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Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith beyond the Baggage of Western Culture

By Mandy Smith

Brazos Press, 2021, £13.99. ISBN 978- 1587435058

Review by Dr Anne Davidson Lund, a Reader in the Diocese of Chester

Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith beyond the Baggage of Western Culture

‘I began to see that my reverence for truth-as-printed-text had kept me from seeing how much Scripture itself tells stories of truth embodied’ (p.25).

This joyful book is the fruit of insight hard-won by the author, not through long hours of laborious theoretical grappling with the Bible and associated texts, but through the – for this experienced minister and academic – unfamiliar, counter-intuitive and risky step of letting go. Making space for God and then reflecting on the response that God’s voice, in all creation, might be prompting. Mandy Smith calls us to embark on a similar adventure, to rest, receive, then respond.

Set aside for now the foreword and the introduction, and dive into the largely autobiographical Chapter 1, Rest. Smith writes disarmingly honestly about her experiences on sabbatical. Geese flying in formation appear early on, and that metaphor, for apparently simple, instinctive collaborative communion, is one to which she returns in her final chapter. Its arc encompasses the whole book, which is an invitation to others fettered by the same learned habits as Smith herself, to step once more into the innocent, wondering realm of the child, unconcernedly accepting of mystery, unashamedly giving voice to needs, in the happy expectation that those needs will be met, without the fetters of rationally controlling the when and how. Bible references and quotations from a range of well-known liberal Christian writers underpin Smith’s personal observations about experiential and iterative learning and offer refreshment for any reader.

If the concept of time and space alone with God already appeals, perhaps begin with slender Chapter 4; effectively a series of instructions for a self-guided retreat. Here the so-called ‘field note’ shaded boxes work to good effect. Elsewhere in the book they tend to intrude, distracting the reader from the flow of a chapter.

Material integrated from previously published work illustrates Smith’s struggle to express with clarity a profound change, steps in a very different direction on her personal journey of faith. While the passages are not always felicitously edited into the whole, they deserve careful consideration.

Walter Brueggeman notes in his foreword that this book is written with a particular audience in mind: biblically literate evangelical Christians in the affluent developed world. Yet, if one can rise above generalisations about ‘Western’ culture (for which read north American white evangelical?), unsubstantiated scientific claims, and the very frequent slipping from ‘I’ to ‘we’ that blithely assumes the reader shares Smith’s view of the world, there are gems to be discovered.

The concepts of ‘childish’, ‘adultish’ and ‘childlike’ introduce a fresh approach to the Living Word and advocate embracing playful freedom to grow in trusting faith. Chapters 7 and 8 yield a series of original metaphors for familiar biblical concepts which invite exploration beyond the confines of this text.

Delight with Mandy Smith in her new-found childlike trust in God; learn from her tussle with unknowing and enjoy exploring her metaphors for imaginative refreshment when preparing to preach. Rest, receive and respond.

 

Save 10% on the RRP when you order this book from chbookshop.co.uk. Add the voucher code PREACHER22 at the basket to receive the discount:

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