Book in Review: "You Are What You Love"


You Are What You Love begins philosophically as author James K. Smith looks to answer some foundational questions as to what it means for us to be human at our deepest core. Smith addresses these questions elaborately and beautifully. We are not primarily thinkers. We are not brains on the ends of sticks--cerebral beings living off of the facts we accumulate. People do not change while doing math homework. In reality we are rather more “lovers than thinkers,” Smith argues, and I could not agree more!

Interestingly enough Jesus recognized the same thing as he asked people not “what do you know?” or “what do you think?” but “what do you want?” When Jesus met the woman at the well he looked to satisfy not her theological questions, but her thirst. Borrowing from Augustine, (we are restless until we find our rest in you) Smith accurately shows in the introductory chapters of this book that our whole life’s quest is a direction toward some love.

Perhaps where Smith and I deviate is in the magisterial prominence he places on liturgical traditions in church services (which is the thrust of this book). Smith makes a compelling case for a less (what he calls) man-centric approach to worship, and instead: a God initiated repertoire that reprograms our hearts with the story of grace. As opposed to more scattered and spontaneous contemporary styles, a liturgy is a practice that trains our loves, he argues. Smith’s point is well made I understand there is value in a liturgical worship format. However, I disagree that a more structured and cyclical worship service at 10AM on a Sunday morning is the necessary or even the primary way to adjust inward affections.

The temptation for heavily reformed people like Smith is (ironically) to borrow predominately from Christianity’s rich tradition over and beyond Biblical foundations. David certainly sang songs to his Lord from the spontaneous dare I say “expressive” overflow of his heart as he wrote: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you.” David for one appears far less concerned with the intricacies of who was initiating the worship, and just praised the Lord from his heart of hearts because he could not contain it! Even the New Testament model of singing Psalms, hymns, and Spiritual songs seems far less regulated than many modern liturgical traditions. What makes a church a church is not a liturgical rhythmic calendar, but rather believers united in one Spirit, devoting themselves to apostles teaching, breaking of bread, fellowship, and prayer. That is it.

What I expected in Smith’s conclusions was for him to highlight the love forming habits of spiritual disciplines and “personal liturgies.” Day in and day out rhythms that direct our affections upwards and away from counterfeits through the power of accountability in a Spirit filled community. This he does, but very marginally. I do not question that there is value in liturgical worship services, but Smith’s absolute dogmatic position on a liturgical model of church--which even advised readers to leave churches that lack the “narrative arc” of worship--I found rather disquieting.

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