Never judge a book by its cover. I know, I know, I know…and yet that’s exactly what I did last week as soon as I saw the title, In Search of Deep Faith by Jim Belcher. One of our Bible School instructors from many years ago had given a general recommendation of it on Facebook and the title grabbed me by the throat in the same way that Chuck Colson’s book did when he referred to “The Faith” (with a Theocentric implication) as opposed to “faith.” The title peaked my curiousity enough for me to look up some information on the book, as well as the writer. Without hesitation, I ordered it, the book arrived, and I jumped in with both feet. And I’m so glad I did, because it’s a gold mine!
The book was written by a young pastor of a Presbyterian church in California who, along with his wife, was concerned that their four young children might fall under the strong influences of the currently pervasive “Moral Therapeutic Deism,” as he referred to it, and not embrace a true Deep Faith in Christ. The “all-you-have-to-do-is-believe-and-Jesus-will-make-you-feel-good” deception of Moral Therapeutic Deism is strong and attractive. And deadly.
Frankly, I wish my grandkids didn’t love the movie Polar Express so much because I worry that this is exactly the concept of Moral Therapeutic Deism that the writer speaks of, and that’s destroying the Christian church today. Just like the boy in Polar Express who wants so desperately to believe in Santa, we too clench our fists, close our eyes and keep repeating, “I believe… I believe… I believe….” until finally we can hear the bell jingle and everything suddenly becomes wonderful and we live in a story-bookish happily-ever-after where Santa satisfies us with presents and lots and lots of good things. It feels so good… But it’s counterfeit. It’s not the Faith, and by it, we’re woefully ill prepared for real life.
So in this book, in their attempt to define and live out true Faith for their children, these parents decided to pack up their family and travel through Europe for a full year, in search of their spiritual roots, their need for a “map” to show them the way to Deep Faith, and the assurance of their God-ordained, true “destination.”
Beginning their pilgrimage in a rented house in Oxford, England while studying the martyr Thomas Cranmer, the family set out for a year on a “pilgrimage” to seek out the places and stories of such individuals as C.S. Lewis, Vanauken, Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer, Corrie ten Boom, Van Gogh (a sad example of “broken beauty”), Trocme, Maria von Trapp and others. Throughout the book, stories of these individuals come alive as they are interspersed with descriptions of the pubs, the prisons, the homes, the churches, the towns and villages where these stories were lived out all across Europe… and also interspersed with the very real and common struggles and conflicts the Belcher family themselves experienced together as they sought answers to such mysteries– in their search for “Deep Faith”– like why it was so hard for their kids to just admit they were wrong when they disobeyed. (Been there. Done that.)
Of course, after the title itself, the book drew me in with its rich travel aspect. My husband and I love to travel. Two years ago, I was unexpectedly impacted in a hugely significant way when we visited the ancient ruins of Ephesus. I’d never been one to long for pilgrimage. “Next year in the Holy Land…” was just not on my agenda. I just didn’t feel the need to see the places where Jesus walked in order for Him to be more real– the Bible was truth enough that He is real. Or so I believed. And yet when we found ourselves standing in the Ephesian amphitheater where Paul had become a marked man for preaching that there is only One True God, I stood momentarily frozen, like my faith had suddenly, unexpectedly taken on far greater depth. THIS was where Paul had stood, and THIS was where his fellow Believers had urgently appealed to him not to enter the amphitheater where angry crowds were ready to tear him apart because of his bold accusations against the diety of their revered Diana and his stubborn, persistent affirmation that Jesus Christ was the Son of the One and Only True God. THIS was where true Deep Faith had been demonstrated. And for me, this was pilgrimage… now I understood! Therefore, I was ripe, hungrily eager to read about the pilgrimage of the Belcher family in their quest for Deep Faith.
Right off the bat, what I didn’t like was reading about how Thomas Cranmer, having been forced to witness the horrific deaths of his two friends Ridley and Latimer who were burned at the stake, buckled under severe fear and isolation, and recanted his opposition of the Catholic church’s heresy. (No!!! Don’t do it!!…I felt myself react…) Eventually, he recanted his recantation, was indeed burned at the stake, and in his remorse he requested that his right hand be the first to be burned for having so offended by signing the recant.
Not only that, but this writer did not hide the times of weakness that many other “heroes of the faith” had experienced. I found myself resisting that reality. I so desperately wanted to read flawless, shining examples of men and women who never buckled under temptation, who were strong, bold, courageous… and yet if we only had examples of men and women who had been flawless in their character as they’d faced the horrific trials that tested their faith– what hope would there be for us, really?
Only Jesus Christ Himself was perfect. Every one of the rest of us– every one– has had to repent for failing. Every. One. And yet to see how Jesus Christ could forgive flawed, repentent individuals and go on to use them in such great ways as examples of true Faith– well, this truly gives hope! Being tested, failing, repenting, and being forgiven by Christ is the heart and soul of true Deep Faith.
And that’s why the writer’s struggle with his 12 year old son who could not bring himself to confess his disobedience was significant enough to become part of the story. A friend helped him wrestle through understanding what was in the way of his son’s repentence– the classic Romans 7 struggle– and suggested, “You know, the solution in Romans 7 to the conflict within is not trying to obey the law more, but to realize that we are no longer married to the law.”
Till now, the book was fantastic and incredibly insightful. But now, my heart sank in a cold fear that this was suddenly going to turn into one of those “we’re not under law, but under grace” arguments. If the law was truly done away with, I maintain, then there would be no more sin, and consequently there is no more need for us to repent. (Try to convince a driver that he must be fined for excessive speeding if there IS no speed limit posted. Everything becomes merely relative, and nobody has any need for forgiveness, because there are no laws to be trangressed.) But that’s not what the writer was saying! Thankfully.
When he said that we are not married to the law, it means we don’t find our identity in it. We find our identity in our relationship with the person of Christ, but that doesn’t eradicate the law. It’s “both… and.” We eagerly obey the boundries and definition of the relationship (written in the law) from a heart of love and eagerness to please the one we love.
For instance, 40 years ago when I had a desire to be married, I could, I suppose, have bought myself a beautiful glittering ring, wrote “Mr and Mrs” on my mailbox, made delicious romantic meals for two, and bought a queen-sized bed. But without a husband, these forms still would not have given me the identity of a married woman. In the same way, adhering to the law itself does not define us as married to Christ.
Having fallen deeply in love with the man who became my husband, however, caused my identity to become intwined with his when we married. Because of my deep love for my husband, the laws that define and govern our marriage are precious to me. I still wear the ring he gave me, guard my faithfulness to him only, live with him, communicate constantly with him, and raised children with him. The definition and laws that govern marriage don’t change (no matter what the world is screaming at you right now!) Our identity is not in the laws, it’s in the person. But because of love for each other, we happily obey the laws that safeguard our marriage.
Far too often, Christians see their identity only in their obedience to God’s law– in this case, the writer’s 12 year old son saw himself as a “good boy,” one who pleases God and his parents when he obeys them. And when he failed (which we all do!) it was just too hard for him to reconcile that he was not who he thought he was– so his only way to deal with the blow and get back to his state of contentment and self-acceptance was to refuse to admit that he had failed. Sound familiar?
In truth, faith that’s deep and impacting comes only one way: through acknowledging that we are sinners, repenting for our inevitable failures, finding forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and trusting in a living relationship with Him. Deep faith means that we understand and confess our weakness, and find strength and courage in Christ alone when the inevitable times of suffering, sacrifice, and service infiltrate our lives– because they will come.
The book is a rich and wonderful record of how the Belcher family embraced these truths on their year long pilgrimage. Like them, we need only look to our roots to see the vibrant testimonies of those who lived in such a deep faith, and follow the map to our destination– to find what God has called US to do for His glory.
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