James Bryan Smith
C.S. Lewis once wrote to a friend that people like him, who are interested in spiritual matters, typically all make the same mistake of talking a lot about it and almost never doing anything about it. Smith’s book – and the trilogy – sets out to change things. And he does a wonderful job.
In fact, you might say there are two things accomplished in these books at the same time. First of all, Smith addresses a lot of core issues in our understanding of Christian spirituality, and secondly, he associates these chapters with practical instruction in the spiritual disciplines. The form of these chapter pairings are roughly: a misunderstanding and how to rightly understand it, and then how to engage in a practice that will actually bring your life in line with the right understanding.
The first target of Smith’s book is captured in his subtitle, Falling In Love with the God Jesus Knows. To that end, Smith raises several common misunderstandings about God. The first chapter, “God is Good,” sets the stage for the template of the rest of the book. Smith discusses what he considers to be the false narrative of the “Angry God” and follows up with the correction of that notion. God is good, and the better we grasp this truth, the deeper our spiritual formation will run.
One of the unifying concepts in his book is that our spiritual formation is stunted by our misconceptions about God. If we misunderstand who God is and what he is like, we will relate to him and to his kingdom improperly, and thus we will fall short of what God intends for us. I think there is a lot to be said for this idea, and it leads the reader through a very helpful set of discussions about God and who he is.
The second target of Smith’s book is something that sets it apart from many books on spiritual formation. For each misunderstanding/corrected understanding, there is a corresponding activity for the reader to engage in. They are what Smith calls “Soul Training” exercises, and are crafted to be done in the support structure of a small community of people doing the same things. It is good to read a book that combines the “why” of the principles with the “what” of habit so well.
I have not yet completed the trilogy, but it is off to a great start. The book will be especially helpful in small-group and one-on-one discipleship settings where people will be able to engage in some of the disciplines in a supportive and intelligent fashion.