Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven – James Bryan Smith

Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven Published by IVP on February 7, 2023
Genres: Non-Fiction, Biography
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Whenever I think of Rich Mullins, I think of the Old Testament prophet Enoch. Scripture tells us that Enoch left this earth at a relatively early age for his day, that he walked with God and “was not, for God took him.” Rich died in a car accident at the age of 41. Gone way too soon, gone tragically, but not tragic for Rich. Rich was safe in the arms of his Father, a ragamuffin wanderer who had finally found home. Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven is a sort of theological biography of Mullins’ music. James Bryan Smith arranges the work thematically, interweaving Rich’s resonant lyrics throughout. It’s a unique work, but it fits Rich’s life and passions exactly. You don’t just learn about Rich, you see Rich for who he was and feel what he felt. This book is a holy work, allowing readers to see Jesus through the life and work of Rich Mullins.

Rich died before I had much of a chance to know his work. I was eight years old when he passed and eleven when the first edition of Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven was released. I grew up in southern Indiana in the Christian Church denomination and my church would host college students from Cincinnati Bible College (Rich’s alma mater) for a weekend every year. As you might imagine, Rich Mullins’ songs featured prominently—some that I didn’t even know were Rich’s until well into adulthood. My first big introduction to Rich was Ragamuffin, the movie based on his life, which came out in 2013. And now this book, released in 2023 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Rich’s passing.

The author of Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven, James Bryan Smith, was a close friend of Rich’s in the final years of his life to the point that Rich lived with Smith and his family for several years. In the fall of 1998, David, Rich’s brother, asked Smith if he would be interested in penning a reflection on Rich’s life. Smith agreed and this book is the result. Smith describes the book as a devotional biography and I think that’s a good word for it. It contains a lot of Rich’s own words and thoughts, his music, and stories gleaned from interviews with family and friends.

If you’ve been shaped by Rich’s music, you’ll find this book a loving tribute to a man who best expressed himself in song. The book also goes beyond just the songs that made Rich famous into the ones he penned mostly for himself or for particular occasions. It showcases the power of story and music and just how Rich processed his emotions and life through his music. I found myself, multiple times, pausing the book to go look up some Rich Mullins song I didn’t know existed.

Rich managed both a commitment to orthodoxy with the flexibility of mysticism, and that’s something that’s become more appealing to me in recent years. He understood the ineffability, the un-understandability of God, and was willing to sit the mystery of it all even when it unsettled him. He lived a life of asceticism and avoided the celebrity that he could have been. Rich truly was counter-cultural. Not because he wanted to rage against the machine or **** the police, but because he lived in and longed for another world. There’s not a better description of Rich’s life than An Arrow Pointing to Heaven. James Bryan Smith captures not only Rich Mullins’ life, but his very essence and spirituality. Rich may no longer be with us, but what he has left us continues to change lives today.