“On the Road with Saint Augustine” (Smith, 2019) Review

My review of James K. A. Smith’s “On the Road with Augustine”.

Goals of the book:
Perhaps one of the most well known works of the early Church is Augustine’s Confessions. This book is an intensely personal look inside the life of Augustine as he writes a spiritual autobiography about life before Christ, life with Christ, and growing in Christ. At times, the book penetrates the soul as Augustine describes the depth of the human condition; at other times, Augustine offers genuine joy as he elucidates what life in Christ looks like. Either way, the book is a fascinating case study in what it means to be a Christian.

James J. A. Smith, a professor at Calvin College, is the perfect person to write a book about Augustine and Christian formation. Especially recently, Smith’s views on formative practices have become extremely popular. (For examples, see my review of The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.) Smith’s books, such as Desiring the Kingdom and You Are What You Love, are stunning and erudite explorations of what forms us and how we are formed. On the Road with Saint Augustine takes a slightly different approach, leading the reader down a similar path to Augustine’s as we grow in Christlikeness.

What does this book offer the Church?:
This book offers the church a unique chance to explore, both conceptually and in lived experience, Christian formation. Most people would love the chance to grow and live introspective lives like Augustine, and now we have the chance. This book is immensely practical, so readers who may have been intimidated by Smith’s previous works, or found it to be too conceptual at times, will find a lot to like here and a lot to learn from.

This book also offers the church a unique take on Saint Augustine. Augustine is a controversial figure today (not like he hasn’t been for all of church history, though), between critiques of original sin and discussions on race, for example. Many in the church have not engaged with Augustine much, so this serves as a good introduction to both Augustine and the Confessions.

How successfully does this book meet its goals?:
Double-dipping a bit into the last section, I want to re-iterate Smith’s success in exploring and explaining Saint Augustine. I never found the material too hard to understand (despite how little of Augustine I have read, ever), nor did I find it to be too “dumbed down” for the reader. But more importantly, I was struck by how much I wanted to change in my life in response to reading this. Even though I am an introvert, I always want to grow in how I evaluate my own life theologically. This book gives us wonderful tools to do so.

You can read more about the book at Baker Publishing Group’s website. You can pre-order this book ahead of its October 1 release date on Amazon.

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