I have read five previous books by James Bryan Smith so I was initially not going to pick this up assuming that there was not much here that I had not absorbed previously. But I found it on sale for audiobook when I was out of audiobooks and I realized that one of my reading goals for the year is to read more about beauty and three months into the year I have not read anything about beauty.
James Bryan Smith is a professor focusing on spiritual formation and is in the line of Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. Immediately after finishing this I picked up a review copy of a new biography of Dallas Willard (Becoming Dallas Willard which I am loving.)
Smith’s focus in his earlier Good and Beautiful trilogy was to help refocus our attention on God, the God who loves us, wants good for us, and forgives us. He does that in part by identifying ‘false narratives’ about God that we absorb, God as magician or angry God or judgmental God.
The slightly different focus of The Magnificent Story is to think about story as more important than analysis. Much, but not all, of the book is focused on scripture as story about God. This isn’t a book on hermeneutics, but a book on how to understand the power of story to impact the way we understand God.
So much of the way we are formed as people is by the vision of what life and God and flourishing is supposed to be. Smith suggests that if our stories are not focused on the Beauty and Goodness of God and life, then we are missing the truth of the story.
The critiques of the book are predictable. One of the reviews on Amazon and the review from The Gospel Coalition is that this is a too positive and happy approach. God is angry in scripture and life is hard. A presentation that does not take into account God’s righteous anger does not present the whole of who God is. There is some point to that. But I alway think back to someone I read (I don’t remember who) suggesting that while love is a fundamental characteristic of God (God is Love) as is Righteousness and Holiness, anger is never presented as a characteristic of God but as a response to injustice. We can’t say God is Anger in the same way we say God is Love. We can say God is Righteous, but that is about his Goodness and capacity for Truth, not his anger.
There really was not anything new to me in The Magnificent Story. I have previously read enough of Smith and Foster and others in the spiritual formation school to know what was going to be in here. But part of the point of the book is that knowing God is good and loving and beautiful and true is not the same as living as if God were good and loving and beautiful and true. We need to surround ourselves by stories of God that support the truthfulness and beauty of God as a means to help us continue to absorb that reality.