You Are What You Love – James K.A. Smith

James Smith’s You Are What You Love is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Period. I’ve read Smith before and found his thought process quite technical while being wonderfully readable. He has a gift of simplifying the complex, putting shoes on those theoretical feet. In this excellent book, he challenges the post-Enlightenment notion that humans are at their core “thinking things.” Smith argues humans, as beings made in God’s image, are at their core “lovers.” This seemingly small difference is actually cosmic in scale.

Here’s a thought I have after reading this . . . WOW. (I know, now really a thought) 1 John 4 says “God is love” not “God thinks therefore he is.” And, as beings made in his image, meaning made to be his emissaries and do on our scale what He does, we should see ourselves primarily as “lovers” not “thinkers.” As one who works in Christian education where it is easy to fall into the belief that if we simply put the right biblical “information” in them, then our students will get it, Smith challenges my paradigm by saying, “discipleship is more a matter of reformation than of acquiring information.” (p. 19) That phrase alone is enough to cause a personal paradigm shift.

Smith’s work enables the reader to begin seeing the reality lying just below the surface projections. If read carefully, Smith reforms the eyes so that rather than seeing projections of pseudo-reality, the eyes actually catch the liturgy, the formational message being delivered by our books, movies, TV shows, sporting events, and malls. He emphasizes passionately that we our behaviors are actually not us doing something, but those behaviors are doing something to us.

The title of the book (seen also in the image from Amazon above) comes from the refrain throughout the book which emphasizes the truth that humans do what they love, despite what they think they love. My behaviors are far more indicative of my desires than my intellectual desires. My behaviors reflect my habits, and my habits are formed through a repeated pattern of pursuing my loves. Hence, I become what I habitually do (despite what I think), and I habitually do what I want most.

Wow.

Too much to mention here. If I were to comment on all the important sections of Smith’s work, I’d definitely break some type of copyright law. Maybe the most meaningful portion of the book to me was Smith’s words on Christian education and reformation. When Smith wrestles with the honest end game in Christian educaiton he says,

it’s not only a matter of teaching students about the faith, nor it is merely a matter of teaching them to think about the world from a “Christian perspective.” A holistic Christian education does both of these things but also aims to habituate students in the faith, seeing the school as an extended opportunity to create a learning environment that is not just informative bu formative. A holistic Christian learning environment doesn’t just fill the intellect; it fuels the imagination. (p. 155)

Education cannot simply about filling the mind with information, no matter how biblical. Our culture is not too worried about instructing students on why not to be Christian; rather, the world simply forms their behaviors against Christ and doesn’t care whether the mind follows or not. After all, You Are What You Love not what you think. With this being true, the only way to truly combat the world’s behavior habituation is to counter it with Christ-like habituation. Yes, there will be a need to inform the mind. Priority, however, ought to be giving to reforming the heart. What you love (evidenced by what you do) matters more than what you think.

I may have to write other posts about other passages in Smith’s work. So much of this book blessed me. I hope you purchase a copy. I believe you’ll be blessed, too.

 

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