Jim Belcher: In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity.
Jim Belcher, the current president of Providence Christian College, does something quite remarkable: he moves back-and-forth between the past and present.On a sabbatical of sorts, he took his family to Europe with the aim of fostering a consequential Christian faith in his family:
So often our children are taught that faith is about being nice and fair to all. These are good virtues. The problem is that Christianity is more than being nice or kind. It is more than personal success and happiness. It contains, Kenda Creasy Dean says, a creed, a community and a hope. It can be articulated, defended and may call us to die for it….If parents and the church communicate to our kids that the heart of Christianity is only being nice, fair, happy and successful, they will have no resources, no tools, no map in which to navigate the journey of life, particularly when suffering comes — and it most certainly will come. (31)
Belcher and his family travel to particular location. There they learn about a Christian life in that location; they visit the locale where something memorable took place, they reflect upon how that event demonstrates the working of Christ in this world. Such a back-and-forth movement, from past to present, could easily become dull, confusing or plain stupid; but Belcher handles the movement with seeming ease.
The first stop is Oxford where the family looked at the life and martyrdom of Cranmer. He sets up Cranmer’s witness against Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which is the de facto religion of even most “Christian” children in the West:
For the kids who subscribe to MTD, religion is no more than a hobby that gets abandoned in college. Certainly it is not something worth dying over. (28).
Why would Cranmer willingly die for a faith when most wouldn’t even be inconvenienced for apparently the same claims?
The family then moves on to consider the struggle of Sheldon Vanauken, “As parents we knew that if our kids were going to develop a deep faith, they first needed to understand that they are creatures of desire” (49).
In chapter three, “The Struggle Within”, Belcher considers George Whitefield, Robert Louis Stevenson and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde – and Romans 7.
Chapter four, “The Weight of Glory” looks to the life of C.S. Lewis, “So this is the key to the true self, to human flourishing: finding our acceptance in God and being approved by him. It is the source of freedom, joy, contentment.” (109). This is similar to Paul Baynes, the 17th Century Puritan’s work, Brief Directions for a Godly Life, which begins with assurance of salvation. Only a knowing acceptance before God is sufficient to transform the human heart.
Belcher looks at William Wilberforce and then Van Gough — the unbelieving son of a Christian minister; the French community of Le Chambon (an entire community who protected Jews during WWII); Corrie ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer & Maria Van Trap.
At the end of the book, Belcher comes back to a question he raised at the beginning: the matter of desire and direction:
Was it possible, I thought, that there isa connection between the order of our desires and the reality of our confidence and trust? Is other words, was what we had been teaching our kids about roots, journey and destination in reality a lesson about ultimate trust? Is to desire God and his kingdom really to trust him? 269
Belcher’s book works. It is readable, engaging, enlightening, comforting. As a father, I was forced to reflect upon my own life and how I engage and raise my children. Have I led them to understand and desire the kingdom of God? Have I shown them the lives of other Christians as examples of how such a life would play out in the “real world.” The real good of Belcher’s book is his repeated demonstration that Christian faith must be consequential for how one lives, or we must wonder whether the claimed faith is a real faith.
I have not quoted out his best insights, so that you must read the book yourself to find them.