A few years ago, James K.A. Smith wrote an outstanding book called Desiring the Kingdom that changed the way I saw ministry. It was incisive and painful and helpful all at the same time, because it helped me to name some of the problems that I was seeing in church work.
Namely, it helped me with the problematic question of why, with all the resources and energy and time that we in Western Churches are pouring into discipleship and worship, are Jesus followers not actually, you know, following Jesus? I’m not suggesting that there aren’t any disciples in our churches, but I think just about any pastor you ask will readily admit that the there is a vast difference between the numbers of members in their church and the number of disciples of Jesus.
But why is that?
And that’s where Desiring the Kingdom was so helpful. The problem was that DTK was pretty dense, and hard to unpack, it wasn’t exactly a book that I could recommend to a lot of my friends. And so I was very excited to see last month that Smith was writing a more accessible version of his ideas in his recently released book You Are What You Love.
This past week, I read it, and immediately knew I wanted to tell as many church leaders about it as possible. So over the next few weeks, I want to blog through this book. I hope to encourage as many of you as possible to read it, and see if his ideas don’t ring true to your own experience as well. He answered questions for me that I didn’t even know I ought to be asking, and gave answers to some questions that I think most pastors ask everyday.
Like that question I mentioned above, why do we talk so much about discipleship, but are so poor at making disciples? Smith would say, it’s because we love the wrong things, in the wrong ways. The truth is all of us are disciples, and we’re probably pretty good disciples, of what we love.
We just aren’t aware of what we really love, or how much our loves matter.
So how do we go about changing this problem? Well the most important question to start with is asking ourselves “what do you want? According to Smith, this is the question. “It is the first, last, and most fundamental question of Christian discipleship.” In fact, discipleship, is really a way to curate your heart, to be attentive to and intentional about what you love.
In the first chapter, Smith illustrates this point with a little heard of foreign movie Stalker.
The movie is set in a post-apocalyptic world, kind of like The Road It’s a world returning to nature after some kind of global disaster. And in this movie there are three main characters, the Writer, the Professor, and Stalker. They are all heading to find some place ambiguously called “the Room.”
Stalker has been there before, and he is leading the other two. As they get closer, Stalker tells them why they are going to the Room. He tells them that this is the most important moment of their life. Because in the Room, your innermost wish will be made true. This is the place where you will get exactly what you want…so who wants to go first?
And that’s when the problem begins to dawn on Professor and Writer, the problem that is the human condition but remains largely unspoken and unconsidered Here’s Smith:
Professor and Writer hesitate because it dawns on them: What if I don’t know what I want? “Well…that’s for the Room to decide. The Room reveals all: what you get is not what you think you wish for but what you most deeply wish for. A disturbing epiphany is creeping up on Professor and Writer: What if they don’t want what they think? What if the desires they are conscious of—the one’s they’ve “chosen,” as it were—are not their innermost longings, their deepest wish? What if, in some sense, their deepest longings are humming under their consciousness unawares? What if, in effect, they are not who they think they are? [The Story’s author] captures the angst here: “Not many people can confront the truth about themselves. If they did they’d run a mile, would take an immediate and profound dislike to the person in whose skin they’d learned to sit quite tolerably all these years.”
What if you really got what you wanted? Not what you think you want, but what you really want? Underneath all the stories we tell ourselves about what we think we should want, what are the desires that are humming underneath the surface…really?
This is the premise of Smith’s work, tapping into great thinkers like St. Augustine, Smith is re-introducing our Christian-ish culture to some of the deeper waters of Christianity.
His main idea in the first part of the book is that we are anemic at producing disciples because we ignore our loves. We lost the wisdom of Augustine (that we are what we love) and went with Descartes (I think therefore I am). For the past few hundred years, we’ve believed that humans are basically brains on a stick. That we are, at our core, empty idea receptacles that need to be filled with knowledge will operate solely on the information that they hold.
But that’s not what a human being really is.
We are not primarily what we know, we are, at our most fundamental level what we love.
And this is why we can preach the most eloquent, insightful sermons, have the best Bible class curriculum, the most logical arguments and coherent Christian apologetics, and still look very little like the Jesus we know so much about.
Because we are not primarily driven by information, we are driven by our loves, and we don’t love what we think we do. In fact, we probably don’t even really know what we love.
This is why advertisements don’t focus on filling you up with information about their product, instead the best marketing strategies focus on where change really happens, your loves.
They show you a picture of the product and convince you that this is the good life, they operate at a deeper level than we think. And we like to think that we are immune to this, we see through their strategy and won’t be fooled. But then Smith would ask us, Why are our closets and houses and garages filled with the very products these ads are pedaling all while our lives are crippled with debt?
Because we are driven by what we love, and we don’t love what we think, and realizing this is a great gift. Because it is realizing this that leads us to learn how to actually change our lives, not just our ideas.
Simply put, in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
No one is driven by abstract ideas or compelled by rules and duties.
We are all driven by love.
And to be a disciple of Jesus is to learn to love the right things.