|The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows|
James Bryan Smith
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What does being Christlike really mean? Smith believes we need a pattern for transformation. He encourages us to re-examine what we think about God (our narratives), how we practice (the spiritual disciplines), and whom we interact with (our social context) to discover the life Jesus lived and grow in the knowledge of a good God. 232 pages, hardcover from InterVarsity.
Q: How did you come up with The Apprentice Series?
A: I was privileged to work with Dallas Willard for many years, and his chapter titled "A Curriculum for Christlikeness" in his book The Divine Conspiracy was the inspiration for the books. Dallas offers a blueprint for what we ought to be teaching in our churches in order make apprentices of Jesus. I used his overall plan, and built the internal content and layout based on what I learned through the years about individual and group transformation. After four years of field-testing, it is finally ready for public consumption.
Q: You've been friends with many influential Christians, including Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, Rich Mullins, Brennan Manning and Dallas Willard. How does The Apprentice Series reflect what you have learned from them?
A: Each of these great men contributed a lot to my soul. Richard Foster was my mentor in college, as well as a colleague, when we started Renovare. His impact on me is so deep I cannot describe it. He was the one who taught me how to have vibrant inner life. Dallas Willard has been like a rabbi to me, teaching me through his words as well as his life. Henri Nouwen was never a direct mentor, but he did help me decide which seminary to attend, and his books have been ongoing inspiration for over twenty years. Rich Mullins became a soul friend during the time he lived with my wife and me while he attended Friends University, where I teach. Long evening discussions and prayer times, coupled with his own fascinating life, left an indelible mark on me. When I wrote his biography (Rich Mullins: A Arrow Pointing to Heaven) I got to learn even more about his life and his music and was really impacted by his longing and love for God. Brennan Manning was someone Rich and I got to know together. No one has done more to explain to me how amazing God's love and grace are than Brennan.
Q: Why did you begin the series with The Good and Beautiful God, and what do you hope readers learn from this book?
A: A.W. Tozer once wrote, "The most important things about a person is what they think about God." He went on to say that what we think about God will determine everything about our spiritual lives. I agree with this. In my own life I saw how much my spiritual life suffered during the years that I held some really negative and inaccurate views about God. My hope is that readers will examine what they think about God, and do so in light of the narratives Jesus told us about the character of God. In short, I hope people fall in love with the God Jesus knows.
Q: Can you explain "change by indirection"?
A: Indirection is the principle by which we learn to do things. If I want to play guitar, or learn a new language, I don't learn it by trying hard. Instead, I train, I practice certain aspects indirectly, such as learning scales or vocabulary words, and in time I'm able to do something I was not able to do before. In the spiritual life it's no different. We grow closer to God not by gritting our teeth or wishing for it really hard. Instead, we engage in exercises that place us in God's presence and allow the Spirit to retrain our minds, bodies and souls.
Q: You write about many Christians believing "false narratives" about God. What are the most common ones that you see people falling for?
A: The most common false narrative about God goes like this: "If you do good God will bless you, and if you do bad God will punish you." According to a Baylor study, about 37 percent of American Christians have this view of God. It is not consistent with the teachings of Jesus, or the life of Jesus. Good people suffer, and bad people prosper--and vice versa. There is no real consistency. The God of Jesus reaches out to the lost, to sinners, and offers them an invitation to a life with them in the kingdom of God. Rain falls on the just and the unjust. God even loves his enemies (Romans 5:8). There are many variations on this same narrative: God only loves us when we do the right things, for example. The New Testament, however, tells us of a God who loves us before we ever turn to him.
Q: You write, "The wrath of God is a beautiful part of the majesty and love of God." Can you speak to that a bit?
A: There is an opposite narrative, often held by people who reject the Angry Judge narratives I just talked about, that says that God is all "sugar and spice amd everything nice." The concept of the wrath of God is offensive to them. However, wrath is not an irrational and irresponsible kind of anger; wrath is the proper disposition to sin and evil. The God of the Bible is clearly in opposition to sin because it destroys us. We need this kind of God. The "teddy bear" god would not be of help to us. And it is not the God of Jesus.
Q: What will the next books be in the series, and what will be the focus of each?
A: The second book is titled The Good and Beautiful Life, and it focuses on the kingdom of God and the changed life and character of those who live in the kingdom. It deals directly with things like anger, lust, lying, worry and judging others. It follows the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. The aim of the second book is to help people develop the character of Jesus. The third book in the series is titled The Good and Beautiful Community, and it is aimed at helping people learn how to live as apprentices of Jesus in their ordinary lives, in their homes and workplaces, neighborhoods and communities, and ultimately their world. In the fourth book, The Good and Beautiful Church, I share real-life stories of authentic life change that came out of my own church when an environment was created where people were encouraged to become apprentices of Jesus.