By James Bryan Smith. IVP Books, 2017. 190 pages. $22/hardcover; $21.99/eBook.
James Bryan Smith is a “magnificent” writer; that is, with this book he begins a trilogy of books with “magnificent” in the title, continuing with The Magnificent Journey: Living Deep in the Kingdom (fall 2018) and The Magnificent Mission: Called and Sent by the Storyteller (fall 2019). Smith is also a “good” and “beautiful” writer. Not only do those words appear in the subtitle of this present work, his previous trilogy included The Good and Beautiful God (2009), The Good and Beautiful Life (2009), and The Good and Beautiful Community (2010). Smith is the executive director of the Apprentice Institute for Christian spiritual formation at Friends University in Wichita, Kans. Another Friends connection is that Smith was mentored by well-known Quaker Richard Foster. With other books to his credit, Smith is not only a magnificent, good, and beautiful writer but also a prolific one.
In this book Smith sets out his case early: “Any story worth giving the power to shape our lives must pass a simple test: Is it beautiful, good, and true? If it is, then it is a magnificent story.” He particularly decries the version of the story that says that Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins in order to placate an angry God. This story is shrunken and distorted.
The book appears as a Formatio book, InterVarsity Press’s series on spiritual formation. Discussion and reflection questions appear in the margins, and a “soul training exercise” (speaking one at a time to beauty, goodness, and truth, then to each of the five senses) appears after each chapter. The book also includes a study guide.
The book is engaging and an easy read. If nothing, Smith is a good storyteller, which is essential for a book entitled The Magnificent Story.
Smith’s magnificent story is certainly trinitarian, which might not be so magnificent for many Friends. He argues that the church has a “trinitarian deficit disorder” (TDD? My acronym, not his). He goes on to say, “What is at stake in not understanding and interacting with the Trinity? … disconnection with God.” Smith seems to overstate his case here, as many Friends enjoy a close connection with a “non-triune” God.
Because of the trinitarian emphasis, I cannot recommend the book for group study in a Friends meeting. I would suggest, though, that individuals interested in evangelical theology or narrative theology might read the book with profit. The Magnificent Story is at points beautiful, always good, and basically true.