Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith beyond the Baggage of Western Culture
By Mandy Smith
Brazos Press, 224 pages
“If we really believed that there is more to faith than ideas alone and that there are more ways forward than we could find in our own strength, how would we live and be the church?”
Author Mandy Smith opens her recent work, Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith beyond the Baggage of Western Culture, with these questions as she weaves together personal reflections and theological wisdom for the church that knows it has, in part, lost its way. Smith names the fact that the Western values of thinking and self-sufficiency press followers of Jesus to remain uncomfortable with our own humanity, to the extent that, “we have created a way of doing faith that has replaced a need for God with a human-made system of rules, beliefs, and traditions that makes us feel complete and self-sufficient. The technologies we employ to study God have allowed us to be our own saviors.”
This dismantling of unexamined, patriarchal, and empire-laden ways of faith continues throughout Unfettered with both a gracious and a tenacious voice, inviting the reader to dig deep into how we embody and lead faith habits. Smith manages to remain accessible and rigorous, poetic and theological—have you danced on the polished floors of a dark sanctuary without abandon before a prayer? Do you notice the pattern of the geese in the skies without plan or power inhibiting their purpose? Smith invites us into wonder.
A prolific speaker and author of the acclaimed book The Vulnerable Pastor, Smith builds on her belief that embracing our humanity and weakness frees us to imagine a more Jesus-centered faith and adopt a childlike posture—dependent, present, and aware of our needs. This book is a field journal of sorts, not arguing for an answer but chronicling an adventure of (re)discovering childlike courage and the freedom to join God’s work already ongoing in the world, counteracting impulses of certainty and dominion. She points to the call from Scripture to a holistic “heart, mind, soul, and strength” kind of faith, “a place where one can be small without shame, and powerful without oppressing.” Readers will encounter theological signposts such as John Wesley’s quadrilateral, reflections from monks and musicians, discussions on spiritual warfare and the maternal instincts of God, as well as a review of how shame and guilt cultures shape faith and wisdom for parents and pastors.
Unfettered also asks some risky questions. I smiled when she wondered, “Have I gone charismatic?” as part of her awakening. In noting her own expansion and freedom, this pastor offers to shepherd those of us primarily shaped by western, white, colonial ways of faith out of the maze, and into the rest, receiving, and responding of the living, breathing Spirit of God. Smith also takes time to help readers sort through very human struggles with resting and receiving, questions about theological heresy, our attempts to control the universe, and our soul sickness that comes from hyper-productivity and dominion. “Ironically, even in our efforts to study the kingdom, we often have empire habits. We do kingdom things in empire ways.”
Ultimately Smith invites the church to a refreshed ancient truth that we are not God, but we are invited to be loved by and in partnership with God. For all those participating in or leading the church, as well as for those wondering about the limits of their faith; for those who know we need more than the limits of human answers and control offer us, this book beckons with grace to offer encouragement, nourishment, and the freedom of being unfettered.