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You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit Hardcover – April 5, 2016
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From the Inside Flap
"Smith has an exceptional gift for disentangling things. Here again his efforts disentangle our minds and our hearts so our imaginations can be set free to be captured by and reflective of the kingdom of God. In these ways, Smith gives us a profound gift so we can seek and find what we need most."
--Mark Labberton, president, Fuller Theological Seminary
"Attention, all 'general readers'--not academics or specialists (though they're welcome too), but people who are tired of shoddy thinking and trendy slogans: this is the kind of book you've been hungering for. It's a bit like one of those 'Great Courses.' An inspired teacher, a compelling subject, and you. What are you waiting for?"
--John Wilson, editor, Books & Culture
"Informed by the insights of St. Augustine, You Are What You Love explores the substance of Christian discipleship as total life transformation through worship and liturgy. More than any other contemporary writer, Smith has helped me to understand how belief is embodied in us primarily through our habits of desire, and that God himself is the true satisfaction of our hungry hearts. This book should be read by every follower of Jesus."
--Sandra McCracken, singer and songwriter
"Jamie Smith writes with enormous understanding, authority, and warmth. Masterful!"
--Cornelius Plantinga Jr., president emeritus, Calvin Theological Seminary; author of Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists
From the Back Cover
You are what you love. But you might not love what you think.
Who and what we worship fundamentally shape our hearts. We may not realize, however, the ways our hearts are taught to love rival gods instead of the One for whom we were made. And while we desire to shape culture, we are not often aware of how culture shapes us. In You Are What You Love, popular speaker and award-winning author James K. A. Smith helps us recognize the formative power of culture and the transformative possibilities of Christian practices.
"A user-friendly introduction to the sweeping Augustinian insight that we are shaped most by what we love most, more so than by what we think or do. If sin and virtue are disordered and rightly ordered love, respectively, and if the only way to change is to change what we worship, then this will lead us to rethink how we conduct Christian work and ministry. Jamie gives some foundational ideas on how this affects our corporate worship, our Christian education and formation, and our vocations in the world. An important, provocative volume!"
--Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City
"What do you love? is the most important question of our lives. With his characteristic ease, energy, and insightfulness, Smith explores in this compelling book not only what it is that we should love but also how we can learn to love what we should."
--Miroslav Volf, Yale Divinity School; author of A Public Faith and Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World
"In this wise and provocative book, Jamie Smith has the audacity to ask the question: Do we love what we think we love? It is not a comfortable question if we strive to answer it honestly. Smith presses us to do so and then shows us the renewed and abundant life that awaits Christians whose habits and practices--whose liturgies of living--work to open our hearts to our God and our neighbors."
--Alan Jacobs, Honors College, Baylor University
"Desiring the Kingdom influenced me more than any single book of the past decade. I--and the rest of the church--owe a great debt to Smith's scholarship, now made particularly accessible in You Are What You Love. As a means for reimagining the task of discipleship, this book should be required reading for every pastor, lay leader, and parent."
--Jen Pollock Michel, author of Christianity Today's 2015 Book of the Year, Teach Us to Want
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For Smith, this reshaping of discipleship is not something new, but something old. Both the Bible and the pre-Enlightenment Christian tradition taught that “the center of the human person is located not in the intellect but in the heart.” For example, consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:19: “out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Or consider Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Jesus’ words reveal that the heart orients us toward evil thoughts and evil deeds. Change the heart, and the thoughts and actions will follow. Augustine’s words remind us that our heart is oriented toward a telos, an end or goal, a vision of human flourishing. Because God made the heart, only the heart that seeks His telos—the kingdom—finds rest. Every other kingdom leaves our hearts weary and restless.
The problem is, how do you disciple the heart? How do you properly form human desire? Through practice, which develops habits. A cousin of mine likes to say that practice makes permanent. That’s as true for playing the piano as for developing moral character. What we do repeatedly shapes who we are.
According to Smith, the practices that shape our hearts can be called “liturgies,” a churchy term for the order of worship. Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god.” There is a liturgy, then, that develops a good heart for the true God. There are also liturgies that develop bad hearts for false gods such as consumerism. Smith urges us to take a “liturgical audit” of our lives to make sure our practice is oriented toward the proper telos, God and His kingdom, not some lesser goal.
Smith uses the term liturgies expansively. In the final three chapters of the book, he uses it to describe Christian practices in the home, at school, and in one’s vocation. The heart of his book concerns the worship practices of the gathered church, however. It is here that the Christian heart is most formed. Smith states that his book “articulates a spirituality for culture-makers, showing…why discipleship needs to be centered in and fueled by our immersion in the body of Christ. Worship is the ‘imagination station’ that incubates our loves and longings so that our cultural endeavors are indexed toward God and his kingdom.”
For him, worship is about “formation” more than “expression.” It is God himself meeting us to shape us into the kind of people who do His will, not just an outpouring of our sincere feelings about Him. (Pentecostals might be tagged as “expressivists” because of their exuberant services, but it seems to me that their theology of spiritual gifts aligns with the notion that God is the agent of worship, not just its audience.) Seen this way, and mindful that practice is repetitious, Smith urges Christians to hew closely to the traditional “narrative arc” of worship—which consists of gathering, listening, communing, and sending—and to eschew “novelty.” (He’s not talking about the “worship wars,” by the way. This has to do with the structure of the worship service, not the style of its music.) That liturgy “character-izes” us, meaning, it shows us that we are “characters” in God’s story and then forms the appropriate “character” in us.
Interestingly, Smith argues that Christian cultural innovators need to be rooted in Christian liturgical tradition: “the innovative, restorative work of culture-making needs to be primed by those liturgical traditions that orient our imagination to kingdom come. In order to foster a Christian imagination, we don’t need to invent; we need to remember. We cannot hope to re-create the world if we are constantly reinventing “church,” because we will reinvent ourselves right out of the Story. Liturgical tradition is the platform for imaginative innovation.”
I hope I have accurately and adequately communicated the gist of You Are What You Love. It is a thoughtful, thought-provoking book that I would encourage pastors, church leaders, and interested laypeople to read. Having said that, though, I want to make two “yes, but” points.
First, yes desire, but also thought. In other words, I agree with Smith that the heart is the heart of discipleship. This is a point on which evangelicals should unite, whether they are heirs to Jonathan (“religious affections”) Edwards or John (“heart strangely warmed”) Wesley. I am concerned, however, that Smith has swung the pendulum too far toward a discipleship of desire in order to compensate for the tendency in evangelicalism to swing the pendulum too far toward a discipleship of thought. This is, admittedly, an impressionistic critique. Smith is a philosopher and theologian in the Reformed tradition, after all, and the Reformed are known to be punctilious about doctrine. Still, I would’ve liked to see more on the discipleship of the mind in the book.
Second, yes process, but also crisis. A process-orientation in discipleship focuses, as Smith does, on the development of spiritual habits. A crisis-orientation focuses on the necessity of decision. The characteristic forms of process-oriented discipleship are stable liturgies, the sacraments, and spiritual disciplines. The characteristic form of crisis-oriented discipleship, at least among evangelicals, is the altar call. As a Pentecostal, I would also add the call to come forward for Spirit-baptism or healing. There is little place for crisis in Smith’s book. Perhaps this is an overreaction to the crisis-orientation of evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, which often leave little room for process. Still, it seems to me that both are necessary to discipleship. Wesley was no slouch when it came to process. His followers weren’t called “Methodists” for nothing, after all. But he still stood outside the mines and called miners to repentance and faith. I didn’t see that in Smith’s book.
These two “yes, buts” notwithstanding, I intend to re-read and meditate further on Smith’s book. As a Pentecostal, I disagree with certain aspects of Smith’s Reformed liturgical heritage (infant baptism, for example), even as I am challenged by the overall thrust of the book. The heart is the heart of the matter. Any discipleship that fails to take that truth into account fails to achieve its aim.
There is a reason Smith is becoming influential. He is speaking to several issues that are important and prominent. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit is the latest attempt both to deal with the issues and the first book to really attempt to speak to a lay audience about them.
There are three real points being made in the book. First, we are not solely intellectual beings. God created us with intellects and brains, but also emotions and unconscious bias. We are not, to use his common phrase, "Brains on a stick." We are fully human, and we are intended to be that way by God. That may not seem like a big deal, but much of Christian culture has understood us to be Brains on a Stick. Our evangelism, discipleship and spiritual growth are often primarily oriented toward the intellect. There is also the anti-intellectual parts of Christianity. But they are in many ways just as oriented toward the Brain on a Stick idea, just using the insight in a different method.
The second point is that because we are not brains on a stick, we need to take into account the various ways that we are influenced and shaped. Jamie Smith uses the term 'liturgies' to describe the shaping activities that are all around us. Going to the mall is a consumerist liturgy. The bright airy buildings give us comfort and place. Our five senses are being engaged by Cinnabon and the skylights and the comfortable seating areas. We are being shaped by the feeding of our desires and absorbing our place in the world as consumer. Sports have a different liturgy. We feel a participant in something greater than ourself, we have the us vs them mentality encouraged.
Smith uses Liturgy to talk about the subtitle of the book, how any repetitive activity shapes us over time. As Christians, we want to be shaped to become Lovers of God so that we will become more like God and love the things that God loves. So Smith defends the concept of habit as spiritual formation. This includes, but is not limited to understanding our weekly Sunday morning worship and 'quiet times'.
You Are What You Love has an extended discussion of how these liturgies work in families, with children and education, and for adults through vocation. The illustration of these three chapters at the end moves the book from theoretical to illustrative, giving the reader a framework to see both habit and culture in new ways.
I have been convinced over time that worship should not be primarily about hearing a 45 minute informational message that encourages us to work harder or gives us more information, which we then are expected to put to use at home on our own. For Smith, our church worship should be focused on a sacramental re-orienting of loves to God. That re-orienting through sacramental worship is not a once a week fill up that gives us what we need until we come back again the next week to top off the tank. But the re-orientation should be the grounding in a communal re-orientation that continues throughout the week among that same community.
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Best part of the book is the title which speaks volumes about what is truly our hearts' desires.Read more