Jim Belcher’s, In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity, is a book richly needed in the American Church as it attempts to navigate the dangerous waters of the impending paradigm shift. Belcher does not regale us with morality plays, but introduces to a grand narrative of Christians who have met change and met God successfully.
This book is one part travel guide, one part theological history, one part devotional. We are invited to travel along with the Belcher family on a whirlwind trip of some of the more theological-centric sites in Europe. Along the way, we encounter not just looming figures in recent and ancient pasts, but hear the ongoing narrative between Belcher and these figures. We are coached into seeing how the stories from these characters present to us modern readers and believers a challenge to not give up, even when we are at our weakest. This is Belcher’s season of renewal and so too ours.
The book is divided into three parts, eleven chapters among them. In Part One, Belcher takes us along to visit theological England, centered in Oxford. There we meet ancient bishops murdered for the cause of Christ, listen to a love story spanning the eternal, and relive the amazing grace that is William Wilberforce. The second part moves us into continental Europe (I dare not mention theological France as the location here). Finally, we are swept away with musical mountains as we encounter the von Trapps and even Bonhoeffer. Unless you are well versed in all things Christian history, many of these stories will be new — if you are familiar, they will be fresh. After all, Maria von Trapp was more than just a frolicking nun played by Julie Andrews. Her real strength is not found in music, but in the shaping of her soul and life by the Spirit of God.
How does one review such a personal story? The writing is better than most, giving it a very literary quality to it. Belcher is a preacher by craft and thus we should expect it to be delivered in a narrative style understood by most. We get that. (Absent is the lyrical style of Rob Bell, for which I am eternally grateful.) My only real complaint is the citation method. While Belcher includes endnotes, they are not numbered, but only give page numbers and hints as to what he is citing. Pictures and maps are included as well. There is something more, however.
What is included is a deep appreciation for Christians as Christians, not as Evangelicals, Catholics, or otherwise. When Belcher meets the Catholic Maria or the Lutheran Dietrich he does not judge them based on modern American Evangelical theology, but simply allows them to testify to their call in Christ sans label. There are no qualifiers attached. This is a welcome breath of fresh air because even with recent books (by other authors) this is not usually the case.
Throughout this book, the author rests in a sense of reverence for the stories, even his own, he is telling. He is seeking out renewal as a pastor and very much as a Christian. He is drained, tired, and near finished — yet, his season of renewal is beneficial. It uplifts him and calls him to remember those who have gone on before. By the end of the book, Jim Belcher and his family are better Christians for the sites they have seen and the stories they heard. They are better and so are we.