In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity is a book by Jim Belcher. He is currently a professor at Knox Theological Seminary and previously was the planter and pastor of Redeemer Church. His previous book is called Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional. He received his Ph.D. from Georgetown University and his M.A. from Fuller Theological Seminary. My first encounter with Dr. Belcher was reading through Deep Church upon the suggestion of one of my mentors. I plowed through it and was truly blessed by it. I was serving as an interim pastor at the time and suggested that the church council read through it together I liked the book so well. My second encounter with Dr. Belcher was at the Wheaton Theology Conference in 2012. The topic that year was “Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture” and he spoke on his chapter from In Search of Deep Faith on Bonhoeffer. After hearing Dr. Belcher speak on Bonhoeffer, I was anxiously awaiting the release of In Search of Deep Faith.
I will say at the outset that this book made me break the tenth commandment many times. I found myself coveting the adventure that Dr. Belcher and his family got to go on to write this book. He and his family travelled through Europe on a pilgrimage to visit places associated with many of his faith heroes. Most of the chapters of the book, excluding only a few, are devoted to a person and a corresponding place. The heroes about whom he writes include: Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Sheldon Vanauken, C.S. Lewis, William Wilberforce, Vincent van Gogh, André Trocmé, Corrie ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Maria von Trapp.
Each chapter dealing with a particular faith hero provides a biographical sketch of the person interwoven with Dr. Belcher’s encounters with the various historical sites associated with the people. The biographical sections usually focus around a particular time of that person’s life or a particular situation in which they were involved. These short, biographical sketches seem to serve as an appetizer encouraging the reader to desire to further study each character. These appetizers are successful in doing just that. They leave the reader desiring to know more about each of these pivotal characters in the history of the church.
The story of Dr. Belcher and his family’s experiences along the way help to push forward the lesson(s) from each of these faith heroes’ stories. His own experiences seem to help exegete these historical figures and show their relevance to contemporary Christianity. Many pastors, professors and theologians encourage the reading of Christian biographies for their encouraging benefits to modern believers and it seems as though Dr. Belcher has set out to both live and record that for his readers.
He regularly refers to a book by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton called Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. He refers to the book in relation to his kids’ experiences on the pilgrimage and his hopes for their growth in Christ. The book coined the term moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD) to describe the current condition of religious beliefs and ideas among American youth. This term is widely used and referred to now by many pastors and authors across Christianity. It has helped not only to define the state of religious ideas and beliefs among youth, but I think as well among adults. Belcher’s interaction with this text is part of an overall theme of raising kids in Christ that runs throughout In Search of Deep Faith. Aside from the encouragement of the biographical sketches, this glance into Christian family life is another practical benefit in this book. There are multiple pictures of a husband and wife attempting to encourage one another in their faith while praying and raising their kids to know Christ and have a deep, genuine trust in Him as well.
A third theme that seems prevalent within the book is the concept of pilgrimage, which is obvious from the title of the book. Referencing A Pilgrim’s Progess by John Bunyan, A Christian Theology of Place by John Inge and of course plenty of Tolkien; Belcher outlines the grand narrative behind the whole project centered on concepts like pilgrimage and journey. Particularly, his mention in the Prologue of John Inge’s concept of a pilgrimage being characterized by, “a rediscovery of our roots, an understanding that life is a journey and a new focus on our true destination,” serves as a great summary statement for the “why” behind the book. This is noticeable in that the book is broken up into three parts aptly named according to Inge’s three characteristics. This theme helps redefine for some or perhaps define for the first time for others, the concept of Christian pilgrimage and its potential contemporary relevance.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I felt as though I was on the journey with Dr. Belcher as I read. I felt that the three major themes I found in the book were very helpful and effective in doing what they sought to do. I was encouraged by the stories of believers that have done great things while relying on the power of Christ in their lives and trusting in His provision. The striking thing about Christian biographies is that the people are very often regular people propelled into some extraordinary circumstance and faced with the choice to trust Christ in those circumstances. I look forward to reading more about each of the heroes mentioned in the book. I was also blessed by the focus on Christ-centered family life. Having a daughter now, my mind is often geared towards how I am doing as a husband and a father to lead my family in and to Christ. Lastly, the sense of adventure that comes from the concept of pilgrimage is exciting to say the least. It drives me personally to think on the great cloud of witnesses that surround me, the journey of life and the true destination that my life is heading towards.
The actual trip that the Belchers were able to go on was an astounding trip and I meant what I said when I said I coveted this opportunity. The reality is that most people reading this book will never have the opportunity to even go to one of these places or a place like it. Honestly as I thought through the book upon finishing it I thought of the select few authors, professors and pastors that are able to experience these amazing things and then share those findings and experiences with the world through various mediums. One could think that the rest of us are left here in the ordinary grind of life more akin to the life that Dr. Belcher described his family was experiencing in the Epilogue. Yet my mind goes back to words spoken just last night at our Wednesday night service. The speaker, an indigenous pastor from Ivory Coast, encouraged us to do what we are called and gifted to do within the church for the encouragement of the church. This is what Dr. Belcher and his family did here, what they were called to do for the encouragement of Christ’s church. Like my brother in Christ from Ivory Coast this book can be used in someone’s life to spur them on towards a pilgrimage of their own, to refocus where they are at, to bring their family better into the will of Jesus, or to just be what Christ has called them to be. God has used this book to begin to do some of these things in me. I pray the same for you.
I am grateful for the review copy that IVP provided to be able to write this review.