In You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, James K. A. Smith makes a compelling case for the centrality of Christian worship to spiritual formation. As an organization that shares much in common with the book's vision, the Center for Baptist Renewal has asked several of its fellows to provide reflections on the book, particularly as it relates to their unique ministries. Their thoughts are provided below. We hope they will inspire your own interest in Smith's work and your own reflections on how the book might be applied to your context.
1. Nathan A. Finn, Dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University, TN
"As an academic dean, I wake up almost every day and mull over the question, “What does it mean to be an intentionally Christ-centered university for such a time as this?” Of course, it means being a “church-related” institution. In the case of Union University, we are affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. It also surely means embracing priorities such as the important of the Christian worldview, the integration of faith and learning, and the coherence of the Christian Intellectual Tradition. And it means offering our campus community opportunities for corporate worship, discipleship, and mission. Yes and amen! But how can we “advance the ball” of Christ-centered higher education in ways that honor God and contribute to human flourishing at this particular moment in history?
I’ve read Jamie Smith’s You Are What You Love twice since it was first published last year, including this spring with a class filled with students majoring and minoring in our School of Theology and Missions. This summer, my faculty are reading it in anticipation of a discussion at our annual faculty workshop. I have been thinking about how Smith’s insights augment, supplement, and even correct how we think about Christian higher education. What healthy mutations could we introduce into our DNA through dialog with this book? I have many ideas, some half-formed, but for the purposes of this post I will focus on the importance of establishing “pedagogical liturgies” within the classroom.
We need professors who are able to establish a contextually appropriate rhythm to the classroom that understands a Christ-centered education to be as much about formation as it is information. These liturgical instructors would intentionally set apart their classrooms as “sacred space” wherein students are taught what it means to worship the Lord through the faithful pursuit of the discipline or profession being studied. In so doing, they would also push back against the disordered love of paychecks or careers or prestige or power that many college students (and professors!) too-often nurture.
So, what would a classroom “liturgy” look like? I suggest it would include several liturgical “movements” in each class session. First, the professor would begin with a call to worship by opening with an appropriate prayer. Next, the professor would turn to some combination of proclamation (teaching the content) and response (student interaction and application), depending upon the sort of class it is (lecture, discussion, etc.). Seminar-style classes especially would lend themselves to responsive readings. Then, the professor would move the class toward Eucharist, which is intentionally celebrating how God is at work in the discipline or profession through the material studied in class that day. Finally, the class would include with a benediction, a final word of exhortation. The professor would send the students out, equipped and encouraged by the knowledge they’ve gained in class, and commissioned to love God and neighbor as they apply insights from the class to their present and future contexts.
To approach the classroom liturgically would be a deeply countercultural thing to do. It would stretch most professors pedagogically and perhaps spiritually. It would directly confront many of the idols that plague higher education. This sort of liturgical vision of Christ-centered education is desperately needed in our post-Christian and increasingly anti-Christian era."
2. Earon M. James Sr., Lead Pastor of Relevant Life Church, FL
"I was pleasantly surprised at how this book provoked me to look inward at my own desires and motivations. One of the most powerful points that Smith makes is that discipleship is about curating your heart (2). I have begun to ask questions like, “Why do I want that?” As I have pondered my own heart, my prayer life has deepened in terms of petitioning the Lord to deal with the seat of my affections. I have even found myself considering my marriage and how my wife and I have committed to parenting our children. Even though the book inspired deep introspection, it was also encouraging. Smith makes his case without making you feel as though you’ve gone too far to turn around.
Beyond personal reflection, I have also took a step back to consider how our local church worships. As a pastor, I care deeply about the spiritual formation of the people that the Lord has called me to serve. I have taken some of the ideas from the book into our elder’s meetings. I wanted us to evaluate the order of our worship services, song selections, prayers, the tone of our sermons, and our overall philosophy of ministry. We have not made any sweeping changes, but it has been healthy for us to take another look.
It’s not just about what you expect, its also about what you inspect. We are striving to be intentional about the structure of our worship gatherings. Liturgy matters. Our church is young. It’s been a little over two years since we started this journey and after reading this book I would recommend it to anyone. However, I would most strongly recommend it to pastors."
3. Adrian Martinez, Elder at Redeemer Baptist Church, CA
"I had already read Smith's Desiring the Kingdom and was in the process of reading Imagining the Kingdom when You Are What You Love was released. I was immediately thankful for his fresh approach to similar themes covered in his prior work and benefited mostly from the accessibility of this new project.
You Are What You Love also provided help in my particular local church context. Around forty percent of our congregation at Redeemer Baptist Church are college students. While we are careful to frequently explain our way through the liturgy (for most, this is their first exposure to these historic practices), we are aware that explaining what we do is different from explaining why we do what we do.
This is where Smith has been most beneficial for us. With language borrowed from Smith, we often communicate that our practices are more than a mere nod to our history or another opportunity for intellectual exercise. Since, as Smith writes, we are not simply “thinking things,” our gatherings are about far more than pre-sermon preparation, sermon, and post-sermon reflection. Rather, through embodied rituals and story, our gatherings are times of heart formation and reorientation. After all, God is far more active in our gathered practices than we are, and through structured readings, songs, prayers, and ordinances, He is shaping the hearts and imaginations of his people."
4. Amy Carter Whitfield, Director of Communications at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, NC
"You Are What You Love has brought insight and inspiration to many readers as they seek to re-center their lives around what they know to be good and true. James K. A. Smith gets at the heart of the issue when he shows us exactly that— the heart is the issue rather than the head. We can know what is best, but until we actually want it, we will never pursue it in full. Personally, I am challenged by the call to order my life and the life of my family around the worship of Christ.
In my ministry, I spend my days telling stories, hoping to accurately communicate institutional values that will attract the attention of those we want to reach. It is easy to let analytical thinking completely drive the creative process, and to follow a set formula to achieve results. While there are tools that can help us to know how people are responding— and they can be used appropriately and effectively—we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are speaking to people’s hearts. We are pursuing a common love, and true connection requires us to truly know our desires and to share them. This book is a significant contribution not just to individual believers but to the community of faith as we live and work together and pursue the goals that are ultimately driven by what we love."