One of our readings in preparation for the third gathering of the Apprentice Experience is The Magnificent Story: Uncovering A Gospel of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth by James Bryan Smith. I am so privileged to actually know Jim and to have shared meals with him and chatted with him about his work and about some of my meager efforts at discipleship and spiritual formation ministry. This is a guy who had Rich Mullins as a tenant in his house and was designated by Dallas Willard to write a Curriculum of Christlikeness.
But after reading The Magnificent Story, I am especially blessed to be associated with his ministry as a participant in the Apprentice Experience. This book, though not shy on theology and some scholarly heavy lifting, does for the Gospel what Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy did for the Kingdom of God. If you thought you knew all their was to know about the Gospel, Smith would say that you have just been exposed to a reduction and not the magnificent story full of goodness, beauty, and truth. He looks at reduced gospels such as the social gospel or the penal substitution gospel as important theological points but because they are reductions have become distortions that are doing more harm than good. As an alternative, Smith emphasis the Trinity as something we lose when our gospel gets distorted. He also mentions things like the miracle of creation, incarnation, and the great end of the story when we will see the new heaven and the new earth.
I have been exposed to Smith’s writing enough to know that he is not interested in hype. His book, though a departure, in many ways, from tried and true narratives coming out of evangelical circles, is meant to expose people to the vast expanse and wonder of God and his work on earth. He is not trying to present some counter view just to sell books or create a social media buzz. He has felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to write this book and the two books that will follow this one – The Magnificent Journey and The Magnificient Mission.
Our culture is so full of outrage, so full of narrow-mindedness, so full of criticism that I wonder if we are allowed to enjoy anything anymore. Smith reminds us that God and his work is worth enjoying and is intended to be enjoyed and now is the time to start enjoying God’s magnificent story.