When he heard that I was planning a trip to Europe, a pastor friend of mine told me I had to read Jim Belcher’s new book, In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness, and Heart of Christianity. It was one of the best books he’d read all year, he said. A recommendation like that from a well-read friend who’s lived in Europe himself is not to be ignored, so I looked up the book and found its trailer on Vimeo. Integral to Dr. Belcher’s explanation of his motives was a concern for the shaping of his children. Hearing an implicit suggestion that Sunday School alone isn’t strong enough to counteract the formative power of a secular culture in the hearts of his own kids intrigued me. It didn’t hurt that the heroes he mentioned were my own heroes, too. I was sold.
The literary task Belcher undertakes in this book is remarkable and he executes it skillfully. In one complex stew he serves up theology, biography, history, travelogue, autobiography, and even parenting wisdom. To be honest, this was a bit frustrating to me at the outset. I don’t have much patience for diversions when I’m reading, and In Search of Deep Faith felt like a textbook full of sidebars at first. But as I got accustomed to the format I began to get excited about the book’s potential, and before the end of the first chapter I was visualizing the day when my kids would be old enough that I could read it out loud. The diversions and interruptions in the multiple story lines would be attention-grabbing. I was imagining my children’s minds drawn back to their peers exploring Oxford’s spires, left to wonder for a few pages what would become of imprisoned Thomas Cranmer.
Belcher identifies three pillars of his family’s pilgrimage: The discovery of identity and the Christian self, the importance of journey and maps, and the need for a destination. Writing often in terms of truth, beauty, and goodness, he paints a vivid and cohesive picture of the Christian pilgrim, called to glory beyond himself, struggling through the brokenness of the world by the strength of his hope in the world to come. To this end he explores the lives of a few of Christianity’s giants – Lewis, Bonhoeffer, Cranmer, and Wilberforce – and a handful of more unlikely characters, each of whom I came to love along the way – Sheldon Van Auken, Vincent Van Gogh, and Maria Von Trapp, to name a few.
I am a stickler for grammar and syntax and found moments in Belcher’s writing style nothing short of tedious. Despite feeling within a few pages that the book wanted a ruthless editor, I determined to read it from cover to cover and I am the richer for it. It is not great literature, but the content is simply as good as it gets, and worth every minute I spent on it and several more readings besides. I am indebted to Dr. Belcher not only for his exploration of the lives of several fellow pilgrims I’ve taken for granted – Maria Von Trapp, most notably – but also for his candid, honest, and thoughtful reflections on his own family’s life and faith. I highly recommend this book.