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Gordon Smith: Called to Be Saints

Gordon T. Smith, Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity (IVP Academic, 2014), 256 pages.

Evangelicals are known for their emphasis on conversion, but unfortunately they often neglect life after conversion and beyond justification. Needed, therefore, is a comprehensive theology of the Christian life from beginning to end, along with an explication of the means of that transformation. In Called to Be Saints, Gordon Smith invites us to think theologically about what is means to be a mature Christian. To address matters of the Christian life and its spirituality effectively, we need to find an answer to the questions of what is the beginning of the Christian life, what is the character of Christian maturity, and what is the approach and means of the formation of this character. A comprehensive theology of the Christian life will address all three of these questions, that is, the beginning, the end, and the means by which one grows toward maturity. There are a number of publications regarding the initiation into the Christian faith. Moreover, there are likewise plenty of resources on the spiritual formation of believers. However, there are few resources regarding what it means to be a mature Christian. This book seeks to address this lacuna in Christian scholarship.

The chapters within address the goal and objective towards which Christians walk. That is, the end to which we are converted. The opening chapter makes the case for why such a theology is needed. It notes that there is a significant “sanctification gap” in the churches today – that is, there is a marked distinction between what we profess to be, i.e. saints, and what we actually are. However, there is a call to holiness – or perfection – made by the Father to participate in the life of Christ, through the power of the Spirit. As Aquinas stated, a thing is said to be perfect when it attains its proper end. Chapter 2 is the central chapter within the text, with its insistence that the Christian vision for maturity is one that is “in” Christ. To be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus, and a mature disciple is one who knows Jesus through the fruit of learning that leads to intimacy, loves Jesus such that he is the first and deepest love, and serves Jesus such that all one does is in response to Christ’s call and is an expression of allegiance to him.

Chapters 3 through 6 identify four distinctive features of a mature Christian, that is, what it means to fulfill the purpose for which we are created. There are also two appendices, the first of which is an invitation to pastors to consider what it means for the character of congregational life to be “in” Christ, and the second of which is an invitation to leaders within the academy to consider how they can design the life of the university setting around a vision of transformation “in” Christ. This text affirms that our lives are a gift that is offered to us in Christ.

Overall, this book is both a call and an invitation to live life “in Christ” – more precisely, to live a life that is the fruit of dynamic participation in the life of Christ. The title has four marks, all of which are presented as invitations: 1) to be a wise person and to pursue wisdom with passion and persistence; 2) to do good work in response to the call of Christ – i.e., vocational holiness; 3) to love others as one learns to live in love; and 4) to know the joy of God, which is the deep wellspring of the blessed life. Each of these – wisdom, good works, love, and joy – are offered to us in Christ.

Being consummately practical, this book presents a trinitarian theology of holiness that encompasses both justification and sanctification, as well as union with Christ and communion with God. Smith unfolds how and why Christians are called to become wise people, do good work, love others and enjoy rightly ordered affections. This is for the whole Christian community. It is a challenge to young people to establish early in their lives the kind of life that they wish to live. It is also a guide to those in midlife who might need to make midcourse corrections to their priorities in order to focus on what matters most. And finally, it encourages those who are in their senior years to be attentive to what sort of legacy they wish to leave behind them. For each group, it is about stewardship. Christians in every walk of life, therefore, will find this text a rich resource for learning what it means to “grow up in every way… into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). I recommend it to all comers.

Reviewed by Bradford McCall


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Category: Living the Faith, Summer 2016

About the Author: Bradford L. McCall, B.S. in Biology (Georgia Southwestern St. University, 2000), M.Div. (Asbury Theological Seminary, 2005), grew up on a cotton farm in south Georgia. A graduate student at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Bradford has particular interest in teleology, causation and early modern philosophy.

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