by Jim Belcher
IVP Books, Downers Grove, Ill. 318 pages.
There is nothing more annoying, according to Mark Twain, than a good example. Jim Belcher’s book, “In Search of Deep Faith,” is full of good examples whose witness he hopes will save his children from that cultural demon, “moralistic therapeutic deism.” After having successfully planted a PCA congregation in Southern California, Belcher confesses to having been “worn out” and needing rest and renewal. His plan was to move to Oxford with his family and from there to examine various sites associated with people of “deep faith.” Some of the people he picks are remarkable indeed: Thomas Cranmer, William Wilberforce, C.S. Lewis, and later Andre Trocmé and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By helping his children become acquainted with these heroic saints, Belcher hopes to depict for them a vivid alternative to a weak or domesticated faith. He often asks them (and sometimes himself) if they would have the kind of faith that would sacrifice like these saints or stand up in the face of adversity as they did or even die courageously for their convictions. Part travelogue, part parenting manual, part hagiographical sketch, this book aims to assist pilgrims and parents of pilgrims on their own journey of faith.
And yet I wonder if the book does not fail even in the terms it sets for itself. If “moralistic therapeutic deism” is the demon Belcher assumes that it is, I wonder if it is best combated by didactic lessons from virtuosos of the faith. I would think that after a few of these “lessons”, a child might be tempted to give “MTD” a try, if for no other reason than to escape sermons against it. Strangely missing in this set of narratives “into the heart of Christianity” is Jesus Christ, whose faithfulness covers the sins of a multitude of saints, especially those we are tempted to beatify. Moreover, only Christ can deliver them and us from the demons that threaten and that only by the miracle of his surprising grace. A trip to Europe cannot bear the weight of such a miracle.
Belcher knows that faith is not immune to suffering; that the Christian life is a life of witness; that brokenness is not a sign of hopelessness or lack of faith. He also knows the importance of a “baptized imagination,” the role of story in sustaining faith, the gift of beauty in helping faith see beyond what is merely visible. But all of this serves the quest for an “authenticity” that seems more nearly centered in one’s own piety than in Jesus Christ. Strangely missing also from this record of pilgrimage is any sense of the Holy Spirit and the mysterious way the Spirit unites the most unlikely of ordinary people to Jesus Christ.
In truth, there is only one person who ever had authentic faith. What makes the sainted heroes about whom Belcher writes un-trivial is their struggle with Jesus Christ and their growth in his likeness. His faithfulness to them is what liberates them from the tedium of being a good example. In that connection, the one person that impresses the most in Belcher’s own narrative is his wife, Michelle, whose care for their children, whose providing the meals, whose home-schooling while Belcher himself is either in the library or conversing with a scholar, struck this reviewer as a model of Christian discipleship.
Thomas W. Currie is dean of Union Presbyterian Seminary at the Charlotte campus.