Living Life Liturgically

Back in September, I asked Dr. Mark Love if I could bring my apologetics class to the annual theology conference he hosts at Rochester College. James K.A Smith was scheduled to speak about his new book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Dr. Love graciously provided us with front row seats to the event. Afterward, I challenged the students to compose an essay describing the conference and what they learned about putting on Christ and witnessing to the lost from Dr. Smith. I found Samuel Tobias’ response particularly compelling. I hope it blesses you and challenges you to consider the habits and routines determining what you love.  —C. Collister 

Living Life Liturgically

by Sam Tobias, Senior at BCS

In October of 2016 my classmates and I had the privilege to attend the Streaming conference at Rochester College. On this particular day of the conference, the Calvin College professor James K. A. Smith was speaking about his new book entitled You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. In his presentation Smith brought attention to the significant effect of our habits on our character.  Our daily practices shape our worldview and soul. We call these habits our liturgy.

If you mention the word “liturgy” around most people, even many Christians, they will have no idea what you’re talking about. Liturgy is, however, something we all adopt whether we realize it or not. The daily habits someone practices shape his soul and by extension determine our actions. This liturgy is often unknown to its practitioner, but it structures their view of everything they do know. As James K.A. Smith puts it, “you are what you love.” He proposes that in order to restructure our lives in order to worship God, we must reorder our liturgy in order to have the word and worship of God stuck “in our bones.” This encourages the righteous to live by faith and to do so willingly. It also helps us realize that the ritual of the church is not just an aesthetic tradition, but has practical implications on our faith.

In his interview with The Gospel Coalition, Smith says that “you are what you love” has a similar meaning to “you are what you eat.” Just as what goes into our bodies shapes what our bodies look like, the habits that we adopt in our lives shape what sort of people we turn out to be. For instance, a driver who speeds when he is late for work will soon find himself speeding all the time. In the same sort of way, someone who continually dwells upon his dislike for a coworker will find that his dislike for that person will grow into a loathing in which they cannot see any good in the other person. This idea is also present in the Gospel. It is written that “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43, ESV) So in order to produce good fruit, we must reorder the liturgy of our lives. As we are completely incapable of reordering our own lives in a godly manner, we must turn to an outside source to help us restructure our lives.

The way in which we can reform our desires towards godliness is through historic Christian worship. This liturgy has been handed down for two millennia in order to shape our love towards Christ. It forms us to be more Christ-like because it is based upon the narrative of the Bible. The story of the Bible can be seen chiefly through three main parts of worship. These are the confession of sin, the sermon, and communion. Confessing our sin is our admittance of the Fall of Man, in which we recognize that we have continually and inexcusably rejected God and disobeyed his commandments. The sermon turns us towards God through preaching and the word, as Jesus Christ was also the Word. During the sermon, we are reminded of the hope which we have in Christ, which was promised from Scripture. Through communion, we are given a reminder that the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. By the sacrament, God brings us into the presence of the whole church and with Christ Jesus in order to remind us of Christ’s sacrifice and fill us with grace to be faithful. When we live through the story of the Bible every week, we soon find ourselves living a more Christ-like life.

Because we pursue what we love rather than what is rational, defending and teaching the faith should not always be approached from a rational perspective. This is not to say that irrational arguments or ignorance about theology should be used instead, but rather that we can approach people through the medium of their experience to help them understand the Gospel. C.S. Lewis makes a point in Mere Christianity about people who are open to belief in God, but when they try to pray or believe in him or love him, then they find themselves unable. Lewis’s advice for these people was not to try really, really hard to love a God they had no belief in, but rather to act as if they did at all times, and eventually they would come to really, truly, love him. George Orwell put it this way, “He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.” By providing examples with our own lives, encouraging others in prayer, and giving support through wisdom and comfort, we provide examples to the unbeliever. Smith too thought this was important, and brought up at the conference that if a child participates in a service begrudgingly, do not try to find a church where he enjoys the service. By doing so, the parents restructure their child’s love towards finding comfort instead of truth. By repeating the liturgy, confessions, and creeds every week, even the most unwilling service participant will have the teachings and convictions of orthodox Christianity carved into their minds, so that even when they are very old they will still know where to look for truth. By setting an example and teaching children, we work towards reforming people’s love towards God. Strive to be like Christ to the unbeliever, so that when they love you as a friend, they might soon find themselves loving Jesus Christ as Lord. The goal of apologetics, then, is to try to help people find experiences which remodel their love for God.

When I attended the Streaming Conference, I was struck by Smith talking about how much the physical has to do with our minds. In particular, his example about kneeling before prayer. Reverent posturing and action shapes how we feel. It is much harder to mean a prayer when buried under sheets and a comforter than when on our knees with bowed heads. People often reject more reverent liturgies, instead claiming that they do not need to learn how to approach God. However, when an average citizen meets a politician, monarch, or a dignitary, they are given special instruction on how to treat that person with respect. It should be all the more so with God. Adopting a more physical liturgy in life will keep our attitudes reverent and our actions focused on Christ, and loving him more and more.

We often think of ourselves as minds that control actions, or “brains on a stick” as Smith calls it. But the truth is that it is our heart which guides our action, and good practices form good hearts. The liturgy of traditional Christian worship helps us go through the story of the Bible, and creates action that is in accordance with Scripture. The way in which we conduct ourselves, even in the seemingly trivial, has the greatest importance in shaping our character. By forming right desires in ourselves and others, we can grow and help others grow in Christ.