James Bryan Smith has done a magnificent job of inviting us on a journey with God in his new book, The Magnificent Journey: Living Deep in the Kingdom.
This book is part two in the “Magnificent” series, moving from “Story” to “Journey.” This invitation to live deep in the kingdom is offered compellingly by an author who uses inspiring stories from his own life as well as from some of the most important spiritual giants in the history of the Church.
Smith’s Journey is an excellent resource that should be strongly considered for use by local congregations for a variety of purposes. Smith is professor of theology at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, and the director of the Apprentice Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation. He is a founding member of Richard J. Foster’s Renovaré ministry, serves as teaching pastor at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, and has written numerous books on spiritual formation and discipleship.
Having a foot in both the world of academia as well as the local church, Smith has much to say to us about living as Christians in our everyday world. This book not only offers wise words about the Christlike life, it also provides useful features for group discipleship. Each chapter ends with a “Soul Training” exercise, which presents an invitation to meditate and journal on scripture and other ideas or quotes in each chapter. The study guide at the end of the book provides a helpful resource for small group leaders.
It seems as if Smith is building to the culminating disposition of joy throughout the book, but that intended design is not apparent until about halfway through the last chapter. If this march toward joy had been made clearer in an introduction, it would undoubtedly have strengthened the book as a whole. As it is, the reader is left with the feeling that something has been missed in the reading. However, the overall strength of the book far exceeds this minor design glitch.
The two parts of the book, “Living Deep in the Kingdom” (Part One) and “Developing Kingdom Virtues” (Part Two) complement each other quite well. Part One is dedicated to preparation for kingdom life, accenting the need for surrender, clarifying the relationship and necessity of grace and knowledge, introducing a key image of living “from above,” and then challenging us to listen well to God. Using his gift for story (such as his beautiful illustration provided by “Science Mike”), complemented by a veritable hall of fame cast of spiritual mentors like Augustine, Ignatius, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, C.S. Lewis, and Dallas Willard, and a rich assortment of stories from Scripture, Smith prepares us for participation in the kingdom.
In part two he shows us what life in the kingdom will look like and acquaints us with the cultural currency of our new habitus. Employing his skill at making the complex simple and the familiar seem brand new, Smith leads us to a deeper understanding of and desire for the virtues of faith, hope, love, and joy. In perhaps the most important paragraph in the book, Smith summarizes with the message he has been moving toward throughout: “Joy begins when we enter the narrow way of Jesus, choosing to live as his apprentice, in continual surrender and reliance on Jesus.
Joy continues when we grow in grace, live from above, and engage in an interactive conversation with God. Joy is also found in living by faith, hope, and love. These seven practices undergird joy, making joy possible” (131). He completes his summary in the next paragraph: “When we take the narrow way of surrender, putting God first, choosing to obey God’s will, we are right where our souls need to be to thrive. That makes growing in grace, living from above, and listening to God possible. Faith, hope, and love can then be exercised in this relationship. Joy then becomes not only possible but inevitable” (132).
As I think about the people in my church, I consider our younger generation that so desperately needs an ethical foundation upon which to build. Smith’s treatment of the virtues, specifically the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love and our need to receive and nurture them by grace, is necessary bedrock for their discipleship. As I ponder the state of our more established Christians, I recognize our tendency to get stuck in traditional ways of thinking about sanctification and discipleship, and I recognize in Smith’s journey metaphor a necessary component to spiritual revitalization.
In Magnificent Journey, Smith has provided us with a valuable resource for training disciples. Every person in my church could profit from this excellent book, and I intend to make sure that they do as soon as possible.