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The Good and Beautiful You

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Member Reviews

This is such an important resource for all believers to read. Smith outlines so well both the false and true narratives of what faith in Jesus means and what walking with Him means. Coming to an understanding of who we are as beloved children of Christ is so critical to living the life Jesus created us for. For many of us it takes years to fully grasp what this means as we often inadvertently have adopted false narratives along the way.

Every chapter is full of such wisdom and set out in such a good way that Smith's perspectives are well presented with relevant Scriptures and words from other wise people over the years. The chapters walk through a false narrative and then Smith shares the true narrative as he discusses such important subjects as:

- You are Desired
- You are Loved
- You are Forgiven
- You have been made Holy
- You have a Soul
- etc.

Throughout the chapters, Smith prompts the reader to reflect on some pertinent points he's made and then there is "Soul Training" at the end that encourages you to adopt a practice for a few days/weeks to help develop new habits. Anyone familiar with Smith's other books in this series would know of the "Soul Training" at the end of each chapter. In addition, there is a small group discussion guide at the end which can be used for personal use as well.

Smith also shares his own self-discoveries over his life as a Christian and pastor reflecting on times when he was believing false narratives. In making himself vulnerable, Smith encourages us to dig deep too and question whether we too are believing false narratives and gently guides us to the alternative.

I was fortunate to receive an early 'watermarked' ebook copy from IVP in response to pre-ordering the book and joining the launch team. This has had no bearing on my opinions in this review.
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Researching the work of Rich Mullins led me to James Bryan Smith and The Good and Beautiful God. It really impacted me, so I was excited to see that he was putting out a 4th book in the Good and Beautiful series to round it out.

The message is simple: we are good and have worth because God sees us through the lens of Jesus. In the Genesis creation account God pauses as he goes and calls it all good, including humanity. It’s obvious that we can’t see things as God does, so this is not comprehensible to us. 

This has led to the concept of our sinful nature being hammered into our heads with fear and threats to change or else. If all a person has heard is how evil he or she is, after a while they start to believe it and then can be manipulated to do whatever needs to be done to stay in the right or just give up altogether. 

This defeats the whole point of Jesus coming to Earth and says that his sacrifice wasn’t enough for the sin of its people. The concept of self-worth is nonexistent because people are told again and again how bad and selfish they are. Yes, people are, but when that’s all that’s taught about themselves they lose any hope they had and wonder what’s the point. 

The book helps build people back up through spiritual formation and practices. It gets the brain to rethink some things through the lens of Jesus. Smith’s use of personal stories, scripture, and nuggets of wisdom lays the framework for a beautiful change to take place when we realize that God is never that far away.

Thanks to NetGalley and Inter Varsity Press for an ARC of this book.
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The Good and Beautiful You by James Bryan Smith is a powerful book. I avoided reading it for awhile, because I thought the title was a little too “self-helpy” or too “post-modern.” However, I found this book beautifully biblical, discussing our identity as beloved children of God. 

Smith is the author of what was previously a trilogy (The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community). One of his friends pointed out to him that he needed one more book, and the idea for this book was born. While the previous three books are helpful in healing people’s false “God narratives,” Smith’s friend expressed that many people have toxic “self-narratives.” How we view ourselves is extremely important, and the Bible is full of important truths to guide us. Sadly, too often Christians hold false beliefs about ourselves. Thankfully, Smith strives in this book to debunk the false narratives and replace them with beautiful truths.

Each of the eleven chapters examines one truth: You have a soul, you have a sacred body, you are desired, you are loved, you are made for God, you are forgiven, you have been made alive, you have been made holy, you have a sacred story, you are called, and you will be glorified. What wonderful statements- if only we would believe them and live into them! Smith transitions between chapters by providing a “soul training” exercise that relates to the truth discussed in the chapter.

Smith was friends with Richard Foster and deeply appreciated the work of Dallas Willard. The writings and heart of these mentor figures shine through Smith’s book. I highly recommend this book for personal reflection or to study together with a group of friends.
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The series James Bryan Smith wrote is the best discipleshiptraining I've come across and I think this is a good addition to the series. 

James Bryan Smith talks about you desires, your body, your calling and what you are in Christ. 

This is a welcome addition to help us become more like Christ.
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I was optimistic when beginning this book at Smith's The Good and Beautiful God is one of my all-time favorite books. After the few chapters, the book almost became a DNF for me, as it seemed that the book was just going to become another popular Christian book telling the reader how great they are rather than focusing on how great Jesus is. It seemed a lean a little bit too much me-focused rather than Christ-focused. Thankfully, my initial judgment was so wrong. Smith pivots to explaining that you are not good and beautiful on your own accord, but because Jesus is good and beautiful. It is because of the perfect and holy life that he lived that God sees you as perfect and holy. This book is a breath of fresh air an a space inundated with books telling readers exactly what they want to hear. Smith debunks the common false narratives and encourages readers in a manner that is Scripturally rooted, honoring to Christ, and inspiring for the struggling believer. While not my favorite of Smith's books, I think this will be a valuable resources for the Christian community and will help to facilitate healing and encouragement for those who have believed false narratives about themselves and their value in God's eyes.
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I have read - and enjoyed - the first three books in this series by this author, so when I saw a new book coming out (and unexpectedly), I knew I had to jump on it. So much of the stuff contained in this book is stuff that needs to be said, particularly as we try to recover from a Christianity that has tried to teach us that our human self is somehow bad, as if God didn't create our human nature or doesn't love it. (Both are false, by the way - He created it and declared it is "very good.") 

The chapters in this book are the things our souls need to hear. They are the things we most long to be able to put words to about the ache that is somewhere inside of us, and when we hear someone affirming the answer to our questions, we suddenly realize that yes, that's how we should have been asking them. Yes, those are the words we've been looking for. And so, in that sense, reading this book is like nestling down into something soft and warm, something reassuring. And that is certainly good and beautiful. 

Why, then, only 3 stars? There are a couple of drawbacks for me, a couple of places where this book doesn't quite live up to its promise. First, there are a couple of chapters in the early part of the book that are poorly formed. They are either repetitive or rambling. Now, to many, this might look unfinished, like perhaps it was slapped together or less-researched or something. For me, I believe that these are areas where the author himself is still trying to come to an understanding, still wrestling with his own stuff. But still, it's messy, and that's a problem in contrast to the rest of this work, which is articulate and polished and well-done. My fear is that readers might be discouraged in these early chapters and put the book down, missing out on its goodness. 

The second reason I give only three stars is because there's a bit too much name dropping in this book for my liking. It's a really popular thing in Christian writing to say who your friends are and to identify them by full name (in the case of this book, Dallas Willard and John Ortberg come readily to mind), but the reader doesn't care what your connections are. In fact, when the author mentions Ortberg by name, he does so only to mention that he was "sitting next to my friend John Ortberg." The only reason to mention John Ortberg by full name here is to try to impress the reader that you're friends with him...or perhaps to try to create for yourself some kind of authority because you are the type of Christian guy who hangs out with Ortberg. Any average person who is telling a story like this one would say, "I was sitting next to my friend" or perhaps, "I was sitting next to my friend, John" because such a detail of who this John is is not a fundamental detail of the story.'s name-dropping. And for me, that just tries to further create an in-group and an out-group of Christianity. It definitely creates a distance between the author and his readers. "OH, of course. He's the kind of super-spiritual awesome Christian who can grasp all of these things because look who he's friends with. I, as a common person with a boring life and no-name friends, will never be able to reach this level of spirituality or intimacy with God. So I should not even try."

So that's why 3 stars. But I still completely (almost) recommend this book. It's a great complement to the series, which I also recommend, It's a warm hug in a cold world and the kind of confidence that your soul needs to know that it's alright - that you're alright.
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From writing about what is good and beautiful about God, the life we could have, and the community we could cultivate, we have the fourth book in this series about the Good and the Beautiful: You. Many self-help books begin with or are aimed at readers as the first person. The key assertion in this book is about the kind of people we could become rather than mere beliefs and practices. That is not all. In order to become the person we are called to become, we need to shed away false selves. Such false images are created when we link our identity with our jobs or things we do. They are also created when we confuse the self with the soul, that we are "selves" rather than "embodied souls," something that modern psychotherapy and our cultural narratives tell us. 

How do we distinguish the differences between the self and the soul? Firstly, recognize our narrative. Smith shows us how the self has become defined in terms of self-reliance; self-dependence; and ultimately; self-idolizing. He pushes back against this type of self which is less about authentic spiritual growth and more about self-absorption, self-accumulation, and self-accomplishment. He lists out several differences between the self and the soul, focusing on the longings within our souls and how only in God can we find true fulfillment. One exercise we can do to distinguish our soul's need from self-needs is an exercise of restraint. In his chapter on "Soul Training," we are taught to learn the values of resting our souls; of resisting the need to accomplish things; and of finding true meaning when we for ourselves into a position of doing nothing. This is not easy given the nature of our modern lifestyle of busyness and resistance against any form of idleness. Secondly, recognize the dangers of dualism. We are also taught the importance of recognizing our bodies are sacred. This avoids us falling into the ancient Gnostic practices of dualism, which assumes that the body is evil while the soul is good. Such a heresy still exists today and we need to be mindful of the threats of such teaching to our souls. We are not an accident but people created with a purpose. We are loved unconditionally. We are not made for ourselves but for God. We are forgiven. Finally, after removing the false narratives and the heresies that threaten to derail our understanding of our true selves and souls, Smith shows us the way forward in terms of our purpose, our significance, and our calling. This forms the majority of the book that shows us the way to grow is to know God and to know His purpose for us. 

My Thoughts
One of the first things that came to my mind is how the author seeks to make a difference between the self and the soul. For the layperson, it could be a non-issue. Yet, I can sense the careful reasoning behind the author's meticulous efforts. For some of us, the differences are too subtle to detect. That is because it is easier to tell the inner from the outer, instead of two inner subjects. Moreover, inner things are not easily discerned, which could lead us to a metaphysical domain. Perhaps the reason for any confusion is because of our starting point. We are already in a world that needs a way to clean up the dust or clear away the blockages that are affecting our vision of the world and ourselves. Thankfully, the spiritual exercises at the end of each chapter give us a chance to reflect and to weigh the teachings within. After all, the final test of any type of baking is the taste itself. I can also understand why the author makes a case to distinguish the self from the soul. For the past decade, there has been a slew of self-help books that introduce the ideas of positive thinking and new thought philosophies. Many of these focus on inspiring the self-gratifying inner being in us instead of the hungry soul. The former crave junk food but the latter needs solid food. The former focuses on temporal while the latter looks beyond. This gives us a clean slate to start growing toward the good and beautiful person that God has created us to be. 

Secondly, this book continues Smith's emphasis on spiritual formation. His earlier books have shown us what spiritual formation looks like from God's purpose, the community, and the common life. While they have incorporated personal practices as well, the author senses a need for more. Our present culture cannot be changed overnight. We need to begin where we are. Where we are is that we are living in an increasingly individualistic and self-absorbed world. With social media, the trend is going to get worse before it can get any better. Yet, we cannot allow heresies to hijack the words of self-improvement and self-needs. Spiritual formation is more than switching semantics from the "self" to the "soul." In fact, the use of words here is mainly as a handle to enable us to know where we are and where we need to go. Smith bases his work on his late mentor, Dallas Willard, who reminded him about the importance of an "anthropological foundation" for any authentic Christian Formation. This is not a one-off activity or program. It is a lifestyle. It is about a focus on the kind of people we want to become. This in itself is the single biggest reason why this book is so valuable.

Finally, if you are new to books by Smith, this book could be a launchpad for you to appreciate and to read his earlier books which cover a lot of the material, albeit from a different angle. See these four books as complements instead of summaries of one another. Jesus has often described spiritual growth in terms of agriculture. Growth is pretty much agrarian. That means diligence and preparedness, followed up by anticipation and patience. Not every seed will become fruitful. Likewise, not every spiritual practice would generate the results we want. Growth is not just seeing progress according to our eyes. It is also about waiting to see God's glory being manifested at all times. The more we can see God's glory in our lives, the greater will be our spiritual discernment. Just like the greatest commandment given to us, the work we do in this world should come out of love. This love means that we love God sufficiently to give thanks to Him all the time. The more we could do that, the more we will become the good and beautiful you.

James Bryan Smith is the author of The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community. He is a theology professor at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, where he also serves as the executive director of the Apprentice Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation. A founding member of Richard J. Foster's spiritual renewal ministry, Renovaré, Smith is an ordained United Methodist Church minister and has served in various capacities in local churches.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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