Not that long ago I blogged through the first volume of James Bryan Smith’s The Apprentice Series. Volume two, The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ (The Apprentice Series)
, is now available and I’d like to draw your attention to it and raise a question or two for us to discuss today.
If you had one section or one book in the Bible to go to, which would you use as your foundational text in teaching the Christian life? Smith uses the Sermon on the Mount, which leads to my second question: Do you think the Sermon on the Mount is a good place to start? How has the Sermon on the Mount been taught or used in your faith community?
Smith’s book doesn’t come off as a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount; in fact, I was thinking the book was a Christian life book taught through the lens of the virtues of the spiritual formation tradition before it became clear he was basing the good life on the Sermon on the Mount. His topics are the beatitudes, anger, lust, lying, blessing our enemies, vainglory, avarice, worry, and judging others. He begins with two opening chapters about the good life and the gospel.
Perhaps the distinctive of this book — besides being readable and practical and pastorally sensitive — is his emphasis on the false narratives that are shaping us and the summons to the Jesus narrative that can reshape us. So, for the opening chp he brings up the “happiness comes from following the principles of the world” narrative that is countered by the follow Jesus narrative. Each chp is followed by a creative “soul training” exercise — like writing a letter to God or something on play or on Sabbath or media fasting (ahem, ahem) or deaccumulation. I found each of these to be on target and useful.
Because I’m teaching the Sermon on the Mount right now, this book came at the right time, so I want to give one more concrete illustration of what Smith offers. On anger…
False narratives include I am alone, I am in control, something terrible will happen if I make a mistake, life must be fair always, I need to be perfect — and he wisely sees that these are issues connected to anger. The kingdom narrative offers an alternative: you are not alone; Jesus is in control; mistakes happen; life is not fair and just all the time but God gets the last word, and Jesus accepts me even though I’m not perfect.
That’s enough for today … I heartily recommend Smith’s books.