This month I am reading through James Bryan Smith’s “The Good and Beautiful God” and blogging as I go. I invite you to join in too – feel free to tweet, comment on my blog, blog for yourself or comment on Facebook as we go.
OK I think for non-american readers it might be better to skip most of this intro. It’s basically a lot of name dropping. Although Smith describes himself as a Forest Gump character who has run into a lot of very significant people. You can’t help feeling that this is either a necessary evil to gain some credibility in a crowded publishing space in the USA or quite a lot of insecurity in the author. In short Smith was mentored, is friends with or has worked alongside most of the greats on the Christian spirituality scene. Including:
- Richard Foster
- Dallas Willard
- Brennan Manning
- Rich Mullins
- Henri Nouwen
I decided not to to ditch the book at this stage, though this was a temptation as to a Brit this felt like self promotion. Keep on going the next chapter is worth it.
How to get the most out of this book, p.17-18
I am going to do all the exercises and try and pace myself through this book so I don’t read it too quickly. My initial thought was to read two chapters a week so we finish the book by the end of November. But i am open to suggestions from you guys. Rather than keep a journal – I am going to blog as I go through the book. And I am very happy to chat this through with the online reading community we are generating around the book and also when i meet up with the student I am mentoring at Oxford Uni.
Chapter One What are you Seeking p.19-32
Things I needed to get over to enjoy this chapter:
1. The self help introduction – “would you like to have abiding peace?” – of course who doesn’t?
2. The amount of prooftexting – a pet hate of mine as it can make the Bible the servant of the writer rather than the other way round.
3. The nagging feeling that the will as beast of burden is borrowed from pop psychology rather than scripture (p.20)
4. I have read hundreds of Christians books, many of them claiming more than they can deliver.
Things I really liked about this chapter:
1. A holistic view of spiritual transformation
- though i think Smith could have shown his theological working a bit better I do quite like the three factors effecting change.
- MIND – needs retraining through adopting the narrative of Jesus
- BODY – needs recalibrating through spiritual disciplines / “soul training”
- SOCIAL CONTEXT - needs rewiring through genuine Christian community / Church
I was surprised this was such a key part of the model as having read Ruth Valerio’s review of the book that was her major critique of the book that it was too individualistic.
2. The mature view of the Spirit at the centre
Smith has such a strong emphasis on the work of the Spirit but not in a simplistic “God will zap holiness into you” approach that seems pretty popular in some charismatic circles and not in some of the “you just need to try harder” approach that are seen in some non-charismatic circles. I really appreciated the way that Smith integrates his view of the Spirit to the life of the mind, the spiritual disciplines and the church. These three anchor points give me confidence that Smith has something grounded and helpful for the rest of the book.
I like Smith’s Transformation Triangle:
3. Virtue Theology
There’s a lot of emphasis on real change happening through practicing the Christian life. I have been picking up this approach from NT Wright and some recordings of Cornelius Plantinga Jnr I have been listening to lately. So its nice to have this thinking confirmed by Smith. I also have gotten into running over the last few months and have been seeing the changes in my stamina- so I can get excited about seeing change in my character in the same way. Jo Saxton was going the same way with her very accesible book Real God, Real Life, but Smith takes it up a few notches in terms of depth and theological acumen.
Am enjoying the book so far, let’s see how we get on together. What did you make of it?