A memoir recommended for those who have felt unloved and unworthy and are distressed by the problems of the world and are open to experiencing the transformation of God's love in their lives.
Lewis B. Smedes, 81-year-old professor emeritus of theology and ethics at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, died on December 19, 2002, from complications after a fall in his home. This spiritual memoir was completed shortly before his death. A very accessible work, it provides a captivating series of snapshots from the life and ministry of an unconventional teacher, preacher, and writer in the Christian Reformed Church tradition.
Smedes was raised in a household where his mother passed on to her children a keen sense of their unworthiness in the presence of God. The author describes it this way: "Small wonder, I suppose, that as a boy I was thoroughly convinced that God held his nose as he passed me by and if, by chance, he gave me a second look, he had to resist an impulse to turn me into a pillar of salt." Things didn’t improve much in high school where Smedes felt that he was a loser with little hope on the horizon for his prospects to improve. He entered Moody Bible Institute but couldn’t fit "Moody’s portrait of a person who was saved from future hellfire and was now on fire for the Lord." He converted to Calvinism in college and found a faith that suited him quite well: "I cherish it because it carries a magnificent hope inside of it. Though it brings grief that the world is as badly broken as it is, it offers hope that there is still enough goodness in the world to make it both fixable and worth fixing."
Smedes went on to Calvin Theological Seminary and then earned a Th.D. at the Free University of Amsterdam. Early in his career. Smedes taught at Calvin College, his alma mater, and served a parish for a while. For 25 years, he was on the full-time staff at Fuller Seminary in various positions. He admits that he learned more about his life with God by reading the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky than he did in all his years in seminary. In the evangelical Christian community, he bothered and upset many with his propensity to explore different sides of a question rather than rest in dogma. Smedes explains this very bluntly: "I do not have the constitution a person needs in order to be a fundamentalist; the literalism and absolutism of fundamentalism run against the grain of my nature. I seem to have been born with a need to look at both sides of the question; fundamentalism is dead set against giving me permission to satisfy this need. I certainly know fundamentalists who display a richer grace and stronger love than I do. Their God is my God, their Savior is my Savior. And yet I would not invite any of them to join me on a six-day fishing trip. I embrace fundamentalists as my brothers and sisters in faith, but we are not likely to become the closest of friends."
Anyone familiar with Smedes's books knows that he was able to cross many bridges and speak to people of spiritual traditions both within Christianity and outside it. Whether writing here about ethics, the Bible, grace, gratitude, faith, prayer, or death; the author wins us over with his candor and his creative way of probing these vastly complicated and weighty subjects. If you read and cherished Forgive and Forget, Caring and Commitment, Shame and Grace, A Pretty Good Person, Choices: Making Hard Decisions in a Complex World, How Can It Be All Right When Everything Is All Wrong, or any of his other books, you will want to savor all the magic moments in this wonderful memoir.