As Christians, we define ourselves as God’s image-bearers, sent out into the world to build, renew and transform culture. But is thinking it enough? What do we actually love?
Dr. James K. A. Smith responded to these questions in his keynote address, “You Are What You Love”, titled after the book of the same name, at the Redeemer Centre for Christian Scholarship’s annual fall conference. Smith is a professor of philosophy at Calvin College and a well-known public intellectual and cultural critic.
“We all operate according to our deepest desires.”
“What if, instead of starting from the assumption that human beings are thinking things, we started from the conviction that humans are first and foremost, lovers?” says Smith. At the crux of Smith’s argument is the notion that human beings are defined by their hearts rather than their heads: we are what we love.
“We all operate according to our deepest desires,” asserts Smith. “To be human is to be a liturgical animal, a creature whose loves are shaped by worship.”
Cultural practices are embodied forms of worship, sometimes taking the form of rival stories, they offer us rival kingdoms rather than the kingdom of God. Smith used the example of shopping malls and consumerism—a predominant narrative in Western society—as a case study, attempting to “read” its liturgies.
Rather than confess our sins, the gospel of consumerism encourages us to consume in order to create our own happiness. It tells us to tell ourselves that goods and services will save us. Malls are also used as community gathering places. The similarities with church are not coincidental. “The liturgy of consumption births in us a desire for a way of life that we can’t feasibly extend to others,” states Smith.
Ultimately, Smith urged the audience to take a “liturgical audit” of their lives, challenging Christians to pause to reflect on the rituals and rhythms in their lives.
Smith’s keynote was part of the Redeemer Centre for Christian Scholarship’s annual fall conference. Hosted by the Centre, three Christian thinkers dug into faith in the digital age. Read more.