For example, consider the students at the service I describe. They understood worship was not just any other practice, because they made time for it. They knew they were encountering the divine because they reverently involved their bodies. But beyond this participation, their behavior did not change. Their desires were not automatically transformed by their bodily liturgical participation; they just lived two different lives.
Liturgy’s involvement of the body is a boon, then, but both its potential and its drawbacks need to be discussed more carefully. So while one cannot think one’s way to God, one certainly can't "liturgize" one’s way to heaven’s doors, either (as Martin Luther amply demonstrated 500 years ago)!
The Problem with Emotions
Related to this lopsided anthropology, champions of liturgical evangelicalism often praise liturgical promotion of the forgotten emotions that produce authentic Christian behavior. When Smith references Bill Cavanaugh’s "provincial farm boy" whose formation by secular emotional appeals wrongly convinces him to go off to war, he makes this assumption explicit. Smith claims that in order to persuade the farm boy “to die as a martyr for the Christian faith . . . [t]he answer is the same” as the process involved in getting him to die for his state (Imagining). In fact, Smith declares that Christian education must be entirely redirected in order to better foster such liturgical emphasis of the emotions (Desiring). According to him, this trajectory produces "sentimental" awareness of one’s location within God’s story of the world, which is a more desirable outcome than mere professional training (Imagining). Smith asserts that by following these recommendations, Christian education can promote humility versus pride in one’s abilities. But in my view, this is wishful thinking.
Over the past century, evangelical formation has indeed overly stressed factual knowledge. And it is certainly true that valuing one’s emotions integrates one’s identity. Still, the antidote to emotion-driven secular liturgies is not just emotion-driven Christian liturgy. The "provincial farm boy" has been persuaded by liturgies that conceal the truth. To change his course of action, he needs more than just emotional persuasion in a different direction—or he will become a pendulum continually pulled first one way, then another. Returning again to my opening story, my students’ emotions were engaged as long as they were present at church. But as soon as they walked out the back door, their emotions went very different directions.
For them and for the farm boy to abhor sin and embrace the good, for all of us to redirect our emotions for the long haul, facts need to be gathered and reflection undertaken—identifying underlying desires and motives, understanding what courses of action entail for those affected by our decisions, considering what certain habits create in the self. Only by accessing and accepting truth can we question and resist erroneous liturgies and channel desire aright. Smith might argue that such reflection will be prompted by participation in liturgy, but in my experience this is not automatic. Sentimental liturgical practice does not guarantee virtue formation—and may in fact lead to pride in participating in a supposedly superior form of worship. In short, liturgical tapping into emotion provides a necessary piece of the formation puzzle, but we need Christians who are both emotionally healthy and capable of careful reasoning. Neither aspect should be divorced from liturgical contexts or educational endeavors.