Imagining a Childlike Faith beyond the Baggage of Western Culture

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Western culture is in a tailspin, and Christian faith is entangled in it: we do kingdom things in empire ways. Western approaches to faith leave us feeling depressed, doubting, anxious, and burned out. We know something is wrong with the way we do faith and church in the West, but we're so steeped in it that we don't know where to begin to break old habits.

Popular pastor and speaker Mandy Smith invites us to unfetter ourselves from the deeply ingrained habits of Western culture so we can do kingdom things in kingdom ways again. She explores how we can be transformed by new postures and habits that help us see God already at work in and around us. The way forward isn't more ideas, programs, and problem-solving but in Jesus's surprising invitation to the kingdom through childlikeness. Ultimately, rediscovering childlike habits is a way for us to remember how to be human.

Unfettered helps us reimagine how to follow God with our whole selves again and join with God's mission in the world.

Foreword by Walter Brueggemann
1. Rest
2. What Gets in the Way of Rest
3. Receive
4. What Doesn't Get in the Way of Receiving
5. Respond
6. What Keeps us from Responding
7. A Theology of Childlikeness
8. Rest, Receive, Respond


"Mandy Smith is one of the great pastoral voices of our time. If you are untangling and reconstructing how you engage with God, you simply must read this book."

Tim Soerens, author of Everywhere You Look: Discovering the Church Right Where You Are

"Even Christian ministry has been fettered by modern Western ideals and presumptions: control, success, calculative thinking, and--fundamentally--reality-dismissing acedia. What is a passionate, caring, supposedly sophisticated pastor to do? Follow Smith's journeying, in search of God and reality, away from this 'adultishness' to become like a child. And don't just read it; undertake such a journey yourself."

Esther Lightcap Meek, professor of philosophy, Geneva College; author of Longing to Know, Loving to Know, and A Little Manual for Knowing

"The Western church is in trouble. Not, as you might have heard, because it is too 'churchy' but because it is too Western. It is past time to disentangle the church from the grip of Western culture. In Unfettered, Mandy Smith reminds us where to start: with Jesus's call to childlikeness. That call (and this book) is an invitation to more exploration, more adventure, more trust, a deeper relationship with God, and a more profound witness to the watching world. For the sake of the church--and the West--let's say yes."

John Pattison, coauthor of Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus

"Do not, dear reader, take up this book unless you intend to be changed, because this book concerns emancipatory transformation. In poetic idiom, Mandy Smith has written a narrative account of her wondrous awakening to the gifts of freedom and grace in her life that have taken her by surprise. Her quite personal account is intended as an invitation and a summons to her readers that they, like the author, might come to live differently in the world. . . . This book is a powerfully compelling good word to the church in our society--evangelical and liberal--that has largely exhausted its old endowments."

Walter Brueggemann (from the foreword)

"Mandy Smith's Unfettered helps us discard our Westernized baggage so we can be formed all over again as children in awe of God. With lively prose and a profound wisdom, she teaches us how to dance with God. Open these pages and allow yourself to be drawn in to this childlike way of life with God. Learn the postures of resting, receiving, and responding. Explore knowing God."

David Fitch, Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology, Northern Seminary; author of Faithful Presence

"Few writers are able to combine cultural criticism and hopeful imagination for the future in the manner that Mandy Smith does. Unfettered is essential reading, a wise guide to tiptoeing into a vibrant, post-Christendom faith. It is a much-needed book, and at the same time a dangerous one, for one cannot read it and remain unchanged."

C. Christopher Smith, founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books; author of How the Body of Christ Talks

"This rare book on childlikeness is written by someone who is herself charmingly childlike in her approach to God, people, and the world. Mandy is a well-informed writer, and she is also a profoundly enchanting one as she pens what could prove to be the manifesto for the always-possible, ever-resurgent, Order of the Eternal Child. Viva!"

Alan Hirsch, founder of Forge Missional Training Network and the Movement Leaders Collective; author of The Forgotten Ways

"When it comes to getting at the core of the problem of the fractured self, Mandy Smith strikes at the heart of the dualism of Western culture with her analysis in Unfettered. Unwavering in her commitment to unravel the quandary that Christianity in the West has trapped itself in and unflinching in her determination to tell the narrative of one who would gather all creation into wholeness, Smith makes a clear case for seeing with renewed eyes and hearing with unclogged ears. Unfettered provides space for reflection where we can find our full humanity and abandon the need to 'fix' our lives. It is an invitation to lean into the uncomfortable void and therefore create room where we can exist, grow, and flourish."

Phuc Luu, author of Jesus of the East: Reclaiming the Gospel for the Wounded

"We have pastor-practitioners and pastor-scholars, but we need pastor-artists because they help us encounter God as Mystery. Mandy Smith is a pastor-artist. She is also a theologian, a passionate advocate for human freedom, and a trusted voice I seek when I need the Good News to seep through my layers of control and false self. In Unfettered, Mandy invites us to dance a three-step of rest, receive, and respond. Her invitation is compelling because she goes first, wondering if she still knows how to dance, overcoming the awkwardness of pretense and self- consciousness, daring to believe the Good News can be embodied. Using word pictures, a hefty critique of Western assumptions, wisdom from the sages, and . . . well . . . geese, she shows us what we can be: human beings deeply connected to God, self, and others. Mandy doesn't make it sound easy; she just makes it sound so very worth it. She prods us to move beyond 'adultish hyperengagement,' and guides us past the other extreme of 'childish disengagement.' She invites us to a dance that lives fully into the goodness of God. I've been grateful for Mandy's voice for a long time now, and Unfettered is an overdue guide for those of us wanting another way."

Steve Cuss, lead pastor of Discovery Christian Church, Broomfield, Colorado

"Being quite skilled at the controlling, adultish ways of exegeting Scripture, I was deeply confronted by Mandy Smith's rest-receive-respond approach. She invites us to divest ourselves of our need to be masters of the text and, like children, allow our senses, our instincts, even our bodies, to contribute to hearing from God. Like Nicodemus asking Jesus how one becomes born again, I found myself regularly resisting, questioning, and doubting Mandy's new method before being won over by her approach. If you want to contend with the Good News in your heart, mind, and body, read this book!"

Michael Frost, Morling College, Sydney

The Author

  1. Mandy Smith
    Sarah Topp Photography

    Mandy Smith

    Mandy Smith is a speaker and the pastor of St. Lucia Uniting Church in Brisbane, Australia. Her book The Vulnerable Pastor was named a best book of the year by Missio Alliance, Leadership Journal, Englewood Review of Books, and Hearts...

    Continue reading about Mandy Smith


"In this contemplative guide, [Smith] contrasts Western culture's perspective of Christianity with the approach characterized by 'awe, wonder, innocence, and trust' as described in the Bible. . . . Smith differentiates between childlikeness (which renews one's wonder) and being childish (which results in passivity), and quotes theologians, as well as such authors as C. S. Lewis, Brennan Manning, Thomas Merton, and John Wesley to bolster her points. She also refers to Jesus's teaching in John 15 on abiding in the vine as the ultimate example of resting. Smith's sage advice will aid Christians in recognizing the simple joys of practicing their faith."

Publishers Weekly