Read Again: You Are What You Love by James KA Smith

You Are What You Love by James KA Smith

Takeaway: Expressive Worship and Formative Worship, while both valid, have different purposes.

It is good to re-read books. I can not remember where I read it, but I remember a discussion about the difference in reading habits of people a couple hundred years ago. The short version is that books used to be very expensive. So you would read and re-read a book several times because you only had a few options of what books to read.

Today books are cheap. I routinely pick up books for a couple dollars or even free. So we tend to read a book once and move on to the next idea. I have put a goal on myself to re-read at least one book a month. I rarely re-read books quite that often, but almost every time I re-read a book I am reminded about the importance of re-reading. Maybe others are more careful readers than I am. But I almost always find significant ideas that I either missed on the first reading or I have forgotten.

The most important idea from You are What You Love that I missed on the first reading is the clear understanding of the difference between what Smith calls Expressive and Formative worship. For Smith, expressive worship, the predominate focus of modern evangelicals, is about the importance of bringing praise to God. Smith does not say it is wrong to expressively worship. But he is not sure that expressive worship should be our primary focus and this is for several reasons. 1) Expressive worship is focused on what we do for God instead of what God has done. 2) Because of our age of authenticity, the temptation for expressive worship is to always seek out the new and innovative because repeated expressive worship feels less authentic.  3) Because of point one, the only real place for the congregation to participate in expressive worship is the music portion of worship. So expressive worship ends up minimizing the full range of worship in a service.

Instead Smith believes that we should approach worship as primarily formative. Formative worship is focused on what the activity of worship does to us. Music reminds us of themes of worship, creeds reminds us of the historical and catholic character of Christianity, the eucharist reminds us of the sacrifice of Christ and the power of the Spirit to act in us on a daily basis, the word reminds us of the message of the gospel.

I think that I have been so shaped in my evangelical formation on the importance of expressive worship that I have missed Smith’s distinction between expressive and formative worship in the first reading.

The main focus of the book is that we are shaped by habits that occur in the pre-cognitive portion of our brain. Things that we do without really thinking of them. So we should strive after creating habits that help us move in the direction that we want to go as Christians.

Similar to my first reading, I still think that while Smith’s cultural liturgies are important, there is so much cultural baggage with them that it is often hard to see deeply into the liturgies. I think Smith is too negative sometimes about his look at cultural liturgies. For instance when talking about the mall he never talks about the mall as safe space in a positive sense. After all, that is why kids get together at the mall, it is seen by parents as safe and limited (whether it is or not is another thing.) And the inside waking space for elderly at 6 am is not mentioned although there is some real positives there. I think that while Smith is right to alert us to some of the negatives of cultural liturgies and their formative power. But we also need to spend time on their positive formative power to really get a full picture of what cultural liturgies are trying to do.
On the negative side is also hard to get enough distance from a cultural liturgy to actually see it without significant cross-cultural contact. I think that is a place where advocating for a diverse church would have been a helpful addition to this book (although I am pretty sure I have heard Smith speaking about this in other contexts.)

One note about the audiobook edition. (When possible I try to change formats that I read a book for the second reading.) I thought it was fine, but for authors like Smith, who I have heard speak via video a number of times, I miss the actual author’s voice. There were several mispronounced words that would not have happened if Smith was the one narrating. I know not every author has time to spend narrating their own audiobooks, but most of the time I really do think an author should read their own books whenever possible.

You Are What You Love by James KA Smith Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audiobook 

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