The Mod | “On the Road With Saint Augustine: A Real Word Spirituality For Restless Hearts” by James K. A. Smith

Wednesday, 16 Oct 2019 | 10/16/2019 | Staff
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In seminary, my patristics professor once told my class that if someone claims to have read all of Augustine, they’re probably not being truthful. In his latest book, On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, James K. A. Smith makes no such grandiose claim; in fact, his goals are refreshingly modest. On the Road isn’t a biography, or even a book about Augustine, really—it’s a journey into oneself with Augustine as guide (“a road trip with a prodigal who’s already been where you think you need to go”). Concurrently, it’s Smith’s testimony of his own such journey. Smith effectively captures the “uncanniness” of the Bishop of Hippo, a man “so ancient he is strange,” and yet whose experiences feel so contemporary. Smith’s hope is that this strangeness will help 21st-century readers glimpse “what an authentic Christianity feels like from the inside.”

Unsurprisingly, while he refers to other parts of Augustine’s corpus, Smith overwhelmingly draws on Confessions. This work, Smith points out, was not so much intended to be Augustine’s own story, but an example of the perennial human story of the prodigal son or daughter. In the opening “Orientation” chapters, Smith explores the youthful “road-hunger” that beckons moderns. We perpetually talk ourselves into believing that we “revel in the roaming,” that the road itself “is life.” Augustine, escaping provincial North Africa in search of professional distinction in Milan, knew something of this experience. Though Confessions details Augustine’s subsequent conversion, Augustine understood that conversion doesn’t fix everything instantly—as Smith puts it, it isn’t like “some kind of Floo powder to heaven […] it just changes how you travel.”

Smith - Journey - Philosophies - Air - Instance

Smith contextualizes the modern spiritual journey by naming some of the “invisible philosophies in the cultural air we breathe.” For instance, it’s from Heidegger, and the postwar existentialism that developed...
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