A wonderful German scholar once said, “The first and the final thought of Jesus was thought about God.” (I translate.) That theologian, Adolf Schlatter, gets it exactly right: what you think of God matters most.
So I want to begin a new series and we’ll use James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love With the God Jesus Knows (The Apprentice Series), as our launching pad to think more about God, to think more about what we think about God, and to bring our view of God into line more with what Jesus taught us about God. I predict this book, and the two more in the series, will become deeply influential books in evangelical churches that want to deepen spiritual formation.
James Bryan Smith’s focus in this book is on transformation and change. Building on Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, he sees transformation taking place in these ways:
But first our question: What helps folks change the most in spiritual formation? One more: What do you think is the least helpful idea or practice or suggestion in helping folks change?
Most of us want to change, whether it is changing some bad habit to changing a deeply-ingrained character defect, and Smith’s focus is that for change to occur we have to learn that change does not result from willpower. The “will” has “no power.”
We enter now into a major feature of this book, and I hope the one that will generate great conversations: the power of false narratives in our lives and the power of good narratives that can effect change. The false narrative is that effort and willpower leads to change. Jesus’ narrative is that change occurs through indirection, a word that is important but not the best of words to communicate. Essentially he is speaking of the power of a new narrative that can change us. Here are the elements:
1. Changing the stories in our minds;
2. Engaging in new practices;
3. Reflection and engagement with others on the same path;
4. Shaped by the Holy Spirit.
Here are the narratives at work in our minds that shape us, and these narratives (or stories) are both running and sometimes ruining our lives:
1. Family narratives
2. Cultural narratives
3. Religious narratives
4. Jesus narratives.
Smith also has short interludes about spiritual disciplines and I will not be focusing on those, though I will mention each: at the end of this chp he speaks of the importance of sleep. The number one enemy of spiritual formation and change is exhaustion, so he argues. He’s right. Everywhere I go pastors tell me folks are tired and busy and too booked to do anything more.