A few years ago, I took a seminary elective class in Emergent Christian Spirituality. I had read some things about emergent/emerging Christianity that I found interesting but which also raised questions in my mind. We read and discussed several good books by emergent church leaders or about the emergent church. We even designed our own emergent church service. It was a very good class. I think I gained a good understanding and appreciation for the positive contributions that emergent churches are making and I became quite sympathetic to the complaints they have with their more traditional evangelical church roots. But I couldn’t completely embrace emergent spirituality. I felt like I didn’t have a good home in either camp. I had to agree with some of the problems the more traditional evangelicals see in the emergent church. I wished for a third way. Jim Belcher has articulated that third way very well in his book.
Belcher is very familiar with both sides of the divide between traditional evangelical and emergent Christians. He sees both the valuable and the problematic aspects of each and sincerely wants to embrace a third way that promotes what is good and true in each while avoiding the problems. “I am caught in between, and am comfortable with this ambiguity. It allows me to learn from both the traditional church and the emerging church as I follow a different route–the deep church” (p. 33).
Belcher’s definition of the emerging church seems very accurate, as I understand it. It’s easier to describe what the emerging church is against than what it is for. There are seven areas of concern that are explored in the book which are the main criticisms that the emerging church has with the traditional evangelical church: Their captivity to Enlightenment rationalism, a narrow view of salvation, belief before belonging, uncontextualized worship, ineffective preaching, weak ecclesiology, and tribalism. Belcher devotes a whole chapter to exploring each of these criticisms under the headings of: Truth (or doctrine), evangelism, the Gospel, worship, preaching, ecclesiology (the nature of the church), and culture. He derives a very satisfying synthesis from the best of both sides while trying to avoid the pitfalls of each. This isn’t just an academic exercise for Belcher. He and the church he pastors are sincerely trying to live out the third way. It seems to me that this way requires more vigilance on the part of its followers than either end of the spectrum, maintaining a dynamic tension that keeps Christ at the center of our vision and a continuing dependence on the Holy Spirit for guidance and grace, lest we fall into a comfortable rut that takes too much of our own way of thinking for granted.