Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Deep Church II

One of Belcher's proposals for a way forward out of the impasse between "traditionalists" and "emerging church" is to restore the three great ecumenical creeds (Apostles', Nicene and Athanasian) to the center of what "orthodoxy" means and looks like. He does not intend these to be walls keeping people out, but rather doors and windows into full participation in the people of God. In the debate between "believing before belonging" (more of the traditionalist posture) and "belonging before believing" (emerging), Belcher isn't settling for either pole, but rather attempts to clarify what is to be believed in order to belong, without determining the order in which they are to happen. How do you see this proposal possibly being fruitful... or misguided?


John M. said...

I don't see where we could go wrongby emphasizing the historic creeds as a point of agreement which with, perhaps minor exceptions should be able to be affirmed by all Christians everywhere (sorry Joseph, there I go again with that concept.)

just joe said...

I think it would be an excellent idea, but I don’t see how there is any practical chance of it being implemented. When I think through the list of my evangelical, charismatic and neo-charismatic friends who are pastoring churches, it is “every man for himself” and each one does that “which right in his own eyes” (I’m mostly thinking of my non-Covenant pastor friends here in Miami). For the most part, they will willingly adopt any method, technique or program that they think will help their church grow – otherwise they are not overly interested in initiating church change. Theologically thoughtful pastors like Belcher are a rare premium.

If Belcher’s thoughts gain traction, it is likely that his proposals would be mostly implemented by new church planting initiatives, rather than existing churches.

steve H said...

I can't speak for what others may do -- many won't even read Belcher and are not likely to budge from traditional or emerging or whatever "right in my own eyes" way they have gone. However, for those who "have ears to hear" and also "eyes to see" the times in the light of history, Belcher's proposal seems to be a healthy and wise one. I appreciated his "center-set" approach over the "bounded-set" approach. My own tendencies and predispostion to have things clearly defined would be more bounded set, but I believe that the Spirit has for many years now been moving me into centered-set thinking with a real desire and commitment to be be grounded in the Great Tradition -- even when it is not the best lead-in to use the language of the creeds and Great Tradition in every situation.

Brian Emmet said...

I've found the centered-set model very helpful, and it has helped me to move away from some of my native bounded-set tendencies. But I still wonder how to be centered-set with respect to something like communion. Does the Table serve as another potential "touch point" for people who are not yet believers, and should communion be fully "open" and "unfenced" (apart from Paul's admonitions in 1 Co 11? I've heard that at certain points in its history, the church's weekly worship consisted of synaxis, which welcomed everyone, and then eucharist, in which only the baptised could participate. It seems to me that Belcher is seeking a centered-set model that still addresses issues around "membership" (which is more of a bounded-set perspective).

steve H said...

A PCA church (Belcher's) probably wouldn't do weekly eucharist. Perhaps they have a special service. However, key issue concerning baptism is probably baptism -- not doctrine.

Robert said...

The liturgy we use every week includes the creeds and other elements from the first 600 years of the catholic church. They are formational in that they guide worship rooted in orthodox, apostolic Christianity while allowing a broad and diverse spectrum of worship styles. If I were not involved with the Anglican Mission...I would still include those elements for the grounding they provide.

Brian, are we addressing something that has a "bounded-set" in pages?


steve H said...

Oops -- the key issue concerning who can participate in Eucharist would probably be baptism is what I meant to say.

According to Belcher's usage a bounded set refers to defining who is in or out of the church by the boundaries -- drawing a line on doctrine, what must one believe in order to be a member -- to be in or out. In centered set thinking, people are defined in terms of their how close they are to the commonly held core beliefs of the community -- not as in or out.

just joe said...

I have heard centered-set described as a loose network or conglomoration of people with Jesus at the center ... people can only ove toward him or a fway from him. There is no line in the sand that defines who is "in" and who is "out."

I believe that I read somewhere that Belcher's church DOES do communion weekly. They might explain the seriousness of the elements and encourager people to serach their hearts and make their own deciscion--self selection.

Finally, Belcher's ideas about implementing a "third way" depends haeavily on attitudes and motivatinon. The conceopt of "belonging before believing" idea ... a church could read Belcher and set up a system where they use the apostles and Nicene and Athanasian creeds as a litmus test for membership ... a boundary ... in other words, you must believe first, and then you can belong....thus using one idea from Belcher to violate another, perhaps more important idea.

Brian Emmet said...

Robert, I didn't understand your question about bounded sets and pages, unless you were suggesting that we are going on too long (too many pages)... please clarify?

Joseph, is it even important to have some way of discerning if a person is moving towards Jesus or not, or is that best left entirely up to the individual and Jesus? Are all concepts of "inside" and "outside" no longer (if ever) useful/helpful?

just joe said...

Brian: I think Robert was asking for clarification.

Open set: no hard social or ecclesial boundary, everyone is allowed to move inward or outward in relation to a center, as in Christ the Center (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

Bounded set: There is a hard boundary that defines if you are "in" or "out"; as in membership, subculture, dress, language, or even more likely, adherence to a doctrinal statement (or even a creed).

I love Belcher's attitude and he has effectively persuaded me of the value of the Great Tradition. Here is the problem as I see it: The devil is always in the details (and sometimes attitude)

what Belcher models for us is a respectful and civil dialogue between emerging and traditional views (innovative and resistant in Flory and Miller’s typology) in which one listens charitably to one’s opponent and carefully repeats back their argument to make sure you understand them accurately in their own terms. This is a great example for us and badly needed in the present environment (spiritual and political).

He also affirms many of the criticisms of traditional evangelicalism's dependence on Enlightenment rationalism offered by emerging churches, while offering a friendly critique of some of the dangers of excessive on postmodernism in emerging circles.

I like his call to the Great Tradition but whether or not it helps traditional churches overcome their problems depends entirely on how it is implemented. For example, a church could heed his call to the Great Tradition while continuing to have a combative or exclusive attitude. One could repeat the creeds and celebrate the eucharist every Sunday and still maintain a bounded-set attitude toward outsiders, or feature boring and uninspiring 3-point lectures. For example, a church could continue purusing “belief before belonging” by insisting on adherence to the creeds as a condition of fellowship (in fact, that would be a likely outcome in most churches). Affirming the Great Tradition by-its-self is no guarantee of successfully resolving the serious problems of evangelicalism (adapting to postfoundationalism) that both Belcher and emerging are highlighting, although it may be one very important, even essential, component.

John M. said...

Good points Joseph. We all know how easy it is to fall into Phariseeism -- proper belief without charity and grace toward others, or a pure heart toward God. IMHO, Jesus's emphasis was on proper heart attitude over proper belief and over fitting into a nitpicky theological/cultural matrix (bounded-set).

My theology evolves and and moves around on the grid. Sometimes the change is gradual and in a general direction. Sometimes it is episodic and rather abrupt -- only to be adjusted later. So, my theology is a journey; fluid, not static.

My heart is not really tied that much to my theology. My thological journey can be hot and intense, and my heart can be hard, cold and deceptive or the opposite.

Lately, God has honed in on my heart, revealing, areas that are hard, deceitful, cold and full of idolatry. He has only been interested in adjusting my theology where I have used it to rationalze sin, or used it to hide behind on certain issues.

Other-wise he has relentlessly pursued my heart and let me know that he is unsatisfied with anythiing less than a passionate, intimate, honest, ture and pure heart relationship with him.

I have been asking him, daily to save me and have mercy on me a sinner. I am coming to understand that I need to be born anew each moment. I still enjoy theology and philisopical ideas, but I'm trying to lead with my heart.

"God is not a principle to me mastered but a person to know and love."

Robert said...

Actually, my question was regarding the pages in Belcher that we are considering. The "bounded set" reference was a tongue in cheek appeal for the set of pages that focused on his ideas under discussion. Sorry for the obscurity.

just joe said...

here are some page numbers on this subject (bounded or centered-set)

WELLS NOT FENCES (pg 85): from a two-day conference at Fuller Seminary in 2006 led by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. Traditionalists belong to the bounded-set churches animated by foundationalsim. “Us versus them” mentality. Skeptics do not feel welcome. Frost and Hirsch describe the centered-set church as being defined by its core values rather than a tight border. Christ-centered, allowing people to be seen by the relationship to the center. In this sense, everyone is potentially a part of the community. From the Shaping of Things to Come, wells to attract livestock rather than fences to keep them in (Belcher:85).

Belcher says that there really three kinds of churches: bounded-set, centered-set, and relational-set (the last is his term for those who adopt hard postmodernism and a relational hermeneutic). He believes that “deep church” should be postfoundational and centered-set (Belcher:87).

And then in his section called “DEEP EVANGELISM” he deals with the example of the Schaeffers and centered-set community on page 92 through 93. “Belonging before Believing” on page 94-95. He outlines the Third Way, a transformational process from belonging to believing on pages 98 to 99.

John M. said...

I'm going to show my ignorance here, since I haven't read the book. Feel free to banish me to "read only" on this discussion is I'm too distracting.

#1. I would want to catagorize "belonging before believing" as a "realtional hermanutic", and see both as positive. Can someone explain why bbb is centered-set, not relational. And why Belcher prefers centered-set over relational?

#2. What is "hard postmodernism"? Sounds like an oxymoron.

#3. I've been hearing about "postfoundationalism" for quite a while and have seen a couple fairly technical definitions, but if asked to define it, I would be hard pressed. My understanding is cloudy and I feel like I'm just assuming I ,hopefully, know what it is, but I'm pretty sure I reallly don't. Does Belcher describe what it is? Could someone give a simple, clear definition/description of it and it's current relevance? It seems to be sort of a line drawn in the sand between evangelical conservatives and progressives, but...?

just joe said...

yes, John, he explains all of this in the book. "Centered-set" means that group is not closed, but centered on certain core values, particularly on Christ. "Relational-set" means that there are not really any core values that are considered authoritive, it really means "constructivist" in the sense that truth is considered to be socially constructed by the social group. So -- Belcher says that for those who operate in the "relational set" there is no external authority such as scripture or tradition. the social consensus = authority.

Hard postmodernism = moral relativism. No absolute truth.

I'll let Brian define postfoundationalism but I will add Belcher's definition of "foundationalism" found on page 78

Foundationalism: (definition) Foundationalism is the view that knowledge can be based on self-evident truthst hat don’t need any backing from religion or any other external authority, that is, knowledge that has “invincible certainty.” Emerging thinkers contend that foundationalism has infected the traditional church and shaped its view of preaching, leadership, community and church structure (Belcher:78).

Foundationalism is usually equated with the Enlightenment view of Reason.
Hope this helps

Brian Emmet said...

Good summary, Jose! "Postfoundational" simply means that we're living in a cultural context that recognizes that there are no "foundations" IN THE SENSE OF 'bomb-proof certainties' that are intellectually/rationally compelling to all observers. It does not mean "when the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?"

Descartes is generally seen as the father of foundationalism; his intellectual heirs in evangelicalism would include, inter alia, F. Schaeffer and J. McDowell.

"Relational hermeneutics" means that the community is the arbiter of truth; all knowledge is constructed by a particular community of discourse. Certain sectors of the emerging church have moved in a "relational hermeneutic" direction; they would, for example, deny that the creeds have any binding or lasting "hold" on the church, but represent instead how the Christian community at that time and place formulated their beliefs.

John M. said...

OK,very helpful. Thanks Joseph and Brian. Seriously, please tell me if you want me just to read along, sense I'm asking "obvious" questions out of my ignorance of how terms are defined and coined in the book.

The "foundationalist/postfoundationalist", concepts go beyond this particular book though. Foundationalism was the conceptual environment in which I was formed. Even though I have pushed out and explored some of the newer thinking and have definitely modified some of my ideas, I think Foundationalism is still my default mode. How about you all? (I'm not talking about the ability to get out of that box and examine and seek to understand other approaches, but the default mode, the basic "foundation" to which you tend to uncounsciously return.)

just joe said...

according to "google/analytics" over 30 people have visited this site since Brian posted this topic on Oct 28 -- at least 8 people just yesterday.

How many of you have read Jim Belcher's book, Deep Church, and do any of you strongly diagree with him? or strongly agree? Do any of you just mildly agree or just don't care? Or perhaps because you are not pastoring a church, his topic is not highly relevant for you?

just joe said...

sorry: I dopped the "s" out of disagree. I do stuff like that all the time.

Brian Emmet said...

I wonder if Belcher's commitment to the Creeds and the Great Tradition ("what all Christians have believed at all times, in all places," or, in CS Lewis' phrase, "mere Christianity")as the living center of orthodoxy is going to gain traction in our individualistic, anti-authoritarian and anti-institutional context. If there is no compelling authority outside of/apart from the "autonomous self," doesn't Belcher's proposal seem like the reimposition of the "dead hand of tradition"? As the "relational hermeneutics" [a brand of 'hard postmodernism' where 'truth' is ultimately determined by the community]of some sectors of the emerging church might say, "Who cares what Christians from 15 centuries ago decided in Nicea? That was then; this is now!"

Brian Emmet said...

New post up!