Guest / Limited Access /
You Can't Think Your Way to God
Photo by John Harrison

If there's one refrain coming from James K. A. Smith these days, it's that Christians can't think our way into the kingdom. It may sound strange for a philosopher (at Calvin College) to downplay the role of thinking, but Smith is quick to see the inconsistencies between what we think and what we do. Indeed, he recently caught himself reading the Christian farmer-philosopher-poet Wendell Berry while sitting in the food court at Costco. Smith was struck by the dissonance. Berry is an apostle of mindful and earth-friendly food production and consumption, while Costco is the symbol of American supersized consumption.

When we try to think our way out of such inconsistencies, our behavior keeps coming back to bite us. That's because behavior is not driven by ideas. It is a bodily thing that reflects the way we order—or disorder—our loves and desires.

In 2009, Smith published Desiring the Kingdom (Baker Academic), in which he argued that in order to help college students put their desires in proper order, Christian higher education needed to incorporate worship and spiritual practices at a foundational level. This year, Smith published a follow-up, Imagining the Kingdom, designed to provide a rationale for, as the subtitle has it, "how worship works." In the book, he interacts with two French theorists—Pierre Bourdieu and Maurice Merleau-Ponty—to understand how human beings use bodily rituals to shape their desires. Former CT editor in chief David Neff talked with Smith about how rituals—both religious and secular—shape our beliefs and affections.

In your book, you set forth what you call a "liturgical anthropology." What does liturgy have to do with human nature?

Human beings are at their core defined ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this IssueHip-Hop Theologians and Preachers
Subscriber Access Only Hip-Hop Theologians and Preachers
The artists most shaping the movement.
RecommendedTrump Won. Here's How 20 Evangelical Leaders Feel.
Trump Won. Here's How 20 Evangelical Leaders Feel.
Pastors, authors, and others weigh in on 2016 election.
TrendingWhy Do We Have Christmas Trees?
Why Do We Have Christmas Trees?
The history behind evergreens, ornaments, and holiday gift giving.
Editor's PickThe Grace of Church Discipline
The Grace of Church Discipline
We do no one any favors if we ignore or downplay core beliefs.
%%var.bookTitle%%
Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Cultural Liturgies)
Baker Academic
2013-02-15
224 pp., $19.29
Buy %%var.bookTitle%% from Amazon
Christianity Today
You Can't Think Your Way to God
hide thisMay May

In the Magazine

May 2013

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.