You Are What You Love - A Review (Part 1)

Three themes dominate James Smith’s You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. (1) Our loves are like unconscious dispositions we have towards the things and events around us and they reveal our identity. (2) The habituation of godly virtues forms our inner self-our soul. So while gaining knowledge of God and His Word is vital to discipleship, the gaining of virtues—the forming of the soul—is the core of discipleship. (3) The primary way of gaining virtues (of forming the soul) is liturgy in the church.

Chapter 1 explores love and worship. Which is more indicative of our identity? What we love, or what we think? Smith argues that what we love defines our identity. We as humans love something. “You can’t not love.”1 Our loves dictate our choices. Smith compares our loves to our compass, a default orientation of the soul.

Virtues are the habituated, internalized inclinations of the soul “to be compassionate, forgiving, and so forth.”2 “As Aristotle put it, when you’ve acquired a moral habit, it becomes second nature.”3 “Those habits that become ‘second’ nature operate in the same way: they become so woven into who you are that they are as natural for you as breathing and blinking. You don’t have to think about or choose to do these things: they come naturally.”4 “In fact, if I have to deliberate about being compassionate, it’s a sure sign I lack the virtue!”5

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Is the Sin of Gluttony Neglected in Our Pulpits?

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon against gluttony—and that’s saying something. I’ve attended Bible-preaching services multiple times per week for more than 40 years. On the other hand, I’ve seen writers depict gluttony as one of the greatest evils of our time and the lack of preaching against it as the top—or near-top—failing of the modern church.

To be sure, some have exaggerated its importance. But are they right that it’s a neglected topic?

As I’ve researched gluttony in Scripture and in church history, it’s become clear that I’m not yet ready to answer that question. But I do want to offer some points to consider in order to frame the question.

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The Good Addiction

One of the things that always amuses me about being a pastor’s wife is that people think they have to be careful around me. As if I have a delicate condition that can’t handle the realities of the world. In order to protect me, they shuffle, they fumble, they apologize and then use euphemisms to describe situations that I could paint in living color. What they don’t understand is that, behind this genteel exterior, I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the brokenness, heard the sobs, and felt the ache of a creation waiting for redemption. In this kind of work, you lose your innocence pretty quickly.

Those who haven’t probably aren’t doing their jobs.

The other amusing thing is how quickly my conversations with my pastor-husband turn from the prosaic to the profound. One moment we’re discussing the rotation of children’s workers, and the next we’re talking about how to apply the realities of theosis to counseling.

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Musing About Music

Reposted, with permission, from Theologically Driven.

WikiAnswers poses the question, “Why does music exist?” then self-replies: “Because it brings happiness to people all over the world.”

We must grant that WikiAnswers is scarcely an authoritative reference source, but it does offer a window on popular culture. It reflects that a common reason (and perhaps the most common reason) for the societal “doing” of music today is to forget the pain, grief, anxiety, dreariness, and simple ennui of life and enter an imaginary world where one can have the emotional experience of his choice—usually a happy one. Ironically, the historically central idea of “music” (fr. the Grk. μοῦσα, to muse, think, remember, or reflect) has been transformed in the last century into its own etymological opposite—an occasion, whether active or passive, for not “musing,” or, supplying the alpha privative, a venue foramusement. This is not to say that music as amusement or as a means of forgetting is always bad (see in principle Prov. 31:7), but it does reflect a total reversal of the Western tradition concerning the central purpose of music.

Of course, history only slightly improves on Wiki in terms of warrant. Still it is interesting to know that the perceived function of music from the classical period to the rise of populism was as an aid to musing and remembering, or perhaps better, as a means to creating the affective distance necessary to fostering reflection.

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Cultivating Godly Affections

The following is an excerpt from a series of essays entitled “Towards Conservative Christian Church” (parts 17 and 18). The series continues at Towards Conservative Christianity as well as Religious Affections.

Cultivating affections

One of the most difficult tasks facing the conservative Christian pastor is teaching that the affections are shaped, and that Christians ought to give attention to what shapes them.

Once again, most Christians live with an incorrect view of the affections. They see the emotions as more or less reactions to various stimuli. In that sense, their focus is merely on controlling (or suppressing) emotional expression. They become oblivious to the whole discussion of shaping or molding the affections, and tend to regard such discussions as extra-biblical pontificating or even legalism.

However, if we see the affections as expressions of value or worth, or more simply, our loves, it becomes obvious that what we love or treasure or value can be shaped. We do not love all things immediately, but learn or acquire some loves over time. We can grow certain loves, and weaken others.

The problem we encounter is that the loves are not under our direct control. While some of our loves may have been pursued by an act of will, others have been picked up without our knowing why. Many of our loves are loves that grew because of what our family loved, what our peers loved, what was loved by people we respected. Some loves came very late in life, while some were there early. Some loves were hard to develop, while others seemed almost natural. Not many people can explain why they love what they love without some serous thought. The affections do not come by sheer acts of will.

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The Power of Hatred

Very few Christians have developed a theology of hatred. The reason is obvious: we try to avoid hating others as best we can, and we feel the pain when others hate us. So we try to turn our minds to other things.

On September 11, 2001, American Christians—like the rest of the country—were forced to confront the power of hatred. We realized that hatred toward us was so strong that men gave their lives to harm us. And they did.

The relationship between hatred and insanity seems clear. In Isaiah 14:12-15, when Lucifer, the “Star of the Morning” envied God’s position, he was filled with defiance and determined that he would be God. During the future tribulation, the antichrist will be consumed by hatred as he makes war against God’s elect (Rev. 13:5-8). He will be so full of himself that he will enter the temple and declare himself to be God (2 Thess. 2:4). Whether hatred drives people insane or insanity drives people toward hatred, is hard to say. It may well be sometimes be one way, sometimes the other.

Haman offers us a case study in hatred. In Esther 3:1-4:3, we see his plan to exterminate the Jews through genocide. Haman became the Grand Vizier, and the power went to his head. He could not amass enough strokes or attention. People bowed down to him—not just to respect him—but also to worship the king through him. The king was thought to be the incarnation of the god Orormasdes, and Haman therefore was connected to the divine, in his view.

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Savoring Lincoln, Savoring Christ

The Lincoln memorial in Washington D.C. is hallowed ground in my book. I stood at this sacred spot in 2005 and was deeply moved.

Lincoln’s memorial stands at the head of a cross-shaped layout of memorials on the Washington mall. Most guides will adamantly deny any intentional symbolism. My guide was willing not only to concede the obvious, but to reference primary source documents wherein the original designers of the mall detail plans to arrange the memorials in the shape of a cross so as to pay tribute to the profound influence of Jesus Christ upon this nation.

Possessed of this insight, I stood on the steps of the Lincoln memorial looking down the length of “the cross” toward the Washington monument (at the cross’ nexus). Owing my spiritual life and joy to Jesus (whom having never seen I mysteriously love, 1 Peter 1:8), my heart surged with thanksgiving and wonder to contemplate the hand of divine providence upon this nation and upon my own life.

My near ecstasy continued as I read Lincoln’s second inaugural address etched into the wall of the north enclave of the memorial. The third column in particular held my rapt attention. Herein Lincoln explicates the doctrine of divine providence. Only a dwindling minority of Americans could define the meaning of God’s providence today. This was not the case during the Civil War. Nor was it the case for Lincoln who found in the doctrine of divine providence—God’s preserving and governing power over nature and history—essential ballast to endure those tumultuous days with hope.

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