Interview: You can’t think your way to God

Jamie SmithChristian formation means shaping our loves, says Jamie Smith, not just educating our minds.

From an interview in Christianity Today:

If there’s one refrain coming from James K. A. Smith these days, it’s that Christians can’t think our way into the kingdom. It may sound strange for a philosopher (at Calvin College) to downplay the role of thinking, but Smith is quick to see the inconsistencies between what we think and what we do. Indeed, he recently caught himself reading the Christian farmer-philosopher-poet Wendell Berry while sitting in the food court at Costco. Smith was struck by the dissonance. Berry is an apostle of mindful and earth-friendly food production and consumption, while Costco is the symbol of American supersized consumption.

When we try to think our way out of such inconsistencies, our behavior keeps coming back to bite us. That’s because behavior is not driven by ideas. It is a bodily thing that reflects the way we order—or disorder—our loves and desires.

In your book, you set forth what you call a “liturgical anthropology.” What does liturgy have to do with human nature?

Human beings are at their core defined by what they worship rather than primarily by what they think, know, or believe. That is bound up with the central Augustinian claim that we are what we love. Taking Augustine’s teaching that what you love is what you worship and what you worship is what you love, I tried to come up with a model of the human person that appreciates the centrality of love. That propelled me to see that we are ritual, liturgical creatures whose loves are shaped and aimed by the fundamentally forming practices that we are immersed in.

Secular rituals shape us just as much as sacred ones. You say that “the Devil has all the best liturgies.”

Monday Night Football, going to the mall—take your pick. We Christians should be aware that there’s something at stake in cultural participation that we wouldn’t have been concerned about if all we did was worry about the messages in culture. I am trying to wake folks up to realize that if these cultural institutions and practices are formative, then the spaces that we inhabit do something to us. The stadium and the mall are examples of that.

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Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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