‘Cardiac Discipleship’: Five Ways to Pursue the Heart in Spiritual Formation

you-areYou Are What You Love is a needed corrective to overly cerebral approaches to discipleship. It is a challenge to followers of Christ to evaluate how ‘secular liturgies’ are training our hearts to love things other than God and our neighbor. And it presents a vision of discipleship that does more than just cement spiritual disciplines in new believers; it calls us seek first the kingdom and to live with hearts enlarged for Christ and his glory.

In what follows I share a few quotes where Smith speaks directly about discipleship. I hope they will whet your appetite for your book and pique your interest in how discipleship is a matter of heart cultivation.

1. Discipleship cultivates the appetite and curates the heart.

While discipleship is a matter of learning, it is more like learning how to cook than to read code. Disciples hunger and thirst for the things of God and know how to feed on him, and good ‘disciplers’ seek to cultivate cravings in the heart of new believers. So,

Discipleship is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing. Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our love and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all—a vision encapsulated by the shorthand ‘the Kingdom of God.’ (2) Continue reading

Liturgical Lathes: Exposing Modern Temples with Their Faux-Gospels

latheI suggest that, on one level, Victoria’s Secret is right just where the church has been wrong. More specifically, I think we should first recognize and admit that the marketing industry—which promises an erotically charge transcendence through media that connects to our heart and imagination—is operating with a better, more creational, more incarnational, more holistic anthropology then much of the (evangelical) church. In other words, I think we must admit that the marketing industry is able to capture, form, and direct our desires precisely because it has rightly discerned that we are embodied, desiring creatures whose being-in-the-world is governed by the imagination. Marketers have figured out the way to our heart because they ‘get it’: they rightly understand that, at root, we our erotic creatures—creatures who are oriented primarily by love and passion and desire. In sum, I think Victoria is in on Augustine’s secret.
– James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 76 –

What is Augustine’s secret?

In my first post on this subject, I traced James K. A. Smith’s argument that we are more than just thinking beings. We are loving beings, people of deep desires, who are powerfully shaped by our habits and practices (hence homo liturgicus). As Augustine put it, there exists within humanity, two kinds of cities—the City of God and the City of Man. And each city is driven by a particular kind of love; one ordered by the kingdom of God, the other by the kingdom of this age. This is (part of) Augustine’s secret, one that he discovered himself as he came out of a lifestyle of deep sexual sin.

In truth, made in the image of a God who exults over his people with loud singing (Zechariah 3:17) and burns with fire in his righteous jealousy (Exodus 20:5; Hebrews 12:29), we are a people of great passion. Passions are what drive us, and our bodies (with their faculties of thinking or acting) serve as instrument to express and carry out these passions. Accordingly, it is impossible cultivate virtue or eradicate vice with mental effort alone. We must “learn to control our bodies” (1 Thessalonians 4:4) and use our bodies as instruments which bring God glory (1 Corinthians 6:18–19).

But how? Continue reading

Liturgical Lathes: Idolatry, Imagination, and James K. A. Smith’s ‘Homo Liturgicus’

jkasFew books have been more illuminating for me in 2016 than Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College. In fact, his anthropological observations have provided much background to the dangers of idolatry that we find in 1 Corinthians 10 (our church’s current sermon series).

In what follows, I will trace a few of his main points, to show how Christians who don’t want to worship idols yet create them through the rhythms of their lives. This post is the first in a brief series to interact with Desiring the Kingdom and the modern challenge of identifying idols and the liturgical lathes that create them.

Homo Liturgicus

In biology, the human species is called homo sapiens. Sapiens, or sapient, is a term for wisdom and intelligence (e.g., God is omni-sapient, all-wise). Compared to all other species, humans possess a higher degree of rationality and intelligence, hence we are called homo sapiens. 

Smith takes this idea and shows how philosophers and theologians have defined humanity in terms of rationality (“I think, therefore I am”) and belief (“I believe, therefore I am”) (40–46). In contrast, he argues we should understand humans as basically affective–“the human person as lover” (46ff). He critiques purely-cerebral anthropologies, and argues we must consider the human body and the heart: “If humans are conceived almost as beings without bodies, then they also are portrayed as creatures without histories, without any sense of unfolding and development over time” (47).

While his argument may, at first, sound as if he is denying the place of the intellect, it must be remembered that this philosopher (whose vocation trades on the intellect) is offering a corrective to disembodied anthropologies which forget how much our bodies impact our thinking, feeling, and believing. In fact, Smith’s taxonomy of thinking, believing, and loving anthropologies helps us recover an Augustinian view of humanity, with its attention to affections and desires. In our hyper-visual, über-sensual world, we desperately need this corrective. So, let’s dig in. Continue reading