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The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ (Apprentice (IVP Books)) Hardcover – January 11, 2010
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"Jim Smith is the most articulate, accurate and helpful writer of spiritual formation of my generation. I give this series my highest recommendation." (Todd D. Hunter, author of Giving Church Another Chance)
"The Apprentice Series the the best practice I have seen in Christian spiritual formation." (Dallas Willard, author of The Divine Conspiracy)
"The Apprentice Series is a treasure. Dr. Smith has thought long and hard about the process of human transformation into the likeness of Jesus. I urge you to buy these books immediately! Read them and apply them. Then live them out in the context of a loving community. You will not regret doing so." (Richard J. Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline and coauthor of Longing for God)
About the Author
James Bryan Smith (MDiv, Yale University Divinity School, DMin, Fuller Seminary) is a theology professor at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, and a writer and speaker in the area of Christian spiritual formation. He also serves as the director of the Apprentice Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation at Friends University. A founding member of Richard J. Foster's spiritual renewal ministry, Renovaré, Smith is an ordained United Methodist Church minister and has served in various capacities in local churches. Smith is also the editor of A Spiritual Formation Workbook, Devotional Classics (with Richard Foster), Embracing the Love of God, Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven and Room of Marvels.
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Top Customer Reviews
"The great preacher and founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley (1703-1791), was once approached by a man who came to him in the grip of unbelief. "all is dark; my thoughts are lost," the man said to Wesley, "but I hear that you preach to a great number of people every night and morning. Pray, what would you do with them? Whither would you lead them? What religion do you preach? What is it good for?"
Wesley gave this answer to those questions:
"You ask, what would I do with them? I would make them virtuous and happy, easy in themselves, and useful to others. Whither would I lead them? to heaven, to God the judge, the lover of all, and to Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant. What religion do I preach? the religion of love. the law of kindness brought to light by the gospel. What is this good for? to make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves, to make them like God, lovers of all, contented in their lives, and crying out at their death, in calm assurance, "O grave where is thy victory! thanks be to God, who giveth me victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ."
Smith lays out four components of change: the mind, disciplines, community and the Holy Spirit. But he recognizes that the dominant content of the mind is found in stories: narratives that make up the content and texture of our personal histories. The change agent is the Holy Spirit. Smith writes,
"The Spirit leads us to Jesus, reveals the Father, exposes falsehood, offers correction, and gives us the needed encouragement that make growth and transformation possible. The Spirit helps us change our narratives by leading us into truth, enlightens us as we practice the disciplines, and binds us together in community. If not for the work of the Holy Spirit, transformation simply will not take place. But we must participate in this process. By serious reading and reflection, by practicing the spiritual exercises and by entering into community, we create the condition in which the Spirit can transform our character."
He offers a triangle diagram to represent the relationship of these four components, with the Holy Spirit in the center. In the place of "MIND" on the top point he writes, "Personal Narratives." Brilliant I think, and an easy connection to the current generation who live in the constructivist world (and echoes of Taylor's 'social imaginary').
Smiths' gift is to translate the sometimes weighty work of Dallas Willard in practical ways without watering down the theological foundation. A needed bit of work and so far a great series.
Throughout this series of books Smith cogently argues that "we live at the mercy of our ideas and our narratives," and it is through this lens the content of our spiritual lives is examined and then challenged. Each chapter within this installment presents a common narrative that many people hold that leads to anger, lust, lying, vindictive competitiveness, vainglory, avarice, worry, or judgmentalism, and then challenges that narrative through the life and teachings of Jesus. Smith relies on Jesus's teachings in the Sermon on the Mount as paramount for instilling the virtues that oppose these vices, reinforcing the Jesus narratives with an accompanying spiritual practice. In this book, those practices are writing a letter to God, play, hospitality, keeping the Sabbath, a media fast, silence, praying for the success of competitors, secret service, deaccumulation, prayer, a day without gossip, and living one day devotionally. The practices are simple, yet powerful, and the instructions Smith provides are very easy to follow.
I found this book to be an excellent follow up to the first volume in The Apprentice Series, building well upon the ideas presented in The Good and Beautiful God. As is the case with each of these books, the teachings contained therein are best read and lived within a community, and thus this could be an excellent resource for a book club, a small group, a Sunday school class, or even as a touchstone for a church-wide initiative. As is obvious, I strongly recommend it, believing that this book and the accompanying volumes are invaluable sources of wisdom for the building up of the church today.