I have only read a few books with church in the title that were any good. Most of them read like religious versions of the marketing solutions for small businesses. In other words they were no help at all in my thinking about this crazy, messy and weirdly beautiful institution we call “the church.”
If you add to the fact there is a raging battle going on in the western church about how to do/be/plant a church, the list of books worth reading actually becomes far narrower. Either the book is so irenic to the point of not daring to criticize anyone or anything in particular or the author simply writes off everyone not like him.
Enter Deep Church by Jim Belcher. Wait, no, lets back up. About, I don’t know – 6 months ago, I think – I became friends on facebook with Jim Belcher. We had a number of mutual friends and seemed to have some similar sentiments/feelings/opinions on a number of things. Anyway, when I saw a blurb about his new book coming out with Tim Keller endorsing it, I pre-ordered it. You see, I have a rule that goes something like this: Order everything that Tim Keller endorses. Pretty safe rule. I also recommend touching his garments for church healing powers.
Now, enter Deep Church by Jim Belcher. Within 48 hours of receiving it, I finished it and filled it full of asterisks and underlinings and exclamation points. A breath of fresh air, it was easily the best book on the debates that are raging in the church today. So, what sets Deep Church apart from all others?
First, most books are arguing for either a ‘traditional’ or ‘emerging’ way of thinking about church life, Deep Church seeks to forge a ‘third way.’ And this third way is not what you might think it is. It is not some Utopian pie in the sky, ‘can’t we all just get along?’ dream. What he does is criticize both groups where it is needed and celebrate what both groups bring to the table. What I appreciate the most about this was how he sympathized (as I and many others have) the questions of protest posed by the ‘emerging church’ about the traditional church. The first 3 chapters are a great introduction about the debate, getting a handle on what the emerging church is and a description of ‘Mere Christianity’ – those beliefs that all Christians everywhere and at all times have agreed on. In the next 7 chapters, he deals with 7 protests of the emerging church and he engages them well, celebrating the concerns they have and seeking to evaluate their answers. Why is this so valuable? Because in my gut I know they have raised some great points. And I want to learn from them without sacrificing ‘Mere Christianity.’
Second, Jim Belcher writes with real humility. This is important because most guys seem to write about the church with a certain bravado. It’s the difference between “I’ve got all the answers” and “lets try this and see if this will work.” His admission of frustrations and failures and difficulties was refreshing. Not merely for authenticity’s sake but for the sake of saying, “Hey, I don’t have it all together. But God does.” His humility throughout the book makes for a very pleasant read.
Third, - and I have no idea how to label this reason for liking this book but - I actually marked this book up a good bit. I do this so rarely that it is a big deal when I do. I cannot keep a writing utensil near me to save my life so when I would read something I wanted to go back and read again or what I thought was noteworthy I would mark it – even if I had to get up out of my chair, step over my children begging me to play with them and go find one. Only those who rarely mark up books will get it.
Fourth, books on the church are not really known for emotionally moving the reader. This one did. I was moved to the point of tears more than once. Once because of the beauty of what I was reading and once because of the ugliness of my own lack of grace and charity and willingness to learn from those who are so different from me. What many may take for granted was very profound for me…
…the emerging church is passionate about the health of the church. They have serious problems with the traditional church and want to see changes. Since they are our brothers and sisters, we have a responsibility out of love, to take them seriously, to listen to them and to understand them accurately. (48)
It really struck me how little charity I show those I disagree with me, acting as if they want to hurt the church. Deep Church convicted me and emboldened me. And that seems to be the way of good books.
Last, the book is just very well written. Books about church life and practice written by pastors should have engaging stories. I mean, that is what is going on in the church on a huge level – people with their own story bumping up against other people with their story and all trying to find themselves in the Great Story of Redemption. To be honest, I had trouble putting this book down. I ignored my family during that 48 hours and when I finished I reintroduced myself, “Hello, I am your father and husband and I want to pastor a Deep Church.”