My review copy of The Magnificent Story by James Bryan Smith arrived a few days ago and I’ve been spending some great time with it. A new book from Smith is something I can’t wait to see and regularly come back to. I read and give away a lot of books. I never part with one of these.
James Bryan Smith is Associate Professor in the Religion and Humanities Department at Friends University and the author of The Apprentice Series (The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community). A part of the Renovaré community, his writing has a Dallas Willard feel to it with a healthy dose of John Ortberg readability.
The Magnificent Story: Uncovering the Gospel of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth is anchored by a simple idea, a simple thesis:
“There is a magnificent story, which is the most important thing happening on this earth. It is our only hope as individuals, communities, countries, and a species. But for a variety of reasons the gospel message we often hear, the story often told, is shrunken and distorted. This is why we see so many frustrated, disappointed Christians. It is not that they are bad people, but they have never heard the magnificent story in its fullness (p. 13).”
Like Smith’s previous books, The Magnificent Story is a book to be experienced with a group. Every chapter is a rich experience, exploring an important element of the overall idea (the magnificent story) and is followed by a soul training exercise. The exercise is designed to “deepen the ideas and narratives you will be learning.” A well-written set of discussion questions for each chapter are included in the built-in study guide.
Every chapter is an exploration of an underlying narrative; A false narrative told by many, if not all. And a true narrative at the essence of the magnificent story. Smith’s style is quite readable, interspersed with story and reference to illustration. And at the same time, I find myself reading paragraphs again in an attempt to squeeze every last idea from them. Most chapters end up quite marked up, underlined, and starred, because I know I’ll want to come back and revisit a number of ideas.
I like the reading pattern Smith encourages. Spend a week with each chapter, journaling your insights. Read and engage in the soul training exercise. Then come and discuss with your group.
If you’re looking for a book to hand to some of your more reflective and contemplative groups (we all have them), I highly recommend The Magnificent Story. If you can’t think of groups that have this flavor, consider starting one with this book. You will definitely find people who will savor this one.