I’m a big Jim Belcher fan. I don’t know him personally, but I’d like to. Several years ago I read his wonderful book Deep Church: A Third Way Between Emerging and Traditional. More than any other contemporary work of practical theology, it expresses my views on the nature and purpose of worship. At one and the same time it is faithful to the Reformed Tradition and deeply connected with the church’s Great Tradition, which is bigger and more essential than the former.
As a result, it was with great interest that I learned that Jim had chosen to transition away from parish ministry and take his family of six on a yearlong sojourn to Europe. The travelogue of that adventure is In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness, and Heart of Christianity. It’s a sort of theological musing on the nature of life, faith, and family.
The book hangs together under a verse from the prophet Jeremiah (6:16) that has always inspired me:
“Thus says the Lord: Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”
The words of the prophet seem almost a direct contradiction of our current American cultural situation–both in society and in the church. Neither “ancient paths” nor “rest” seem to be characteristic of American culture or the American church, which is supposed to represent something of a parallel or counter-culture.
We’re often frenzied as we try to keep pace with the development of technology, the latest trends in church growth or theology, the seismic shifts in our culture’s understanding of sexuality, trends like wage disparity. We’re running a mile a minute trying to keep up, let alone get ahead of, the cultural curve. We’re distracted, tired, and in many ways find it easier to give grace to others and not to ourselves. We’re the exact opposite of the admonition of Yahweh. And it’s impacting our discipleship, making it shallow because it is not deeply rooted in the ancient paths and it does not respect our creatureliness and need for limits both in body and of mind.
Belcher acknowledges this reality, specifically in the context of pastoral ministry and as the father of four children. The underlying question of the book is: how are we–and our children–being formed? What are the forces that are sculpting us, heart, mind, body, soul?
This isn’t simply a question, but it is the question. Our Lord is quite clear in his command that the task of the church is forming people to be followers, disciples, apprentices of Jesus. If we’re failing there, we’re failing…totally.
Belcher’s travels follow a theological topography that provides the guidance and direction that each of us needs to faithfully follow Jesus in this broken world. The places and faces will likely be different for all of us, but as Christians we need exemplars and models to follow, even as these have followed Christ.
My favorite sections of the book revolve around Oxford. Anna and I spent part of our summer there last year. It was a rich experience for us–especially time together with just the two of us among the dreaming spires of the university town. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book and let it inspire you to live more deeply in the way of Jesus.