What is Deep Church? : In Outline


So my theme for my time in Germany, of Deep Church, comes from my PhD research, and my association with Kings College London (see www.deepchurch.org.uk).

I’m particularly keen to help connect academics with the concrete reality of church, and to help church leaders interact with the reflective and theological aspects that arise from the notions of ‘Deep Church’. In this post I want to suggest some aspects of what Deep Church means for me. Rather than reducing deep church to one way of being church I see it is about setting out principles that lie within the spirit of deep church. So below are a number of these principles in no particular order.

Deep Church as...

1. Pathological & Wellness: Whilst we need to address the problems and shortfalls of church, we need to do so by moving away from pathological descriptions, based on ill health, to ones of ‘wellness’.

Deep church for me is a way of us finding the best of church through out history, to take us forward into the future. We need to do so without a blind naive sentimentalism of the past but also avoiding the fostering of a negative and bilious cynicism that invalidates everything that has gone before us? (I’ve written on this before here).

What will we have as our measure of church? We will continue to pass judgement on their form or whether in the variety of their context/function they bring others to know and follow Jesus as a way of life with others?

2. Blueprint Ecclesiologies: This principle explores how underneath our ‘pathological ecclesiologies’ is the western tendency to describe the church in idealist terms – creating a vast gulf of disappointment between the reality we experience and the ideal that we hold.

The culture of consumerism means that we can find more satisfaction in the wishing of church, the desiring church, than we ever do in the action of being part of the imperfect church. In other world we participate in consuming the idea of church rather than the doing/being of church.

Deep Church offers us a way out of the entrapment of this idealisation cycle. It invites us to see us as part of the material flawed church of history and the church of the present. We participate as broken people who follow Jesus because of our brokeness, this is the plurality of the experience of the church. We follow Jesus and as we do so we are transformed into his image, the imperfect being made perfect in him, so that we might connect people to Jesus in reality, in the real broken world, in mission.

I’ve written a longer piece on blueprint ecclesiologies here.

3. Reflective Practice: Deep Church calls us to be more concerned with phronesis (practical wisdom), than theoria (abstract theological reasoning). There has been a growing refusal to accept the separation between theory (of systematics/biblical studies/ historical theology etc), and the practices (pastoral church contexts) of the concrete church.

Deep Church is equally concerned with christianity that is experienced from the ivory tower of academia to the concrete tower block of the council estate. We may have a preference for one of these that reflects our own personal character but the separation between “works” and “faith” is one that increasingly needs to be bridged. Without we will see the perpetuation of a social and intellectual “para-church” ghettos in our own 21st century post modern context.

In the face of this reality Deep Church is a call for our christian practices to be informed with reflection and reflection to lead into action and practice (see here for a longer piece I wrote on this topic).

4. Deeply Biblical/Historical/Theological: For too long descriptions of church have been idealized, blueprinted, separated out theory and practice, and as a result, we have been more confident in using sociological descriptions, rather than bible, church tradition or theology based ones.

Whilst we are now confident in talking about the church in its social context, we need to re-discover our confidence in understanding the church in its biblical, theological, and historical context. For me this is probably the heartbeat of Deep Church.

We discard the metaphors of modernity as descriptions of church (e.g. the CEO pastor), and then we repeat the same mistake by embracing the new metaphors of post-modernity (the web 2.0, starfish/spider/web church) with not other reference than cultural. Deep Church calls us to find our identity in the bible, church history, tradition and its normative theology, and for any metaphors to flow out from that. In other words we use metaphors first from what shapes us, deep church inspires us to do this from our heritage and then apply this to our cultural context.

(For more on metaphors and identity see here).

5. Left & Right Brained: If the modern world belonged to the left brain, ordered, logical, people of certainty, then in postmodernity there is a recovery of the right brained, creative side of life taking place.

Deep Church is not the swing to a right brained aesthetic, creative process, but the call to the ‘whole brained’, the left and right working together as we are meant to.

6. Cataphatic & Apophatic: This is closely related to left and right brained point. Cataphatic theology describes God positively according to what He has revealed of Himself in Scripture and nature. It is usually discussed as the opposite of Apophatic (or negative) theology, which attempts to describe God only in terms of what He is not.

We are experiencing the move from the cataphatic epistemology of the modern world built on certainty, to the post-modern crises of the apophatic, of knowing by not knowing. Deep Church is the possibility of the church and the christian faith built around the declaration of a God who is close and knowable, whilst mysterious and unfathomable.

What does it look like to do and be church with these modes operation together?

7. Solid and Liquid: Deep church is the call for church to stop being about the dogmatic trading of personal preferences, be they the mono/megalithic congregations, or ephemeral dispersed liquid moments of connection. It is the embrace of the church in all its ecclesiological depth.

Deep church is about being missional and outward, whilst being confessional and communal. This pattern of gathering and dispersal, like blood being pumping in and out, is the heart beat of ecclesial life, rather than alternative models of collapsing church into competing activities of post church social justice, or self indulgent aesthetic worship spaces.

A deep church hermeneutical spiral sees creativity of a community gathered in worship, confessing its faith together which leads into action and mission in the wider community, that leads back into confession and worship…

8. Preserving, Renewing & Creating: Following on from solid and liquid, is the notion that some churches are called to preserve traditions, some to renew them, and some to create new forms. Deep church is about embracing the depth of the body of Christ, in its shared context of the emerging culture, rather than the adoption of one response.

9. Agency & Structure: Deep Church calls us to look at how shallow and superficial our individualism has become in a materialist secular consumer culture.

The church at times has tried to control individual spirituality and formation, with hegemonic filtering, and authorisation. However we now see our Christian identity collapsing into the bricolage of a ‘shallow pick and mix-ipod-download-what ever I want -whenever I want’ of consumer agency and private God Spaces.

Deep church is the opportunity to discover the ontology of church, that to know who I am, is not just as an individual in christ, but also by participating in the mission of the body of Jesus. At a time when the most authentic thing to do is to lose faith and to leave church, can we re-discover what it means for Christian identity to be formed in community together?

Deep church thereby offers an alternative the relentless pressure of consumer liturgy that sees me endlessly construct myself and my image.

Conclusion All of those need so much more work, and clarification, I hope the MP3s I post based around these help. Meantime do post your questions, and thoughts.