To the unassuming reader, one of the most confusing and seemingly misplaced words throughout the Scriptures is “heart.” It feels like on many occasions, most noticeably in the New Testament, that the verb presented in the verse does not necessarily match what our hearts are supposed to do. There is the talk of understanding with our hearts (Acts 28:27), the mouth speaking out of the abundance of the heart (Mt 12:34), the heart forming evil thoughts (Mt 15:19), and doubting in heart (Mk 11:23). To understanding, to have thoughts, to doubt, to form words…aren’t these the result of what we think; should we not be talking of our minds here?
Thankfully, Jesus was careful with His words. And Augustine was careful with Jesus’s words. In his newest book, You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith helps us understand not only the Augustinian concept of worship but what Jesus Christ meant in all those New Testament emphases on the heart. To do so, Smith opens his first chapter with a brilliant question. “What do you want?” What Smith is soon to posit, which has massive implications for our personal Christian life and the task of discipleship, is simple yet profound: How we worship is determined by how we love, that discipleship is “a matter of hungering and thirsting” (2). We make the mistake of making our brain the center of our lives when it is not only physically, but spiritually, the heart that is what drives us and how we think, see, speak, worship, and live. We are ultimately people not of the mind, but of the heart. “Our actions are captured poetically, not didactically” (107).
Patterns and Habits of Living
In You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith has brilliantly made the case for the centrality of the heart and our loves and how they direct our rhythms and patterns and habits of living. Chapter One opens with a brief overview of this main point, summed up well by Augustine’s idea that “wherever I am carried, my love is carrying me” (14). Chapter Two explains the impact “cultural liturgies” have on the formation of worship. For what it’s worth, the first two chapters of the book in and of themselves are worth the purchase of the book. But if that wasn’t enough reason to get it, the rest of the chapters in the book deal with how our worship plays out in real life. For example, how do we carry such an attitude of worship into a world of postmodernist thinking (Chapter 3)? Or how do we implement these worship liturgies with our children (Chapter 6)? The flow and the structure of the book are spot on. Smith does a masterful job of presenting and opening with his initial arguments, and just as magnificently explains how they naturally play out in various avenues of life.
A Few Takeaways from the Book
One of the most significant aspects of You Are What You Love is that it is the perfect mix of deconstruction with reconstruction. In other words, Smith beautifully blends together not only our need to have some of our own presuppositions torn apart, but he also offers a way to build them back up. Many authors only succeed in one of the two areas, but Smith has done wonderfully in both.
Another aspect of You Are What You Love that I appreciated was Smith’s ability to use long-form word picture and illustration to make his ideas tangible. He did not rely on chintzy, eye-roll examples to make his points. For example, on pages 40–55 (yes, a whole 15 pages), he made a case for the mall as a compelling worship space, a “temple” of sorts. It was an absolutely riveting discussion that not only brought sobering conviction but also validated his claims and reinforced his points.
The writing is superb, the voice is clear, and the ease of it all was a bit shocking given just how packed and dense it truly is. It is definitely the best book I have read this year, and I am sure it will stay at the top of my list. I know I will return to this book, again and again, to remind me of the need for a rehabituation of my loves, to calibrate the “compass” of my heart, and to help me answer the question, rightly, “What do I want?”