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James K.A. Smith book cover You Are What You Love

Book Review: James K.A. Smith, *You Are What You Love*

[Editor’s Note: This post was written by Dr. Andrew Bramsen. Dr. Bramsen is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Bethel University, where he specializes in comparative politics, political theory, and African politics and Islam. He’ll be co-leading our reading group on James K.A. Smith’s You are What You Love this fall.]

James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

What do you want? Smith begins with this question, suggesting that what we think we love and what we actually love are often two different things. The post-Enlightenment tendency for western Christians has been to treat people as “brains-on-a-stick,” primarily driven by what we think (3). Smith argues instead that human experience and historic Christian practice demonstrate that our loves—not our thoughts—show what we want. Thus effective discipleship requires practices that shape our loves, not teachings that reform our thoughts, and the central practice in this formation is rightly oriented Christian worship.

Smith uses the term “liturgies” to talk about these “formative, love-shaping rituals” (22) and argues that false worship results primarily from bad liturgies, not bad theology. Self-focused consumerist liturgies exemplified by the mall, the wedding industry, stadium events, internet use, and the smartphone culture are part of the problem. But for Smith it goes deeper, because so-called Christian worship often conforms to and reinforces these narcissistic societal liturgies. The solution is a return to historic Christian worship “oriented by the biblical story and suffused with the Spirit,” which offers “a counterformative practice that can undo the habituations of rival, secular liturgies” (79). To participate in true worship, we must join:

the unfolding drama of the God who acts… to play the role of God’s image bearers who care for and cultivate God’s creation, to the praise of his glory… This is not playacting or pretending: it is the role we were born to play. In becoming these characters, we become ourselves (88).

To achieve this end for which we were created, we need virtue-forming habits so we “desire what God desires” (85). Christian worship does this not by giving answers, but by inviting us to participate in the story, thereby grabbing our imagination and beginning to reorder our loves.

For worship to do this work of discipleship, it must be oriented around the biblical story in which God gathers and forgives us, gives us his word, invites us to commune with him and then sends us out into the world to serve. When churches exchange this historic form of worship for something that instead caters to a consumerist mindset, offers an inspirational pep talk, or seeks to make people feel comfortable, they essentially take a liturgy whose purpose is to promote worship of something other than God and pretend that they can make it function contrary to its nature.

Smith draws on Charles Taylor to argue that such liturgies lead to a “disenchanted” and “excarnate” Christianity. Taylor uses these terms to describe an unintended consequence of the Protestant Reformation, namely that focusing on individual reading (sola scriptura) and understanding (sola fide) turns us into “brains-on-a-stick” and reduces the role of the divine. However, God created this world to be an enchanted place where he could interact with mankind, and—after the fall—God himself became incarnate to redeem us. Smith applies Taylor’s critique to the continuing tendency to avoid the physical side of worship (partaking of the Eucharist, water baptism, kneeling, etc.) for an excarnate “heady” approach which looks more like a self-help program than something enchanted by the presence of God. This is problematic, because only when our worship is “re-enchanted” and “incarnational” in these physical, embodied ways can we truly participate in God’s story—and only his story can transform our loves and thus transform us.


The argument Smith makes in this book is timely. It builds on Christian reflections from Augustine’s Confessions to Robert Webber’s ancient-future series to Smith’s own Desiring the Kingdom, but resonates with the contemporary world in a new way. Smith’s account of how our practices too often misshape our loves is powerful as he walks us through the particular appeals of consumerism, society’s glorification of weddings over marriage, and the problematic priority we give to digital devices. Each of these liturgies promotes a focus on ourselves and our desires and steers us away from the far greater story we were created to participate in. We live in an age that promotes continual updates and improvements for their own sake, creating a vicious cycle in which we always want—but can never really attain—the latest and greatest thing. In the midst of this frenetic world, Smith highlights the value of receiving historic Christian practices as enduring gifts that help us rightly order our loves, just as they have for Christians down through time, and he shows how this deep continuity remains a radical call to discipleship.

While there is a certain irony in a book telling us that what we need is not more information, throughout the book Smith focuses our attention on a series of practical examples that show how the liturgies we engage in shape the course of our lives. His compelling argument challenges us to turn from his book both to carefully reconsider how the way we live shapes what we love and to recognize as we do so the limits of our own knowledge and our need for the enduring wisdom of the church. This book is a significant contribution to that wisdom.

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2016-17 Events Preview & Annual Theme: The Dynamics of Difference

With the start of the fall semester coming up in just a few weeks, we’re excited to announce our annual theme for the 2016-17 academic year: The Dynamics of Difference. Here’s Program Director Andrew Hansen, explaning the rationale and scope of this year’s theme:

American society is deeply divided. We’re more politically divided than in any time in our recent past, and the current election cycle is exposing how divided we are even within our current political parties. On a daily basis, we’re confronted with reports of violence and counter-violence, in places like Orlando, Dallas, Baton Rouge, and right here in the Twin Cities, that expose the deep racial, political, and cultural differences within our society.

And as the recent events in France, Syria, Iraq, and Germany make clear, violence arising from difference isn’t unique to the American situation. For better and worse, globalization puts me side-by-side (or, more often, tweet-by-tweet) with people from around the world who often have very different beliefs and cultures than my own. The possibilities for misunderstanding and conflict arising from difference seem more pronounced today in our pluralized world than ever before.

Must differences lead to conflicts resolved only through violence? Are there ways of understanding difference and reconciling conflicts that can help us chart a better path in a globalized world? How do the Christian faith and the “ministry of reconciliation” that the Apostle Paul says is given to Christians address these deep fractures that exist in our world?

These are the sorts of questions we’ll ask this coming academic year as we pursue an annual theme on “The Dynamics of Difference.” We’ll examine differences of many kinds: economic, historical, racial, cultural, religious, social, intellectual, to name just a few.

We’ll be hosting many different conversations related to this theme. The specific topics and forms of these conversations will vary, but here’s a preview of what’s coming up this academic year:

Fall Events

In September we’ll host a conversation with Dr. Chris Armstrong of Wheaton, author of Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians. We’ll consider how recovering a very different kind of Christianity—from the Middle Ages—can help us identify our own cultural blindspots.

Also in September, we’ll be hosting Dr. John Inazu, author of the excellent recent book Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference, which our director Bryan Bademan will be reviewing on our blog soon.

At the end of September, we’re throwing a party! Join us on September 30 for All Things, a fall benefit event at which we’ll be unveiling a new vision for the future of our organization—one based around our belief that in Christ, all things hold together. We’ll have delicious hors d’oeuvres, live music from Sara Groves, and compelling speakers like Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

In October and November, we’ll host a lecture on biblical foundations for conflict resolution and reconciliation, a talk by Jeff Van Duzer on why business matters to God, and a couple Luther-related events, commemorating the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. And that’s just our fall semester! Watch for more announcements about our upcoming events in weeks to come.

Fall Reading Groups

We’ll open registration for our fall reading groups as soon as possible. For now, here are a few of the books we’re planning to host reading groups on this fall:

This Year’s Holmer and Anderson Lectures

This year, our Holmer and Anderson Lectures will both take place in the spring. We’re excited to announce that this year’s Holmer Lecture—our 21st annual—will be given by Yale theologian Miroslav Volf. That lecture will discuss themes from his 2015 book Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World. Volf will seek a way forward in a religiously divided world—a way that makes room for vibrant, convicted religious belief while rejecting violence as a means to resolve those differences.

This year’s V. Elving Anderson Lecture in Science & Religion—the fourth annual Anderson Lecture—will be given by Dr. Charmaine Royal, Associate Professor of African & African American Studies and Genome Sciences & Policy at Duke University. Dr. Royal’s work is wide-ranging and fascinating—truly interdisciplinary—exploring, according to her faculty page, the intersections of “ethical, psychosocial, and societal issues in genetics and genomics, primarily issues at the intersection of genetics/genomics and concepts of ‘race,’ ancestry, and ethnicity.”

Join Us!

For the latest information about our events, read this blog (you can subscribe with RSS), sign up for our email list, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

If you’re interested in a reading group, check our reading group page, where we’ll soon be posting registration information.

We hope you can join us for what’s going to be an excellent year!

Book Review: Friedrich Nietzsche's Anti-Education

Book Review: Friedrich Nietzsche, *Anti-Education*

Friedrich Nietzsche, Anti-Education: On the Future of Our Educational Institutions

“Education is dead. And we have killed it.” Or so one might summarize the message of these 1872 lectures on education given by Friedrich Nietzsche, freshly translated into English by Damion Searls. Nietzsche is better known for his later philosophical writings; these invited lectures on education came early in his career, just after his appointment as professor of philology at the University of Basel. While on the surface the lectures are more “occasional” than his later philosophical work, they’re surprisingly relevant critiques of trends in higher education that remain with us today: a hyper-specialization that fragments and isolates knowledge, a utilitarian evaluation of education’s worth, and the subordination of education for state purposes.

The lectures take the form of Nietzsche’s narrating an overheard conversation among college students and older philosopher. (As Alan Jacobs notes, this form makes it difficult to say with certainty what Nietzsche thought about the educational systems of his day, though it seems safe to read them as a mouthpiece for at least some of Nietzsche’s own critiques.) Given the cultural moment in which Nietzsche produced his lectures, the evaluation of German education that emerges is surprisingly pessimistic. The educational reforms in German-speaking Europe during the nineteenth century’s first decades had transformed education. These reforms breathed new life in the moribund German university of the eighteenth-century, reanimating it as a leading institution of knowledge and cultural production in Europe. By the time Nietzsche was writing, the world had taken notice. The latter part of the nineteenth-century saw a swell of British and American students crossing the English channel and the Atlantic, journeying to German universities in order to experience what they considered the greatest institutions of advanced learning in the world.

Yet Nietzsche looks past the rhetoric surrounding German education and aims his critique at two contemporary trends: “the drive for the greatest possible expansion and dissemination of education” and “the drive for the narrowing and weakening of education.” Though on their surface contradictory, Nietzsche argues that these two educational trends reinforce one another to “ruinous” effect (15). As Nietzsche witnesses education expanding to a much wider segment of the middle classes, he critiques a rising mediocrity among both students and teachers in secondary and university education. And the growth in enrollment comes mostly at the expense of more humanistic orientations toward education. Nietzsche laments the loss of Bildung—a kind of comprehensive humanistic cultural and spiritual formation—as an educational ideal, and the rise instead of a utilitarianism that valued education for its instrumental ends, especially the economic, political, and social benefits to the state. With growing technical specialization among the academic disciplines—which Nietzsche memorably terms “scholarly obesity” (47)—comes the loss of synthetic unity and education’s ability to serve as a guide for life well-lived. Nietzsche’s icon for this narrowing was the academic philologist, immersed in the minutiae of parsing Greek and Latin words while completely losing sight of classical culture and (even more importantly) the profound relevance of that culture for the present.

Critique comes through clearly in the lectures; proposals for reform not at all. In later lectures, he longs for an educational system in which individual genius could be produced through submission to intellectual authorities, disciplining “genius” in order to allow it mature and flourish. Only then might the “German spirit” attain the levels of cultural achievement for which Nietzsche and many of contemporaries believed it was destined.

While Nietzsche’s calls for cultural authority and the triumph of the German spirit sound troubling this side of two world wars, nevertheless his educational critiques resonate with contemporary concerns about American higher education. We, too, have experienced a “dumbing down” of higher education accompanying the twentieth-century’s massive expansion of college enrollment. The bachelor’s degree has effectively become little more than prerequisite for white collar work, or, in the words of one recent critic, a “modern day finishing school” for professional life. Utilitarianism likewise seems more rampant than ever. College instructors frequently lament that students—even at top universities—approach their education more as a series of hoops to jump through in order to land the necessary credential for a desirable job, rather than as a process of developing mind and character. And the noisy fights of the last couple of years over “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and the like point to a troubling desire among students that college education be comfortable rather than transformative (which almost always requires some measure discomfort and even pain).

Nietzsche left his lectures unfinished, envisioning no constructive proposal for a way through his contemporary “crisis of higher ed.” We live today in a similar moment, where the crises of higher education seems clear, but the way forward still unknown.

Banner image for "Integration of Science & Faith," a conference on Saturday, April 18 at Constant Free Church

Integrating Science and Faith:
Recommended Reading from John Walton and Keith B. Miller

Integrating Science & Faith

Science and faith. Many people feel that these subjects don’t blend well. Some public intellectuals loudly proclaim that modern scientific discoveries have disproven the God of the Bible. They are ready to sweep Christianity into the dust bin of history. Even some Christians wonder whether they can really trust the Bible. How can scriptures written thousands of years ago possibly be relevant in our modern scientific world?

Other Christians harbor deep suspicions of the scientific community. They know that God’s word is reliable and true. Yet people of faith sometimes feel that their way of life is under attack from the relentless advance of the scientific enterprise. They don’t feel that scientists can be trusted. Everyone makes mistakes, after all, don’t they? How can scientists really claim to know how old the earth is, or how our universe came to be? If you have ever asked yourself questions like these, then these lectures are for you.

The Integration of Science and Faith Seminar featured Dr. John Walton of Wheaton and Dr. Keith Miller of Kansas State. It was hosted by Constance Free Church in partnership with MacLaurinCSF and took place on Saturday, April 18, 2015. The video recordings of the lectures are available on our YouTube channel; the audio is available for download on Soundcloud:

Recommended Reading

We asked our speakers, as well as other science-minded Christian friends, for their recommendations of the best books on science and faith. We then divided the books into several categories, so you can choose according to your areas of interest.

Most of these books don’t fall neatly into any one category, however—they’re rich works that engage science, theology, and Biblical studies in significant ways. So, for instance, although the books in the “Science” category were written by scientists, they’re very strong on the “faith” side as well.

Books by Our Speakers

  • Keith B. Miller (editor), Perspectives on an Evolving Creation
  • John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology & the Origins Debate
  • John Walton, The Lost World of Adam & Eve: Genesis 2-3 & the Human Origins Debate
  • John Walton & D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture & Biblical Authority

Introductory Books

  • Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
  • Francis S. Collins (editor), Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith
  • Deborah B. Haarsma & Loren D. Haarsma, Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, & Intelligent Design
  • N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues

Scripture

  • C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, & Theological Commentary
  • John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology & the Origins Debate
  • John Walton, The Lost World of Adam & Eve: Genesis 2-3 & the Human Origins Debate
  • John Walton & D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture & Biblical Authority
  • N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues

Science

  • Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?
  • Deborah B. Haarsma & Loren D. Haarsma, Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, & Intelligent Design
  • Keith B. Miller (editor), Perspectives on an Evolving Creation
  • Davis A. Young & Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks, & Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth

History

  • Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists
  • Ronald L. Numbers, Galileo Goes to Jail & Other Myths about Science & Religion
  • Davis A. Young & Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks, & Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth

Theology

  • Francis S. Collins (editor), Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith
  • Darrel R. Falk, Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith & Biology
  • John F. Haught, Deeper than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution
  • John F. Haught, Science & Faith: A New Introduction
  • Alister McGrath, Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith, & How We Make Sense of Things
  • John Polkinghorne, Faith, Science, & Understanding
  • John Polkinghorne, Science & Providence: God’s Interaction with the World
  • John Polkinghorne (editor), The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis

Other Useful Resources

Katharine Hayhoe on climate change and the Christian faith

Introducing Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Our Third Annual Anderson Lecturer

Update: Media from Katharine Hayhoe’s visit are now available! Here are the audio and video recordings. Visit our YouTube channel and our Soundcloud page for more media.

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, will give our third annual V. Elving Anderson Lecture in Science and Religion on Thursday, April 21. Dr. Hayhoe holds degrees in physics and astronomy from the University of Toronto and in atmospheric science from the University of Illinois. Dr. Hayhoe is the daughter of missionaries; her husband Andrew Farley is an evangelical pastor.

As a climate scientist with a faculty appointment in a political science department, Dr. Hayhoe is both an exceptional scientist and also “perhaps the best communicator on climate change,” according to Professor John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas. Because of her unique combination of faith, her scientific understanding, and her gifts in teaching and communication, Dr. Hayhoe has been featured widely in the media—including film, television, and online venues. Here are some of the articles, interviews, and talks that will give you a good sense of Dr. Hayhoe as a scientist and as a Christian:

Portrait of Dr. Katharine Hayhoe on a farm

General Overviews

Film and Television

Interviews

Other Media and Resources

Join us next week for what will be a rich, fascinating lecture and discussion. We’ll be hosting a reception after the event at our study center, and we hope you’ll join us there to continue the conversation.