The shelves overflowed with books, biblical commentaries fighting for space with Dean Koontz novels, a Bob Dylan scrapbook and texts on neuroscience. In just a few minutes, his conversation can veer energetically from Russian religious painters, to his upcoming visit to African orphanages, to his belief that Christianity and evolution are compatible.
It is no small irony, as he sees it, that his father, the biblical literalist whose chapel bookstore is full of anti-Darwin tracts, ignited his love of science. Equipped with a cheap telescope, Dad took him under the stars as a boy, rapturously pointing out the constellations and the distances between heavenly bodies -- all a reflection, he explained to his awe-struck son, of God's majesty.
"It's sad to me that a man passionate about God's creation should have his education stunted at some level by a narrow vision of creationism," Smith Jr. said. "Because the universe is no less fascinating for being 15 billion years old than being 10,000 years old."
The breakup with Calvary Chapel, as he sees it, was a good and inevitable thing. He wasn't abiding by house rules, so it was only fair he go.
"I knew it was coming," he said. "It was a matter of time."
He had no desire to inherit the sprawling Calvary Chapel from his father anyway, he said, being better suited to a smaller flock. Until recently he preached to a weekend congregation of 1,700 at a church he converted from a bowling alley. He is now taking an extended hiatus from the pulpit, explaining that counseling congregants about their personal crises is emotionally depleting. He is considering whether to open a remote spiritual retreat as a harbor for Christian leaders "who are burned out."
His relationship with his father, he agrees, is tighter than ever. He will even write his dad's biography some day. His challenge, he says, is extricating himself from his dad's fundamentalist evangelical community without traumatizing his parents.
"It's like the parents whose child comes out to them and says, 'I'm gay,' " Smith said. "Hopefully they come around and say, 'You are our son and we will always love you.' My parents are no less loving than that."
Smith Jr. recalls a troubled preacher from Calvary Chapel's early days, Lonnie Frisbee, who was instrumental in helping the elder Smith reach the counterculture. A recent documentary about Frisbee's life makes the case that the church whitewashed Frisbee from church history because it emerged that he was gay.
Though Smith Jr. demurs from that thesis, he appeared in the film, looked at the camera and pointedly asked: If the church shuts its doors to gay people, where are they supposed to find God? It sounded like a direct plea to his father.
Smith says no, he wasn't really speaking to Dad. Then he pauses. "Maybe I was," he says.