Friday, April 8, 2016

You Are More Defined by What You Love than What You Believe

That's the idea behind James K.A. Smith's book that has just been released, You Are What You Love. Smith explains the ideas behind the book in this interview with Justin Taylor, which gives you a good summary of what he means and why it's helpful.

I have looked forward to this book, more than any other, for many months. I wrote about this book in December before its release, and compared it with the approach of worldview training: What Drives You? Does Christianity Capture Your Head But Not Your Heart? Both are valuable. The very important insights in Smith's book are especially important because they point out what worldview training often overlooks or underestimates. In Smith's words: “The Augustinian point is that you are defined by what you love. It’s your loves that govern your action and pursuits. Indeed, you are more defined by what you love than what you think or know or believe.”

In other words, when faced with a dilemma between what you desire and what you believe, you are likely to follow what you desire. That's one reason that raising kids with the right Christian doctrine or consistent worldview teaching just isn't enough to keep them involved in church. If we don't shape their hearts and desires so that they love and delight in the worship of God, then their hearts will lead them elsewhere. It's not as if beliefs and doctrine are irrelevant; what you think does influence what you do. It's just that your beliefs must penetrate to your heart and be matched by what you enjoy and love. If they aren't, then what you enjoy and love will work against what you believe and often overrule it. Like a car that always pulls to the right on the road because it's out of alignment, as long as your heart is drawn away by loving something other than Christ, you will have to do a lot of extra work and show constant attention simply to keep the vehicle going straight. Imagine what a joy it would be if the wheels were in alignment and your heart went straight for Christ on its own.

So Smith's book is exciting and valuable because it helps replace the missing pieces in much of Christian teaching and worldview training. For those who have been struggling to make progress in directing their lives toward God, this book may be the thing that helps you lay aside every weight and run freely.

Smith makes another very important observation that every Christian should consider: whether we know it or not, there are habits and practices in our lives that are shaping our desires and defining what we love. We don't just come with the wrong desires built in - there is plenty of that, but we also build the wrong desires up and give them power by what we feed them. You can be working very hard to study the Bible and to develop a Christian worldview, and at the same time you may be surrounded by habits and social patterns that are making your desire for things other than God very strong. Spending a lot of time studying and learning about God isn't going to change you if at the same time your daily life is building and strengthening a love for something other than God. Like an alcoholic sitting in a bar surrounded by people drinking (my illustration, not Smith's), it really doesn't matter how much you believe your alcoholism is lethal or how much you believe it is wrong to drink. If you are immersed in an environment that is saturating you with the aroma and temptation of something you want very much, and you are choosing to keep inhabiting that environment, you are likely to give in. Beliefs and knowledge alone will not usually stop you unless you also love what you believe in more than you love what you are tempted by.

A lot of the value in Smith's work is his detection of these different practices and habits in our lives, and his explanation of how we can develop practices that will feed good desires and grow our love for God. You Are What You Love is a good manual for figuring out what is hindering your love for God and learning how to reshape that and stoke the fires of good desires for godly things. Shaping your heart, and the hearts of your children, is a crucial part of Christian discipleship. I hope this book will be a powerful encouragement and help to many people.

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