1. What is the book about?
Why do we do what we do? And more importantly, why don’t we do what we want to do? In this book, James K.A Smith argues that perhaps it’s because we don’t really want what we say that we want. The simple premise of the book is that our thoughts and practices are inextricably influenced by our wants and longings. As we examine what drives our decisions, we’ll find that our hearts instinctively gravitate towards rival lesser gods and away from the One whom we were created for.
2. What did I learn?
Smith’s writing is deeply saturated in historic Augustinian thought, influenced by his theology and biblical insights. As created beings, we all have a natural tendency to worship something in our lives. We don’t need to be taught how to love, rather we automatically drift towards the objects of our affections. Yet this rarely ever seems to be what we claim to value. The Bible recognises this dilemma of disordered loves as a product of the Fall. Our sinful hearts instinctively gravitate away from the God that made us to lesser created things. We find it easier to love our hobbies, career and relationships rather than the God who richly provides them to us. As John Calvin put it ‘the human heart is an idol factory’. Only in Christ are we able to reclaim our true purpose: to worship that God that made us.
Smith helpfully highlights that our practices are shaped by the culture around us. We’re instructed to value the tenets of modern society such as personal autonomy, social diversity and freedom of speech. What we don’t often realise is that these cultural ‘liturgies’ that our society upholds end up shaping us more than we’d care to admit. As a result of this, we unintentionally carry secular worldviews into our Christian worship, parenting and vocation. To illustrate his point, he outlines the consumerist liturgy taught to us through the typical American mall, that we’re defined by what we own and how we shop. If we are to reclaim the historic Christian vision for life and worship, we need to saturate ourselves with the word of God.
3. What did I enjoy?
I greatly appreciated the opportunity that this book provided to reflect deeply on my own motivations in career and worship. Having read this as part of a book club, the seven chapters enabled for thoughtful discussion and analysis into the factors that shape our subconscious longings. I’d recommend reading this with others for fruitful conversation but also for personal evaluation of your own genuine heart desires. This book is not afraid to explore a wide variety of sources and delve into the realm of Christian philosophy.
4. Why should other people read it?
This book is for those seeking to learn more about themselves, for those struggling to set in lasting habits and those searching for heightened intentionality. The emotional core of this book is crystal clear. Following Jesus doesn’t just inform our intellect but reforms what we love. The continual process of bringing this to bear in all areas of our lives is the key to establishing a culture shaped by Christ. Understanding the gospel holistically will enable us to be more than workers or students that just so happen to also be Christians, but rather identify as Christian workers and students. I can definitely see myself revisiting sections of this book in the future for further digestion.