As I mentioned earlier, (with a few caveats) I enjoyed Belcher’s book, Deep Church (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009). One section I appreciated is where he discusses the Emergent emphasis on belonging before believing. Many Emergent churches don’t like the traditional way of first making someone believe x, y, and z before they join your church and experience community. Emergent churches rather emphasize belonging before believing. You enter the community, belong, get involved, while undergoing the slow and sometimes painful transformation that Christianity involves.
I understand this, and like Belcher, I think that “community plays a huge role in conversion” (p.96). With Belcher, “I understand the importance of creating a safe, welcoming environment for those who are asking questions and looking for answers” (Ibid.). I don’t think solid biblical churches should have the proverbial doctrine ”bouncer” at the door who rejects anyone who thinks differently. For me, this is an area where the Emergent critique of traditional churches has truth to it, truth which we should not dismiss.
At the same time, I also believe there are boundary markers for Christian churches (Ibid., 97). Jesus himself challenged his followers to commit themselves to him (which means rejecting certain beliefs and practices; cf. John 6). Here’s Belcher.
“Belonging is important. Jesus invited many into his community. This is what got him into so much trouble with the Pharisees (the original bounded-set people?). But at the same time he did not shy away from the truth of the gospel and the need for his followers to repent of their idols. They had to believe in his kingdom, his kingship, and his death and resurrection. Yes, belonging is important, but we still have to believe at some point” (Ibid., 101).
I’m a critic of the traditional church at quite a few points (i.e. many horrendous traditional hymns!), and one reason I read Emergent stuff is to learn from them (even when I violently disagree!). But I don’t think Emergent is the answer, nor do I think traditionalism is the answer. Call it Deep Church, call it a third way, there is a solidly confessional way between traditionalism and postmodernism. I probably would write a few parts differently than Belcher did, but his book is a good thing to wrestle over if you think about these things as much as I do. If you’ve read this book in full, I’d love to hear your comments (via email if you’d rather not comment below).