Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

As readers of the TeamPyro blog know, I gave a rather ringing endorsement of Jim Belcher’s recent book Deep Church, and had the privilege of talking with Jim about his book on the Paul Edwards show God and Culture that same week.

A lot of people thought my endorsement was a little shallow, and not much of a review. However, I did link to the gully-washing review by Kevin DeYoung in my endorsement, and said that there’s not much left to be said after Kevin’s 10 pages of summary and analysis.

But our friends at have now reviewed the book (which weighs in at 3 pages — only slightly longer than my endorsement), and they have panned the book. Here’s the short version of what Greg Gilbert said:

When you can get both Tim Keller and Rob Bell to endorse your book, you’ve really done something extraordinary. Especially for a “third way” book that claims to cut a middle path between two warring camps, getting a couple of generals from either side to meet on your cover and shake hands for the cameras is a real diplomatic coup—a symbol that maybe, finally, you’ve managed to broker a settlement that will issue in a lasting peace.

I just don’t think it’s going to work, though.

I hate to be so short about it, but that’s really my considered judgment after reading and thinking about Jim Belcher’s call in Deep Church for traditional evangelicals and the emergent church to “work together to build evangelicalism.” Frankly, I’m surprised that Belcher, after seeing what his research brought to light, decided to press on with the idea that emergents and traditionals could reunite somehow.
Now, Greg goes through his argument regarding why he doesn’t think it’s going to work, so what we shouldn’t do here is sort of pan Greg for his opinion. I actually think he’s right that the Nicean definition of “church” is not enough to unify the ends of the spectrum lined our between D.A. Carson and Brian McLaren. It’s not robust enough to satisfy the historical context of the conservative end, and it’s far too robust to correct the revisionist end — they are simply too far gone.

So if I agree with Greg’s central point, what’s the beef?

As I read Greg’s review, I think somehow he has read a different book than I have. I think he has missed the point of Jim’s book almost entirely — because it seems to me that, in spite of (and in many ways because of) the sort of detached treatment Jim gives both sides of the “Emerg*” / “Tradional” divide, his conclusions are clearly weighed toward the truly traditional Protestant church which should be asking the questions the Emerg* folks are asking but should also be coming up with answers grounded in Scripture and reflected upon in light of our traditions, including the ecumenical creeds.

As I said on Paul’s show, the book is best summed up this way:

[1] There is something wrong with the English-speaking church.

[2] There are fair criticisms of the church.

[3] There are faithful solutions to those questions.

The idea that there is a “third way” as lined out by Jim is really an argumentative device to draw in those who are very concerned with conversation and a dialog in which they get to say their piece in toto and perhaps ad nauseam. In his book, Jim gives the talkers as much space as is necessary to get all of their cards on the table, and then some — and then demonstrates why, while their questions may be valid, their answers need some corrections in light of the orthodox expressions of the faith.

Greg Gilbert missed this almost entirely by framing his review of the book around his opinion that “it won’t work” to reconcile the two sides. I think that problem makes his review a lot less helpful than it needs to be. Deep Church will be broadly helpful to so many people who are in the middle of this divide in clearing up their own understanding of the problems in Evangelicalism because it is not a centrally-polemic book. It is centrally a pastoral book for the sake of those who ought to be inside the body of Christ rather than out on their own trying to invent something that seems right in their own eyes.

UPDATED: Jim Belcher explains why he would disgaree with Greg @ 9Marks, as told to Trevin Wax. Well worth your time and effort.

More on: Making a Point

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles