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

Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven by James Bryan Smith, Brennan Manning
Published by IVP on February 7, 2023
Genres: Non-Fiction, Biography, Christian Life, Devotional, Theology
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Experience Rich Mullins's Legacy of Joy and Real Compassion

Beloved contemporary Christian musician Rich Mullins lived his life with abandon for God, leaving the spotlight to teach music among a Navajo community. An accident cut his life short in 1997, but his songs and ragamuffin spirit continue to teach many.

In honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Rich's homegoing, this edition of Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven delivers an intimate look at the experiences that sparked praise hits and the values behind his Christ-like candor. James Bryan Smith captures just what Rich wished for when he said, "I hope I would leave a legacy of joy―a legacy of real compassion."

See the layers of his story through reflections from friends and family, an afterword by Rich's brother David Mullins, and Smith's own bond with him. And in remembrance, be inspired to enjoy God's world as Rich did.

Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven originally came out in 2000, three years after Mullins died in a car accident. This new, reissued edition honors the twenty-fifth anniversary of this Christian musician’s death, and brings this book back to public awareness. I was extremely young when Mullins died, but I grew up listening to many of his songs and later rediscovered his work at a difficult time in my life. I deeply needed his music then, and I was grateful for the impact it had already had on my life, teaching me lessons about faith, vulnerability, and obedience to God that were paying out in ways no one could have predicted before.

This book shares Mullins’s story, but it isn’t strictly a biography. Instead, James Bryan Smith wrote each chapter with a different theme in mind, such as the love of God, seeing God’s majesty in creation, dealing with suffering, and dealing with temptation. Smith shares stories and insights from his personal friendship with Rich Mullins, and shares reflections that family members, friends, and other associates shared in interviews. He also delves into some of Mullins’s written reflections and song lyrics, quoting them and exploring how Mullins expressed his deepest beliefs. Even more importantly, the book shows how Mullins lived out his faith in authentic and counter-cultural ways, pursuing a life of material simplicity, giving away most of his income to charity, and ministering to children on a Navajo reservation.

As Mullins clashed with the consumerist trappings of American Christianity, he spoke out against the excesses of Western culture, particularly regarding compromises in the Christian music industry. This book provides a refreshing vision of faith apart from common cultural compromises, and is full of wisdom and encouragement regarding key elements of the Christian life. Although some people may wish that this was more of a standard biography, Smith’s hope was to share his friend’s deepest beliefs and best characteristics with others, and he succeeded. At times, Smith talks around issues in Mullins’s life instead of dealing with them directly, particularly when it comes to vaguely referenced temptations and sins. Nonetheless, he shares considerable insight into Mullins’s life and faith.

Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven shares wonderful insights about spiritual formation through the lens of this musician’s life. I would mainly recommend this book to people who already appreciate Mullins’s music and life witness, but people who are not familiar with him yet can still benefit from this book’s spiritual wisdom. It can be especially encouraging to highly sensitive men, since it portrays Mullins’s emotional struggles and depth of feeling with honesty and respect, showing how he could speak to deeper realities of life because he didn’t fit in with social expectations. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I am thankful that the anniversary reissue brought it to my attention.