A Good and Beautiful Life

JBSmith.jpgNot 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.
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  • For a book, I would select 1 Peter to teach Christian living; mainly because Peter so strongly links a wide range of truths about Jesus to all kinds of aspects of his audience’s lives. I have seen people really changed once they got their heads around Peter’s lines of reasoning.
    For a single passage, I would select Colossians chapter 1 because of the direct link Paul makes between hearing and believing the gospel message and living out the love. He then outlines a very “big” picture of that gospel message.

  • Joellen Maurer

    I agree. We took a group of students through the first book, A Good and Beautiful God, last semester. It was well done and impactful. I recommend the series for small groups! I just received a copy of this book on Monday and am looking forward to working through it. I have the privilege of reading through his third book on community, as he is writing, and making some comments. A communications prof at Sterling is a close friend of Jim’s. Hope you are well. – Joellen

  • The Sermon on the Mount was served up to me in several diverse ways in my Christian journey. Early on, it was practically absent from my New Testament because the Sermon on the Mount was about life in the millennium and we ain’t there yet. Later, the SOTM was packaged as moralisms, i.e., a new set of “laws” to guide a good, moral Christian life. Dallas Willard introduced me to the idea that the SOTM is not prescriptive laws, but simply descriptive of the people and way of life within God’s loving reign…now; not way off in the future millennium.
    I think the SOTM is a classic text from which to build a vision of kingdom living in this now/not yet era.

  • bck

    Does my choice of Ecclesiastes reflect too pessimistic an outlook on life? 🙂 It certainly approaches the question of Christian living from the “what doesn’t work” side. Yet, it clearly captures the futility of life apart from God, while showing the timelessness and universality of humans struggling to find meaning and purpose.

  • Kenton

    Two of the most transformational books I’ve read about Christian living have highlighted the Sermon on the Mount: DB’s “(The Cost of) Discipleship” and Brian McLaren’s “The Secret Message of Jesus.” So I would say Smith is in good company, and indeed it sounds like this book is along the same lines as SMoJ.

  • stephen

    I think 1 Corinthians 13 gets to the heart of how a Christian should reflect their faith through their lives.
    It is, after all, “the most excellent way”

  • The Sermon on the Mount would be my choice for a foundational text. I just finished Richard Rohr’s book, Jesus’ Plan for a New World, a very helpful treatment of the Sermon on the Mount, and, as I read it, I thought: I’d like to read this with others. I don’t have Smith’s book (yet), but I like the way he incorporates “soul exercises” and stresses the importance of community to spiritual transformation. Thanks for introducing the Apprentice Series to me.

  • I would offer Ephesians 4.17-5.21, but even better Colossians 3.1-17. Of course, Jesus’ words to love God and love our neighbor says it all in a very concise way. BCK: I got a kick (and a mental jump start) from your suggestion of Ecclesiastes. Who knows? That may be the way to go, particularly for some personalities.

  • Matt Stephens

    I don’t think the Sermon on the Mount is necessarily the logical starting place. It puts flesh on the ethical thrust of the Christian life, but doesn’t provide a comprehensive framework, nor does it address some of the theologically and chronologically prior truths, attitudes, and activities of the Christian life.
    Colossians 1:9-14 is where I’d start. This message lays out the logical flow of the passage as it relates to the means and end of the Christian life. The passage is a gem.

  • Brother Jon

    I’m gonna have to go with Romans 12 as a model for Christian life. Maybe a more pragmatic perspective. I’ve enjoyed several podcasts on Matthew 5 and 6 in recent months opening new thoughts on my existing understanding. But as I help to develop/disciple new leaders – people leaning into a deeper, comprehensive, Christ-like life – Romans 12 hits the mark.

  • Aren’t those narratives too simplistic?
    Aren’t we alone in some sense? Kicked out of the garden?
    Don’t we have some control? Does it have to be either “I am in control” or “Jesus is in control”?
    The narratives idea is great, but they have to be accurate. I think we are better servants if we help people cope and deal, say, with loneliness rather than telling them that it is not real.
    Otherwise, great article! Good luck on your sermon series!

  • Ron

    “False narratives’ – I call them lies from the pit of hell — in fact, have a book in my computer that I need to publish called – Go To Hell, Telling Lies to go back where they came from.

  • Terry

    Interestingly, as I have prepped to teach Matthew 5-7 I have wondered about its “key to life” qualities. Although not coming off as a commentary, I’m glad that you have brought this book to our attention today. In preparing to teach through the Sermon on the Mount I’ve been wondering about beneficial reference or frame of reference material. It sounds as if this would be a great read for a helpful big picture perspective?!
    Scot or others, any other suggested resources specifically related to the Sermon on the Mount have more of a third-way trajectory or certainly directed away from the take as Christian morality laws? This book should prove interesting in that, unfortunately, the “new law” is much of my experience and in fact, the way I approached the text years and years ago when I last taught it. Scot, your forthcoming commentary (2011), as I recall, is to be on the Sermon on the Mount isn’t it? Anything that helps to fill the gap in the interim? (Poor timing on my part in teaching this now… {sigh.})
    I’m very glad to be introduced to this book and series.

  • Gotta Say that I think Philippians 2 is where I would start. What Paul says there seems to lay the ground for everything else in terms of posture and action.

  • Dana Ames

    Terry @13,
    Dallas Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy” is my suggestion.
    Michael @14,
    I think yours is the best of some very good suggestions. A friend of mine recently said, “God is the source of humility.” Ponder that.

  • Ana Mullan

    I have done the first book twice and now I am doing for the second time The good and beautiful life, it has transformed my heart and it has encouraged me to look almost on a daily basis to the Sermon on the Mount and to meditate more on the person of Jesus. I will problably read the book again, we tend to read books quickly but I think these series is to digested slowly. I found very helpful the explanation of what anger is: unmet expectations + fear.

  • Edward Vos

    Luke 6: 20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

    “Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
    21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.

    I heard Rob Bell, from Mars Hill, speak on this over a year ago and was amazed at his insight and perspective as he spoke about what this sermon of all sermons could mean for our lives. He opened the series with the following question.

    When will these blessing take place?

    Is it when the poor and hungry die and are in heaven or when the Church Universal lives up to Christ’s calling such that the poor and hungry are truly blessed here and now by those fulfilling God’s calling? Is the sermon on the mount an expose on what God expects of us all? Will the poor and hungry be blessed in the here and now as we answer God’s call to give as we have received, and to love our neighbor as ourselves?

    I just thought is was a new way to look at this most famous of all sermons.