What the Emerging Church is Protesting

Photo by Keagen Henman

My friend and former colleague, Jim Belcher, sent me a copy of his new book, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional.  As described in the book, Jim and I, along with Mark Oestreicher (now at Youth Specialties), worked together in late 1990’s to launch the Warehouse Service at Lake Avenue Church.  As is often the case when I read books written by my friends, this book feels very much like Jim—very thoughtful, lots of good stories, strong analysis.

The goal of the book is to offer an approach to church and community that avoids the polarities often created by the emerging church and the traditional church.  This is a worthy goal, one that resonates with my own experiences with both types of churches.  Both types feel on target…and yet missing the mark…at the same time.

I’ll be blogging about Jim’s book for the next few days.  Here is a list of “What the Emerging Church is Protesting” according to Jim:

  1. Captivity to Enlightenment Rationalism (too great a focus on reason at the cost of experience and other forms of divine revelation)
  2. A narrow view of salvation (too much focus on justification, not enough focus on sanctification)
  3. Belief before belonging (the sense that a person has to agree with doctrine before becoming part of the faith community)
  4. Uncontextualized worship (simply adopting ancient or “traditional” practices without thinking about current culture)
  5. Ineffective preaching (a focus on head knowledge, generally delivered as “3 points and a poem”)
  6. Weak ecclesiology (overly concerned with the survival of the institutional church at the sacrifice of mission)
  7. Tribalism (a church that separates itself from culture instead of engaging with it)

The way that Jim has phrased these areas of protest, as well as how I’ve paraphrased them, would probably cause even those vehemently opposed to the emergent movement to agree that at least some of these nuances of the traditional church are problematic.

This book was a good reminder of how much I love the church.  I’ve been in church leadership for a few decades so I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly—the very ugly—in the church.  Yet in the midst of all of our flaws, the church is the body of Christ, sharing Christ’s love and grace with the world.