I’m reading the book Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional by Jim Belcher for an upcoming D.Min class. The book is thus far accessing the conversation and clash between the emerging and traditional expressions of Evangelical Christianity, in which the former has become a sort of new reformation protest against the later.
Among emerging voices, who see traditional Evangelicalism fraught with serious problems (too wedded to modernism/enlightenment philosophy), there is a strong tone of deconstruction before there is any reconstruction. While deconstruction is necessary when there is a perceived problem, Belcher says that the “protest is too sweeping. At times it borders on iconoclasm” (p. 48). He goes on to say:
…this iconoclasm is not fair, and if not tempered it will handicap this reform movement, potentially leading it into a new kind of sectarianism, mimicking some of the same mistakes of the past — anti-intellectualism, anti-tradition and tribalism (p. 48).
When I read this I just dropped the book in my lap and thought how much he could of easily spoken these words to my own tribe, the Churches of Christ, many years ago.
For those who don’t know, iconoclasm has to do with attacking and destroying cherished beliefs of an institution, such as Evangelicalism. Because this is a blog, I won’t take the time to document all the ways in which the Churches of Christ fell into the trap that Belcher warns emerging Christianity of. It’s suffice to say here that as part of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, the Churches of Christ saw themselves as restoring the church read about in the New Testament. Somewhere along the line this restoration project which began as a unity movement (“Christians only but not the only Christians) began asserting itself as the only true church, attacking all other denominations as false teaching and unchristian. The result became an anti-intellectual, anti-traditional, and tribalistic form of sectarianism. Of course, those still steeped in this sectarianism will cry foul at my assessment here but that may only show just how much we became a victim of our own iconoclasm.
While many among Churches of Christ have rejected this sectarian approach, it is worth mentioning as a living example of the warning Belcher offers: Learn from history or repeat it! For surely the Churches of Christ are not the only group of reforming/restoring Christians to become ensnared in this iconoclastic trap.