Jim Belcher ’87, talked through some of the challenges this moment of transition poses to young Christians, their families and the Church as a whole.
Often, Belcher explained, the moment comes during a person’s college years—away from home, from parents and youth group, from most of the inherited aspects of her religious faith. Drawing from the research of another well-known Gordon alumnus, Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith ’83, Belcher shared some sobering facts about how our most recent generation of college students and graduates (termed "emerging adults") fare through this critical moment. Upwards of 90 percent of emerging adults take on the social and spiritual identity of their immediate surroundings, even if it goes against the identity of their youth.
This means that many emerging adults who were raised in the Christian faith “put that [Christian] identity in a lockbox," said Belcher, once they enter into the largely faith-skeptical realm of secular higher education. They then emerge on the other side of their college years brandishing a sort of vague spirituality Smith calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)—God without grounding in theology or creed, accompanying a general moral, spiritual and social aimlessness.
“Can MTD be escaped?” Belcher asked. How can we instill enduring faith in ourselves and in future generations? It’s a question Belcher has been grappling with for years.
After earning degrees from Gordon College, Fuller Theological Seminary and Georgetown University, Belcher became the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California. He made his debut as a Christian voice on the national stage with the thoughtful and fair-minded Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional, celebrated as one of Christianity Today's "best books from 2009." Now an associate professor of practical theology at Knox Theological Seminary, Belcher continues to seek a vibrant and firmly rooted faith in his work as a pastor, teacher and scholar.
And as Belcher explained in his Chapel message Monday morning, the firm, sustaining root of the Church is in the enduring story of Christ. Drawing a comparison to Lucy’s discovery of the magic of the “Spell for the Refreshment of the Spirit” in C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Belcher reiterated that “once you have been gripped by that story [of Christ], you will want to hear it over and over again.”
It is the timeless power of the Christian narrative that ultimately resists the casual draw of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, and which creates a culture of bold Christian leaders ready to live out that narrative in the world. “I’m thankful that I was able to get exposure to that kind of story here at Gordon, 25 years ago,” said Belcher.
Belcher is currently working on a follow-up to Deep Church, titled In Search of Deep Faith.