You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith (Or, how do you grow in love?)

You are what you love

James K.A. Smith in his book You Are What You Love. According to Smith, love is “a baseline inclination” of the heart (16). All people love something at the core of their being. Not only is love at the core of who people are; love is a virtue. And “virtues, quite simply, are good moral habits” (16). We can see evidence of virtues when Christ-like characteristics become “second nature” (17).

So how do we grow in Christ and acquire such virtues (17)? First, we acquire virtues through imitation. We see what others do, and then follow their example. Second, we practice the virtues (18). This understanding of the virtues also comports well with Tim Keller’s view of love in his book, The Meaning of Marriage. Keller writes, “You can change your heart over the long haul through your actions” (106).  We grow in love by loving–by actually doing acts of love–not  merely by “feeling” in love. Keller argues for a distinction between feelings and actions (105). God commands us to love our neighbors, which means we must act with love towards them.

Love is a habit, which takes practice to develop. How do we develop this godly habit of love? Smith’s answer: worship (22-23). As we worship, what we love changes. Naturally, this leads to the question: What is the practice of worship? “Liturgy” is Smith’s answer.

In competition with a God-ordained liturgy, Smith shows rival “liturgies” are practiced in the wider culture. For example, going to the mall does something to us! The mall is not a neutral place, but actually seeking to influence us in certain ways. How then do we displace the counter liturgies of the world which lure us and train us?

We must practice liturgy (61). It means connecting to a covenantal community (i.e. the  church). Second, we must commit to practices that we won’t naturally want to do (62). (We must be committed “spiritual disciplines” to use a concept from Dallas Willard). Smith advocates for both individual disciplines and corporate disciplines: “I want to supplement [Dallas] Willard’s emphasis on the individual practices of the spiritual disciplines with what might be a counterintuitive thesis in our ‘millennial’ moment: that the most potent, charged, transformative site of the Spirit’s work is found in the most unlikely of places—the church!” (68). To quote Craig Dykstra, “The life of Christian faith is the practice of many practices” (68).

What practices constitute the “means of grace” or spiritual disciplines?

  • The Word
  • Prayer
  • Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper)
  • Singing
  • Giving
  • Serving

Worship reforms our loves. Proper worship must “properly liturgical.” Although the Protestant Reformers often wrote against liturgy because of its association with Roman Catholicism, Smith writes that, “The problem was not liturgy per se, but disordered liturgies” (69). The Reformers criticized man-centered liturgies. Man-centered liturgies emphasized people’s actions. Through their actions, people were taught they could earn God’s favor. God-centered liturgies are different: “Christian worship is nothing less than an invitation to participate in the life of the Triune God” (70).

Since worship forms them, Christians need to be conscious and intentional about forms of worship. If we unhook worship from mere expressionism, it would change the way we view repetition. If worship is primarily about “expressing yourself,” then you won’t want to repeat the same songs, or practices. Doing so will be insincere or inauthentic to you. However, if worship is really an encounter with God who reshapes your deepest habits (loves), then repetition is a good thing. It’s the way that God changes our habits. When viewed this way, repetition isn’t insincere. You’re submitting to God and allowing Him to change you. There is no growth “without practice and no practice without repetition.” (80).

It is thoughtful and intentional practice which changes us. Take a golf swing. You could go out to the golf course and just swing a golf club. But you would develop a bad habit. To change into being a good golf player, you would need to think and be intentional about changing your swing. After time, you would have to think less as your swings would be instinctual. Growing as a golfer would mean continuing to practice your swing and becoming more conscious of other areas in need of improvement. You form your habits; then your habits form you.



Blogging the Institutes–1.12.1–One God; No Idols

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

One God; No Idols

At the beginning of my work I made the claim that knowledge of God does not consist of mere “head” knowledge but actually leads us to worship Him. I will talk at length in other places about the proper way to worship God. For now, I want to talk about God’s unity. When Scripture speaks of God’s unity, it not only speaks of His name but also that anything applied to God should not be applied to any other thing. Scripture makes clear the difference between true worship and superstition.

The Greeks themselves have a word for “right worship.” Although they were feeling around in the darkness, they still recognized that certain rules were needed to govern the worship of God.  Cicero points out that the word religion was related to the word relego. But he makes a farfetched application. He believes that true worshippers read and read again and ponder what it true. In contrast, I believe the word religion speaks of order and rules in opposition licentiousness in worship. People usually worship however they deem fit. Whereas though who are true worshippers, will worship within the proper bounds.

In a similar way, superstition seems to take its name from the fact that it’s not curtailed by reason. Rather, superstition accumulates pointless rituals and beliefs. Everyone admits that religion is corrupted whenever false opinions are injected into it. Most of what is done in the name of superstition cannot be defended. And yet, people still refuse to worship the one, true God or follow His rules concerning proper worship.

But God is a jealous God. He is a fearsome avenger against anyone who confuses Him with a false “god.” Therefore, God defines worship. Consequently, people must follow His prescriptions, not their own. God binds His people to allegiance to only Himself, being the only Lawgiver. In His Law, He sets forth the rules for proper worship. The Law was given to be a bridle to curtail people to prevent them from turning to false worship practices. Therefore, unless everything that defines God is given to God alone, He is robbed of His honor and His worship is violated.

Superstition subtly steals worship from God. It seems to avoid abandoning the one, true God by giving Him the highest place. But He is surrounded by lesser deities. By doing this, superstition robs God of His glory. Both Jews and Gentiles did something similar by placing many other gods in subjection to the father and rulers of the gods. They assigned them rulership over the universe along with the supreme God. Some even exalted the saints to a partnership with God so that they would be worshipped and adored too. Such superstition blinds people to the glory of God. All they have left is a some speculation about God’s power. Being entangled in superstition, people follow after other gods.

Blogging the Institutes–1.11.16–The Extreme Blasphemy of Idolaters

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

The Extreme Blasphemy of Idolaters 

I’ll now turn my attention to the worst expressions of idolatry. They are so strange that it’s hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t speak out against them much less advocate for them. Exposing these weird practices is the right thing to do so that they are deprived of their legitimacy. I do not want Catholics to be able to point out how the use of images was an ancient practice. For example, Theodosius Bishop of Amora fires off a condemnation against those who object to images. Another writer attributes all of the calamities that befell Greece and the East to the fact that they did not worship images. Why did the apostle and prophets suffer so much then? No images existed in their day!

Furthermore, they argue that if the image of the Emperor should be given a pinch of incense, then how much more the images of the saints? Constantius, Bishop of Constantia in Cyprus embraces images and even goes so far to say that they should be given the same honor as the Trinity. Every person who refuses to do so he labels a heretic. You might think that this line of thinking is isolated to a few individuals. It is not. John the Eastern legate goes on to say that it is better for a city to be filled with brothels than for the worship of images be denied in it. Some even say that while the Samaritans are heretics, those who deny the worship of images are even worse than the Samaritans. Before leaving this discussion, those who embrace the worship of images would sign off this way: “Rejoice and exult, you who have the image of Christ, and offer sacrifices to it.” The Second Council of Nicea relies on images as much as on the living God.

Blogging the Institutes–1.11.15–Scripture Doesn’t Actually Support Images

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Scripture Doesn’t Actually Support Images

When idolaters speak on the issue of worship, they make a big deal out the worship of Pharaoh, the staff of Joseph, and inscription which Jacob set up. In the case of Jacob, they not only pervert the meaning of Scripture, but they quote something which can’t even be found in the Bible! Let’s consider the other passages that they cite: “Worship at his footstool” (Psalm 99:5), “Worship in his holy mountain” (Psalm 99:9), and “The rulers of the people will worship before his face” (Psalm 72:11). Such texts can in no way be shown to support the use of images in churches.

Theodosius Bishop of Mira claims that images are proper to be worshipped because of a dream his arch-deacon had! He puts as much weight on this dream as if he received instruction from the very voice of God Himself. Go ahead and try to convince me that images are ok due to the Second Council of Nicea. The venerable fathers of the church handled Scripture in such a childish and immature way. They should be ashamed of themselves!

Blogging the Institutes–1.11.14–Second Council of Nicea Proves Nothing

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Second Council of Nicea Proves Nothing

I would wrap my discussion of images if were not for the Council of Nicea. I’m not talking about the famous “Council of Nicea” called by Emperor Constantine. I’m actually talking about the second council called eight hundred years later by Empress Irene. This Council not only said that images were appropriate for churches but also that they should be worshipped. Everything I have said already could be undercut by this Synod. I’m not convinced by this Synod, however. All I want to do is show the lengths that people will go to worship idols rather than become Christians.

Let’s dispatch this line of argument. Some who want to support the use of images in the church appeal to this Synod. The Synod can be refuted, however. Charlemagne, called for a collection of arguments against images to be compiled to counter the Synod. The refutation contains opinions of the bishops who were present and the argument they presented. John, the representative of the Eastern Churches, argued that since the Scriptures says that God created man “in His image” that images ought be used in churches. He also supported his case by appealing to the Scripture, “Show me your face, because it is beautiful.” Another bishops, to prove that images should be put on the altar, quotes Scripture: “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matthew 5:15). And another bishop, to show the usefulness of images, quotes a line from the Psalms, “Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” (4:6). 

Furthermore, another made this comparison: Just as the patriarchs of the Old Testament often used similar sacrifices as pagans, so also Christians should use images of the saints than the idols of the Gentiles. They also twisted the words of Scripture to support the use of images, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house, and the place where your glory dwells” (Psalm 26:8). But the most ingenious interpretation was this: “As we have heard, so also have we seen” (Psalm 48:8). Therefore, they reason, God is not only known through His word, but also by seeing images. Bishop Theodore wrote, “God is to be admired by the saints.” Elsewhere, it is said, “To the saints who are on the earth” must refer to images. In sum, these interpretations are so absurd that it’s painful to quote them. 

Blogging the Institutes–1.11.13–No Good Reason for Images in Churches

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

No Good Reason for Images in Churches

Let’s consider for a minute the practicalities of having art of any kind in churches. If we value tradition at all, then we’ll realize that in the first five-hundred years of the church’s existence, churches were free from representations of any kind. The first time art was introduced into churches was after a period of when the ministry had been degraded. I don’t want to get into a dispute as to whether it’s logical to have art in churches or not. What I want to do is compare the two time periods: before images and after images. The period in the church’s history after images were introduced showed great decline compared to the time before they were introduced. Why? Should we suppose that the church fathers would have allowed images if they believed them to be useful for worship? No way! The early church fathers saw the danger in images and rejected their use on rational grounds. They did not refuse to use them because they didn’t know about them. They refused them intentionally.

Augustine clearly attests to this: “When images are placed in the seat of honor, to be seen by those praying or sacrificing, even though they do not have any life but appear as if they do, they affect weak minds just as if they were living and breathing.” In another passage, he writes, “The effect which is produced by images distorts the worshipper’s true perception of reality.” Again, he writes, “Images easily give a wrong idea to an unhappy person. They give off the impression they can see, hear, talk, or taste, because they have mouths, eyes, ears, and feet. But in reality, they cannot.” Because idols lead us astray, the apostle John warns us not only to stay away from the worship of idols, but also from the idols themselves (1 John 5:21).

Furthermore, we know all too well from experience that as soon as images appear in churches, idolatry is not far behind. Sinful people cannot resist falling into superstitious worship. Even though the danger might be less with other kinds of art, I still don’t believe any other kind of art should be in churches. Only the living symbols which the Lord Himself has given us should be displayed in churches: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through these symbols our eyes should be firmly fixed on Christ. We don’t need any man-made image. The blessing of the sacraments is so much greater than that which could come through any image that it even isn’t worth comparing the two!

Don’t Do an Altar Call; Call for a Response Instead

Altar calls have had a controversial place in the history of the American church. Some churches may do them practically every week, while other churches do not believe that altar calls are biblical. Even those who would resist doing a stereotypical altar calls, or “hand raise” (“…every head bowed, every eye closed…”), still believe in calling for a response to the preaching of the gospel. How can pastors call for a response to the gospel and yet not fall prey to unbiblical practices or forcing people into making hasty emotional decisions? Theologian Michael Green provides a helpful method in his book, Evangelism Through the Local Church

First, as the sermon winds to a close, the preacher must give a “clear and reasonably rounded presentation of the gospel” (252). Otherwise, preachers become like salesmen. After clearly presenting the gospel, it is entirely appropriate to urge unbelievers to come to Christ. Such is Paul’s heart in 2 Corinthians 5:20: “We urge you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Then, Green suggests giving a time of silence for the people. He might repeat a prominent verse of Scripture that has been presented in the sermon and then provide one or two minutes of silence (254). After the time of silence, he suggests giving a prayer of commitment for “those who want to use it, and only for them” (254). Green’s example explanation and prayer goes something like this:

I say: ‘If you feel you don’t know how to put it, why not use something very simple like this? You could say it after me under your breath if you like. “Lord, please forgive me, and come take up residence in my life. Amen” (254).

Green goes on bless the congregation, speaking about God’s promises and how He will never leave or forsake the people who put their trust in Christ. After the blessing, he says something like this for follow up:

One thing more, as you go. If you have taken that step of opening up to Christ, and if you have prayed that prayer with me just now, I would love to meet you briefly. I want to invite you into what we call a Discovery Group. It is an eight-week course on Christian foundations, and we have one or more groups starting this coming week. I think you will find it a great place to join a group like this where there is plenty of chance for questions and discussion, but where we take a major theme of the Christian life and study it each week. If you intend to be serious with Christ, come and join one of these groups. You need it, and you will benefit from it a great deal. I have the details here at the front (or the back, or wherever you think fit). Come and sign up and I’ll see you have the details about which groups you are in by tomorrow (254).

Another way to draw people to you after the service is to offer people a book on basic Christian living. Green writes, “If at the end of your talk you mention that you have such material, it gives them something to come and ask for and therefore minimizes the embarrassment of going to talk to a minister about God at the end of a service.” (254).