September 2020 Pastor’s Book Club Pick
I am really excited to read this month’s book, On the Road With Saint Augustine : A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts by James K.A. Smith. It has been sitting on my shelf since it came out last year, and though I have skimmed it, I haven’t gotten a chance to really read it yet.
I’ve been fascinated with Augustine for a long time. Much of what he wrote is still foundational to what we as Christians believe today. I always appreciated that his theology and practice always felt grounded in the real world, that he knew what it is to be a sinner, to mourn that sin, and to be saved from that sin by a gracious and loving God.
In high school I had the opportunity to walk the streets that he walked, when I visited the ruins of Carthage. It wasn’t until I was much older that I found out that some of the baptistries that I saw in the region were likely used by him.
This book intrigued me not only because the author was dealing with Augustine, but because of the way he was coming to it. Smith, a professor at Calvin University, uses Augustine’s life and writings to look at life in our current times. He wants us to wrestle with the everyday issues, the recurring temptations and doubts in our current culture, just as Augustine did in his day. The blurb on Amazon reads, in part:
This is not a book about Saint Augustine. In a way, it’s a book Augustine has written about each of us. Popular speaker and award-winning author James K. A. Smith has spent time on the road with Augustine, and he invites us to take this journey too, for this ancient African thinker knows far more about us than we might expect.Amazon.com
The reviews have also piqued my interest in Smith’s book. It was awarded a Christianity Today 2020 Book Award for Spiritual Formation, as well as a featured review. One pastor and author writing for the awards article stated:
Augustine towers over history. I knew this, but I’d forgotten how much he wrestled with the issues that keep me awake at night: ambition, sex, friendship, death, and more. He’s been where we are. On the Road with Saint Augustine is a rare book. It’s weighty, beautiful, and insightful. I opened this book expecting to learn from and about Augustine, but I didn’t expect that he would become my traveling companion. We have more in common with this ancient African monk than we realize.Darryl Dash, pastor and church planter, author of How to Grow
Several of the reviews draw parallels to one of my favorite books, Jack Kerouac’s One the Road, including David McLemore, writing for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He writes that Smith:
“wants to hop in the car with us, but he’s bringing a friend along for the ride. And he’s not just any friend. He’s “a prodigal who’s already been where you think you need to go”… Channeling Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Smith takes the form of Sal Paradise, giving us the view from the backseat, interpreting what’s taking place in front of him between two new friends.David McLemore – For the Church
Other reviews that led me to the book include those from The Gospel Coalition and America: The Jesuit Review.
I hope that you will come with me on this road trip with Saint Augustine. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good ride. We will gather to discuss the book on Sunday, September 27th. This may be fully online again, or a combination of online and in person. I will let you know. Sign up here.
Next month we will be reading The Courage to Stand by Russell Moore.
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