace as I try to expound on just what the heck I just said in forthcoming posts. In the meantime, do you think we need a third way? Should we get rid of this logic entirely? Is it helpful?
BTW I’m going to try to pull my brother Bob Hyatt into this one. I’m hoping to convert him to Neo-Anabaptist Holiness (He needs to get saved :)). I can’t promise anything.