Evaluation of The Forgotten Father by Tom Smail

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8th Feb 2020 Theology Reference this

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‘The Forgotten Father’ was written by Tom Smail and published in 1980 with a reprint in 1996. There has also been a more recent edition. The book sets out to rediscover an understanding of the fatherhood of God. Smail believes that ‘the relationship between the divine Father and his equally divine and incarnate Son is at the very heart of the gospel’.[1]

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Smail narrates some of his own journey and the difference his understanding of the fatherhood of God has made in his own life. He describes his discovery and revelation from God as ‘the theology of a grown-up little boy, who in middle life became very conscious that he had no father, and who therefore has become exalted and joyful in realising that he has always had a Father God.’[2]

Smail specifically wanted to address charismatic Christians who were focussing on the signs and wonders aspects of the outworking of their faith i.e. the Holy Spirit; and help them understand the relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Smail was ordained in 1953 as a minister in Scotland. After a period in a spiritual wilderness, he experienced an overwhelming sense of the Holy Spirit which brought a renewal and readiness for ministry.[3]

It is interesting to note that Smail was the director of the Fountain Trust which was a charismatic agency and held large celebrations in cathedrals known as ‘Glory in the Church’ meetings. Other gatherings were held at Central Hall, Westminster.[4] Smail also taught on the staff at St John’s, Nottingham, eventually becoming Principal.[5]

It is possible to describe this book as accessible theology/doctrine. At two hundred and four pages it is compact, and the language used is straightforward. Smail explains concepts in a process which we will consider later. I can imagine it would be useful for people who are wanting to dig deeper into theology; a good starting point for church leaders but also for people in the church pews.

‘The Forgotten Father’ begins with an introduction considering searching for ‘Father’. Smail states from the outset the absence of his father and how this can affect his viewpoint when thinking about the fatherhood of God.[6]

He then progresses through ‘Finding Father God’ in which he unpacks the idea of us being able to address Father God as Abba Father and how this is possibly through our understanding of God.

Smail comments that within the renewal movement there has been an unhealthy obsession with personal experience which has distracted people from living out kingdom values and engaging in mission.[7] He puts forward that there’s been more discussion about spiritual gifts than the use of them; more discussion about the Holy Spirit than experiencing the power of God through the Holy Spirit. He thinks that this is because of a lack of confidence in people that God loves them as they are and will give to them everything he has promised. He used the example of the ring, the robe and the shoes from her parable of the prodigal son.[8]

Therefore, Smail says that our understanding of who God fully is will help us in our relationship and sharing about God. ‘The thesis of this book is that Christian maturity and holiness are not to be found in a narrow pursuit of charismatic experiences and manifestations in and for themselves, but in the existential rediscovery of Abba Father’.[9]

The chapter concerning the relationship between the Father and the Son begins to set the tone for how Smail will explain his arguments in a theological/doctrinal way. This is continued in the other chapters: the Son and the Father; God the Father and God the Son; the Father, the Son and the Cross, progressing to the Father’s Sons and Heirs. Last of all we find chapters on the will of the Father; our Father and our Worship and ‘In Father’s World’. There seems to be a progression in learning to understand the nature of Father God which follows through to Jesus the Son and the workings of the Holy Spirit. This is then acted to how it affects how we worship God in spirit and in truth.

In each chapter, Smail separates the theological/doctrinal points for each argument and how these relate to each other. An example of this would be in chapter four – Son and Father, where we see the process of explanation of a point.

‘Jesus knows who he is in relation to his Father’

‘Jesus knows his Father in the Temple’

‘Jesus knows his Father at his Baptism’

 ‘The Father reveals Jesus as his Son’

‘Father and Spirit are at work in revealing Jesus’

‘Everything Jesus says and does depends on his Father’[10]

We can see here the progression from Jesus knowing who he is in relation to the Father to Father God revealing Jesus as his Son.

This chapter is spread over twenty pages and this approach is continued in each chapter. Smail uses a lot of detail and depth in explaining complex theological/doctrinal ideas. This seems to be part of him conveying the heart behind why he wants people to understand the fullness of the doctrinal point he is presenting.

At the end of the book we find a Postcript in which Smail restates his three main arguments: a) your renewal is too small – connecting renewal with theology as it is needed to fully understand the Trinity in its fullness; b) God’s Fatherhood and our obedience – the idea that often a charismatic understanding of God is more about Father God meeting our needs rather than our response out of obedience and relationship with God; c) a great simplicity – as the Holy Spirit works in us we are able to call Father God ‘Abba’ through his grace and our trust in him.[11]

The book seems to be clear and accessible. Smail uses some technical theological language but explains this at every point. The arguments are processed well if someone is used to this amount of detail. I found I was trying to look for the gold in the various sections as Smail starts well with his motivation for writing. The book starts from a very practical standpoint, but it seemed to become more theoretical and became less enjoyable to read. The postscript was a helpful reminder as to the purpose of the book.

On the whole Smail is partly successful in considering Scripture, tradition and reason. He uses references and examples from Scripture which provide the foundation for his points and help with understand. He does not necessarily refer to tradition apart from the sections where he mentions his sphere of influence in charismatic circles and his desire for writing the book.

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I was nicely surprised by this book as I knew that it was a classic. I have been part of charismatic churches for a number of years and remember the charismatic renewal in the Anglican Church in the mid-1980s. I can remember an emphasis being put on understanding the Holy Spirit more during this time and it was therefore refreshing to read of a similar movement in relation to understanding the fatherhood of God.

The book was also helpful in me able to identify with the author in terms of losing a parent in childhood and how helpful it is to understand God as father. Smail writes about the sense of identity and security that a person can have as they understand who Father God is when they have no earthly father – that God is the perfect father.[12]

It was a shame that there were not more practical examples of situations where Smail’s understanding of the fatherhood of God had helped him in various situations.

At times there has been criticism regarding explaining theology for charismatic Christians, partly due to a lack of people writing, the timing and a hesitancy in recording spiritual experiences in book form. This has also been due to whether it has being felt that charismatics might actually be put off by theological writing. For this reason, it was encouraging to read this book. Smail has also written other books such as The Giving Gift: The Holy Spirit in Person. He has also written more generally about charismatic theology.

I would recommend this book to people who are wanting to understand more about the fatherhood of God. It would be suitable for people who are wanting more theological meat to help them.

The book concludes with Smail’s hope that the readers of the book will have experienced the Holy Spirit speaking to their hearts and through understanding their true identity are able to call Father God ‘Abba’.[13]

Bibliography

  • https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2012/2-march/gazette/obituary-canon-thomas-allan-smail – accessed on 22/11/2018
  • http://archive.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/cman_102_2_reviews.pdf – accessed 17/11/2018
  • http://www.harperfoundation.com/index.html – accessed on 28/11/2018
  • https://www.patheos.com/blogs/scriptorium/2012/02/tom-smail-1928-2012-the-spirit-is-given-from-the-cross/ – accessed on 28/11/2018
  • Smail, Tom. The Forgotten Father. Rediscovering the Heart of the Christian Gospel (London: Paternoster Press, 1980)

[1] Tom Smail, The Forgotten Father. Rediscovering the Heart of the Christian Gospel (London: Paternoster Press, 1980), p9

[2] Tom Smail, The Forgotten Father, p11

[3] https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2012/2-march/gazette/obituary-canon-thomas-allan-smail – accessed on 22/11/2018

[4] http://www.harperfoundation.com/index.html – accessed on 28/11/2018

[5] https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2012/2-march/gazette/obituary-canon-thomas-allan-smail – accessed on 22/11/2018

[6] Tom Smail, The Forgotten Father, p11

[7] Tom Smail, The Forgotten Father, p15

[8] Tom Smail, The Forgotten Father, p149

[9] Tom Smail, The Forgotten Father, p48

[10] Tom Smail, The Forgotten Father, p72-92

[11] Tom Smail, The Forgotten Father, p202-203

[12] Tom Smail, The Forgotten Father, p12

[13] Tom Smail, The Forgotten Father, p204

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