How do we find a “third way” when it comes to theology? Doesn’t it seem that we always trip over one another on theology? I am so glad and happy with how Jim Belcher approaches theology, speaking as many of us do of “mere Christianity,” in his new and important book: Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional
. (Our last post looked at the emerging movement’s critique.)
Belcher is proposing a “new ecumenism” that is really the “old ecumenism” but is not the 20th Century’s “liberal ecumenism.” For unity to exist there requires two primary elements: trust
and a two-tiered
approach to theology. But this means there are some who don’t fit in. I’ll get to this shortly.
First of all, Belcher examines the two-tiered approach to theology. The top tier comes from the “great tradition” or “mere Christianity” or the “old consensus.” That consensus is what has bound together Christians of all ages: a commitment to the Bible and to the regula fidei that properly interprets it, and that regula fidei is found in The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. This is the top tier.
The second tier is what CS Lewis refers to by the rooms off the hall (if you remember his image). That is, the local affirmations of the local church or denomination. So, Belcher affirms that unity can be found in the gospel — the articulation of the gospel in the Church: the consensus creeds. But there is all kinds of diversity at the local level as a local church articulates other ideas on the basis of this old consensus.
Then Belcher argues that we have to be willing to trust those who affirm that orthodoxy. Here is how Jim puts it: “Does a particular thinker affirm the classical, orthodox consensus, the top tier? These [thinkers] certainly can be talked about and examined. But they must not be fundamentally tampered with. Any who affirm this are orthodox — even if they hold to different views on the bottom tier” (61).
What about the local church level, though? This is where Belcher actually lives the Third Way and I really like his ideas:
1. Membership is based on affirmation of the Great Tradition not on the affirmation of the local variety of that faith.
2. Practices of deep church and great tradition and deep liturgical tradition to connect to the Church’s faith of all ages — attitudes and assumptions are examined.