After reviewing Jim Belcher’s first book in 2009, Deep Church, I was eager to get my hands on In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness, and Heart of Christianity. I’m thankful for the opportunity to offer a review, as this book deserves a wide audience.
I’ve been a pastor for the past 10 years and have a wife and four children. Belcher founded and pastored Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California, until he stepped out of ministry in 2010. He pastored there for 10 years. Jim is also married with four kids. There are obvious reasons for me to resonate with his story. Like this:
What I really needed was spiritual rest. I needed to take stock of my life, rediscover where I came from and where I may be going. I wanted to take a year to walk in the steps of my heroes, read their books again and marinate in their lives—go deeper into their stories and learn from them all over again. It was going to be like a pilgrimage, a time to spiritually and experientially connect with the places and people that had most influenced me. And, most importantly, to reconnect to God. (13)
This is the backdrop for a book about the Belcher family’s pilgrimage to some important places where faithful disciples who have gone before us have lived and served. Some of them suffered, and all of them died with deep faith in God. You don’t need to be a pastor or have young kids to resonate with this pilgrimage. You just have to be a disciple in search of the same deep faith.
Not long after resigning, Jim Belcher and his family packed up and headed for Oxford in England. They rented an RV and visited places around Europe that tell the stories of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom, C. S. Lewis, Vincent van Gogh, William Wilberforce, and others. They walked under the “dreaming spires” of Oxford, viewed the sights van Gogh painted, and saw where Bonhoeffer was executed.
Organized in three sections—rediscovering our roots, life as journey and the need for a map, and seeing our destination—Belcher weaves the story of his family’s pilgrimage with the stories behind the places that made them worth remembering and retelling. This book masterfully integrates the two stories through a focus on family, travel, history, biography, geography, and faith. In Search of Deep Faith is a hopeful yet real book. Belcher’s stories include imperfect people in a refreshing view of a select group of saints and places.
This is a book about questions we ask ourselves as followers of Jesus, and even when Belcher doesn’t ask questions, I did along the way. How do we stay obedient in a world of distractions? How will we endure terrible suffering now or when it comes? What might we create as artists enamored with the beauty of the Almighty or tortured by the sin that keeps us from him? What will we do when persecution arrives?
I know the title of this book will drum up some concerns. What does Belcher mean by “deep” faith? A pilgrimage? Is that something we should find important? Those are fair concerns, yet I want to encourage skeptics to dive in. I’m not an expert on the history Belcher retells in the book but a fellow traveler on the same pilgrimage of faith. And this book isn’t primarily about a trip to important places of the faith, but the life of faith in Jesus. In Search of Deep Faith tells about a pilgrimage that Belcher’s family took, but in the end we learn we all are on a pilgrimage. There are more stories to discover, and through our lives more stories to write.
Our Own Adventure
One issue that kept cropping up for me as I read concerns reproducibility. I can’t do what the Belchers did. I can’t pack up and travel across Europe. Belcher knows this limitation, but he also knows these stories travel well. I rarely feel transported by a modern Christian book like I did in In Search of Deep Faith. Through engaging history, good writing, and personal reflection, Belcher accomplishes the task of providing one pilgrimage for us all, and invites us to a continued pilgrimage, our own adventure.
Another issue is the choice of “heroes.” We are getting Belcher’s heroes and not necessarily our own. I wonder how some will respond to the chapter on van Gogh, for example. But on a pilgrimage we must go places. These are his, and we get his reasons and experiences along the way.
Three groups of Christians will especially appreciate this book. First, pastors and ministers will find great benefit to reading about this pilgrimage. Ministry is hard, and whether you’re exhausted like Belcher or exhilarated with life and ministry, the story of his pilgrimage will serve you well. The second group is parents. This book could be read to your children, to enjoy the stories and discuss the implications together just as the Belchers did. That’s what I plan to do this year. The third and most important group includes any disciple looking for refreshment, for encouragement for the long haul, for strength to face opposition, and for hope in suffering. This book is accessible for the everyday Christian. Story after story reminded me that we’re not in this faith alone. Christians like you and me have finished well in the most difficult circumstances. We’re just one more in a long line whom God is still working on and through.
Belcher seems to also have seekers and skeptics in mind as he writes. I’m not sure how many will get this book in their hands, but it may well encourage someone to wonder about the God who worked in such amazing ways.
In Search of Deep Faith doesn’t offer all the answers, but it points us through many stories to the one answer in Christ. It invites us to pilgrimage together in a life of faith, risk, and, above all else, to know God better. The cloud of witnesses have gone before us, lived out deep faith, and finished the race. We are on a journey to do the same, and this book is a welcome companion for the way.