We are story people. From the time we were small children, we learned to appreciate the value of story. Stories are the threads that bind the moments of our lives together. Whether it be fairy tales or the retelling of family traditions or the recounting of daily experiences, stories help give shape to our lives. And yet, as vital as these narratives are, it’s important to make sure the right narratives are forming our lives.
In The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith challenges us to examine the narratives we believe about God. Many people have unknowingly adopted some false narratives about God, such as believing that we can earn his favor or that God only loves us when we’re good, or even that God overlooks sin. Many of us would disagree with these ideas and yet our lives might demonstrate otherwise. It’s easier than we realize to allow our life experiences – our family, cultural or religious narratives – to shape and form our view of God. If the stories we listen to are indeed forming us, it’s critical that those stories are based on truth. And Smith suggests that we need to consider the narratives Jesus told and lived in order to “fall in love with the God Jesus knows.”
Each chapter presents one of these common false narratives, which the author then counters with a look at a gospel story which illustrates what Jesus knew to be true about God. Through real life stories and a deep commitment to truth, Smith invites us to become deeply acquainted with the God whose love is pure and holy and good. He then invites us to engage these truths by suggesting a “soul-training” exercise at the end of each chapter, to collaborate with the work of the Holy Spirit in the transformation of our souls.
Although I read this book on my own, it would be a great book for a group study and includes a format for such use. It’s the kind of book that lends itself to good conversation with others. I’m ranking this as one of the best books I read in 2009. I’m glad it was unavailable through the library system, as my copy is quite marked up. It’s a book I think I’ll refer to again, and would recommend to others without hesitation.