You Are What You Love
The Spiritual Power of Habit
Christianity Today Book Award Winner
Martin Institute and Dallas Willard Center Book Award
You are what you love. But you might not love what you think.
In this book, award-winning author James K. A. Smith shows that who and what we worship fundamentally shape our hearts. And while we desire to shape culture, we are not often aware of how culture shapes us. We might not realize the ways our hearts are being taught to love rival gods instead of the One for whom we were made. Smith helps readers recognize the formative power of culture and the transformative possibilities of Christian practices. He explains that worship is the "imagination station" that incubates our loves and longings so that our cultural endeavors are indexed toward God and his kingdom. This is why the church and worshiping in a local community of believers should be the hub and heart of Christian formation and discipleship.
Following the publication of his influential work Desiring the Kingdom, Smith received numerous requests from pastors and leaders for a more accessible version of that book's content. No mere abridgment, this new book draws on years of Smith's popular presentations on the ideas in Desiring the Kingdom to offer a fresh, bottom-up rearticulation. The author creatively uses film, literature, and music illustrations to engage readers and includes new material on marriage, family, youth ministry, and faith and work. He also suggests individual and communal practices for shaping the Christian life.
1. You Are What You Love: To Worship Is Human
2. You Might Not Love What You Think: Learning to Read "Secular" Liturgies
3. The Spirit Meets You Where You Are: Historic Worship for a Postmodern Age
4. What Story Are You In? The Narrative Arc of Formative Christian Worship
5. Guard Your Heart: The Liturgies of Home
6. Teach Your Children Well: Learning by Heart
7. You Make What You Want: Vocational Liturgies
For Further Reading
"James K. A. Smith's You Are What You Love provides a user-friendly introduction to the sweeping Augustinian insight that we are shaped most by what we love most, more so than by what we think or do. If sin and virtue are disordered and rightly ordered love, respectively, and if the only way to change is to change what we worship, then this will lead us to rethink how we conduct Christian work and ministry. Jamie gives some foundational ideas on how this affects our corporate worship, our Christian education and formation, and our vocations in the world. An important, provocative volume!"
Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City
"What do you love? is the most important question of our lives. With his characteristic ease, energy, and insightfulness, James K. A. Smith explores in this compelling book not only what it is that we should love but also how we can learn to love what we should."
Miroslav Volf, Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology, Yale Divinity School; founder and director, Yale Center for Faith and Culture; author of A Public Faith and Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World
"In this wise and provocative book, Jamie Smith has the audacity to ask the question: Do we love what we think we love? It is not a comfortable question if we strive to answer it honestly. Smith presses us to do so and then shows us the renewed and abundant life that awaits Christians whose habits and practices--whose liturgies of living--work to open our hearts to our God and our neighbors."
Alan Jacobs, Honors College, Baylor University
"Desiring the Kingdom influenced me more than any single book of the past decade. I--and the rest of the church--owe a great debt to James K. A. Smith's scholarship, now made particularly accessible in You Are What You Love. As a means for reimagining the task of discipleship, this book should be required reading for every pastor, lay leader, and parent."
Jen Pollock Michel, author of Christianity Today's 2015 Book of the Year, Teach Us to Want
"Smith has an exceptional gift for disentangling things. Here again his efforts disentangle our minds and our hearts so our imaginations can be set free to be captured by and reflective of the kingdom of God. In these ways, Smith gives us a profound gift so we can seek and find what we need most."
Mark Labberton, president, Fuller Theological Seminary
"Attention, all 'general readers'--not academics or specialists (though they're welcome too), but people who are tired of shoddy thinking and trendy slogans: this is the kind of book you've been hungering for. It's a bit like one of those 'Great Courses.' An inspired teacher, a compelling subject, and you. What are you waiting for?"
John Wilson, editor, Books & Culture
"Informed by the insights of St. Augustine, You Are What You Love explores the substance of Christian discipleship as total life transformation through worship and liturgy. More than any other contemporary writer, Smith has helped me to understand how belief is embodied in us primarily through our habits of desire, and that God himself is the true satisfaction of our hungry hearts. This book should be read by every follower of Jesus."
Sandra McCracken, singer and songwriter
"Jamie Smith writes with enormous understanding, authority, and warmth. Masterful!"
Cornelius Plantinga Jr., president emeritus, Calvin Theological Seminary; author of Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists
Christianity Today 2017 Book Award Winner
2017 Martin Institute and Dallas Willard Center Book Award
"Twenty years from now, we will still be referencing You Are What You Love. Smith takes apart both the overly cerebral view of spirituality and the overly emotive view. His articulation of virtue as rooted in habits, which are rooted in affections, which are rooted--still deeper--in worship, is precisely right. The book is provocative and practical, and churches should follow its direction."
"[Smith] offers a thought-provoking analysis of present-day American culture's secular liturgies, which he defines as 'rituals that are loaded with an ultimate Story about who we are and what we're for,' and argues persuasively for the need 'to intentionally recalibrate the unconscious' in order to worship faithfully. . . . Examples from Smith's personal life as well as references to literature, philosophy, film, and art make this compelling and inspiring contribution to the study of spiritual disciplines both accessible and engaging."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Given that we are always being formed by the people and things surrounding us, Smith argues that the church community should be at the very heart of our formation as Christians. This important book challenges us to take a hard look at who and what and how we love."
C. Christopher Smith,
Englewood Review of Books (5-star review)
"You Are What You Love condenses and simplifies Smith's decades-long work on the role of formative practices, 'cultural liturgies,' imagination, and desire in the Christian life. The result is not only accessible to the average reader but also a real joy to read. If I could give this book to everyone in the church, I would. It is a gorgeous, textured, fascinating stone dropped in a pond. Its ripple effects will be felt for many years."
Tish Harrison Warren,
"The church could use a fresh, accessible book on the theological shape of embodied love. And [Smith] has given us one. . . . For such a short book it covers an expansive territory. . . . You Are What You Love is a superb book. . . . Smith's illustrations throughout the book are exemplary. . . . Let me commend You Are What You Love. You're likely to love it."
The Gospel Coalition
"Anyone who has ever failed to keep a New Year's resolution will accept the thesis of You Are What You Love: Human beings don't do what we know we ought to do; instead, we do what, deep down, we want to do. Smith convinced me that the key to discipleship is not changing how people think, but changing what people love. The good news is, this doesn't happen in the abstract, but through profoundly concrete acts of worship and service. This book casts a compelling vision and charts a tangible path for faithful discipleship in the modern world."
"Through numerous examples, adroit applications, and practical exercises offered, Smith inspires a recalibration of the heart's compass. . . . He writes with eloquent prose infused with insight to expose the competing liturgies that vie for the love of our hearts. . . . His engaging writing and insightful reflections on secular liturgies are worth the read for those serious about the formation of character. . . . You Are What You Love causes the reader to reconsider the typical Descartian modes of discipleship and ponder the more holistic habituation of our hearts' desires. In the end, You Are What You Love inspires teachers, parents, and pastors to consider how children, youth, and adults are being formed by daily, habituated patterns, and to reconsider through imitation and practice new habits of virtue-forming activities captivated by the narrative of the gospel."
Christian Education Journal
"The work presents a biblical orthopraxy for discipleship so ideal that most readers could not but welcome it. . . . What is hard here may not be the road Smith lays out, but the recognition of how comparatively weak the church in North America often is as a socializing force against the sophisticated marketers that know us deeply and the systems of practice that shape us daily. However, Smith is not despairing but inspiring, making this work a galvanizing or at least provocative read especially for pastors, parents, and educators."
Todd E. Pickett,
Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care
"Too many Christians pay attention only to what they think and assert--without letting their attention probe what they actually practice and love. You Are What You Love is an invitation and a guide to that deeper look. With rich wisdom and inviting grace, we are encouraged to cultivate holy and reliable rhythms of worship rooted in the rich tradition of life-giving liturgy."
"By understanding worship not merely as church attendance, but as love, devotion, and attention, Smith enables readers to see their true loves--their true objects of worship--in a new light."
Jenell Williams Paris,
"Much like C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, Smith's book bridges denominational divides in order to urge a deeper appreciation and embrace of catholic, historic Christianity. He aims to foster practices that will encourage our faiths on an individual and church-wide level, without condemning a specific set of Christian believers. Such a project seems very timely, as legions of millennials leave the faith and an increasing number of American churches are shorn of their liturgical, theological splendor to become gyms and apartment complexes. American families, often driven apart by divorce, alienation, or generational division, are here reminded why they must hold fast the rituals and customs of their faith. . . . It's worth noting, too, that this book is palatable and engaging for those not sold on ancient church liturgies."
"[A] provocative, cohesive and highly-readable new work. . . . It's a book with an admirable unity and cohesiveness and an important deliverable--exhorting us, guiding us, causing us to thoughtfully grapple with theological and philosophical questions we'd often rather avoid tending to. . . . Rare is the book written by an academic who quotes such a diverse set of sources--scripture, Augustine, Hans Urs von Balthasar, John Updike, and Winnie the Pooh--in its epigraphs. Unique is the professor who sustains an argument with the clarity, power, and beauty of a prize-winning short story, genuinely knowing how to reach a general readership while maintaining academic rigor. Rarer still is the book written by a person trained in philosophy who uses an organizing principle--in this case, that we men and women are not 'thinking thing-isms' but, rather, 'lovers'--so masterfully and convincingly that he causes readers to recalibrate the compass of their hearts and consider the focus of their liturgies--both sacred and secular--so deeply."
Englewood Review of Books
"Smith's book is excellent. I found in it a profoundly compelling case for closely examining what we 'love' since, as Smith persuasively argues, we 'live toward what we want.'. . . Smith's book provides much to consider. I found it very helpful in thinking through what I value and my own vision of the good life. . . . I highly recommend this resource to pastors, teachers, educators, and small groups that may want to explore together which version of the good life they are living. It would be helpful reading for both undergraduate and graduate classrooms. If I was king, this book would be required reading for all followers of Jesus."
Michael A. Kipp,
Journal of Youth Ministry
"Smith answers the why and how of Solomon's instruction to 'above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.'"
Mark and Linda DeYmaz,
Outreach (a recommended resource of the year for 2016)
"I found the book to be fascinating. . . . Take and read, you will be challenged and maybe formed anew!"
Robert D. Cornwall, FAPC,
Sharing the Practice
"You Are What You Love provides a helpful critique on modern evangelical thought. . . . Smith's alternative theological anthropology that conceives of humans as primarily lovers rather than thinkers cuts into contemporary evangelical practices while offering constructive measures in their place. . . . Smith's work challenges evangelical conceptions of worship, education, discipleship, and vocation, providing ample argumentation and insight at every turn. No doubt Smith will heartily challenge scholars, pastors, and laypeople with his message. You Are What You Love provides a fresh vision for Christian discipleship and church life that counters the secular liturgies of society that steer us away from the gospel. While countering the empty narratives perpetuated by society is no easy task, Smith's vision will assist the church in rethinking its mission, purpose, and practice in light of cultural realities."
Benjamin D. Espinoza,
Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology
"Smith brings his . . . considerable skill as a professional philosopher and able cultural critic to the table. . . . Smith is an engaging writer who seems to have his finger on the pulse of millennials. . . . You Are What You Love might well serve as an entryway into [Smith's Cultural Liturgies] series, and into conversation about the implications of Smith's larger project for discipleship, worship, education, and cultural-political engagement. If nothing else, You Are What You Love will encourage its readers to take a liturgical audit of their lives, and in so doing to strategically implement character-forming habits that might reorient their loves toward the kingdom of God."
Canadian Theological Review
"Smith is not giving information to simply memorize but handing down wisdom to truly take to heart. When such wisdom sinks into the heart, it enlightens our minds, stirs our affections, and reforms our lives toward Christ."
Charles Colton Allen,
Faith and the Academy
"Smith's work is suggestive, creative, interesting, and convincing. Officers should read this book and glean the best from its compelling theme."
Gregory E. Reynolds,
"This new book is truly wonderful and so very important, and it is for me significantly connected to my own journey, my own years of reading and being formed by conversations with others about related themes."
Hearts & Minds blog
"Doubtlessly one of the best books of the year. . . . By immersing ourselves in this story, Smith's winsome, teacherly ways, his pop culture and literary examples, his love for church and worship, his creative use of phrases, his new rhetoric, we are ourselves transformed. Our affections are stirred and our hearts enlarged. We are carried into a better story, inspired to feel differently about church and worship, life and times. This truly is a book for hearts and minds. . . . You Are What You Love is a thrilling book to read, substantive and stimulating, but it is not so academically rigorous to be tedious or inaccessible. . . . Educated, ordinary readers will find [it] a pleasurable read and will enjoy it with ease. . . . I am confident that its inviting, clear style will make it widely used and a game-changer for many. . . . His way of phrasing things, his vision of inviting people into a deeper, more meaningful sort of Christian discipleship, seems to me--and I suspect it will to you, too--nearly revolutionary in its freshness, its appeal, its implications. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit is one of the most interesting, visionary, important books I've read in years. . . . I hope it is read among young and old, evangelicals and mainliners, those drawn to simple church and those from more high liturgical traditions. There is something here for everyone. I mean that with all my heart."
Hearts & Minds blog
"[Smith] 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. . . . [A] brilliant little book. . . . The big idea behind Smith's book is from Augustine, that we are what we love, and that we don't honestly know what we love, we have been so formed by cultural forces (what he calls secular liturgies) that are competing for our hearts, and we have given into them without knowing it. So what Jesus followers must do is create counter-habits to practice cultivating what we love. . . . In the final chapters, Smith is incredibly helpful with practical suggestions on what this looks like for Jesus followers. . . . Smith's great strength is being able to connect classic Christian wisdom with his keen insights as a cultural critic."
Jesus Creed blog
"[An] impressively well written, organized and presented study. . . . Very highly recommended for church, seminary, community, and academic library Christian Studies collections."
Midwest Book Review
"The great strength of Smith's book is his ability to alert us to rituals, routines, and liturgies that form us without our awareness, for better or for worse. He offers provocative new questions. . . . As I read You Are What You Love, I was provoked to audit my own life and reconsider: what does it look like to raise children, to run a youth ministry, and to pursue vocational faithfulness if it is not the intellect but the imagination that is central in forming our hearts? We need wise leaders who model and train Christians in cultural agency: the ability to renew the cultural practices we encounter, to make our ordinary rituals more beautiful, more just, and more resonant with in the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Sapientia blog (Carl F. H. Henry Center)
"Whether you are wondering about the power of habit or wanting to learn more about discipleship, Dr. Smith's You Are What You Love is truly a wonderful book. . . . You Are What You Love is a needed book for our times. We desperately need help to train our new desires and affections under the Lordship of Christ. I highly recommend this book and believe reading it will help Christians wherever they are at in their walk with God to walk more consistently towards the face of Christ."
Servants of Grace blog
"[Smith] argues persuasively for the value of traditional liturgical worship. . . . He argues that traditional Christian worship re-orients our hearts toward eternity. . . . Smith's book is a fascinating exploration of what is drawing more Christians back to liturgical worship."
Jessica Mesman Griffith,
Sick Pilgrim blog (Patheos)
"The book is iconoclastic--exposing the idols that often lie behind the seeker-sensitive movement, the youth ministry movement, and even marriage and the family. . . . This is an important book--not only does it makes accessible [Smith's] cultural liturgies books but [it] provides a framework for rethinking discipleship."
An Accidental Blog
"Smith is a scholarly academic who writes like a pastor. Like Peter Kreeft or J. I. Packer or Tom Wright, his mind clips along comfortably in the world of high-level academic philosophy, but his soul resonates with the ordinary church member. He possesses a unique skill in bringing these two worlds together. This book is perhaps his most successful attempt yet to land his insights about worship, culture, and spiritual formation in the living room of the average church member. . . . At a very basic level, Smith is seeking to change how the Christian church in America understands its task. You Are What You Love is a populist manifesto toward that end. This book begs to be read and discussed by every Christian and every church leader. It's probably too much to say that the renewal of the church in America depends on these insights; but it's certainly true that if we ignore them, renewal will be that much more elusive."
"Every so often a book comes along that takes me by surprise, a book that I was expecting to just be decent but ends up being excellent; a book that I anticipated to be one thing but ends up shattering my expectations completely; a book that I planned to work through quickly but end up working through slowly and thoughtfully because every page seems to apply in such an astounding way. These books don't come along often, but when they do, they are an absolute delight. One such book that came along recently and is transforming the way that I think about discipleship is You Are What You Love. . . . [It] is an insightful look at the heart of discipleship. . . . Grab a copy for yourself. It won't be a quick read. It probably won't even be an easy read. But I do believe that it will be a transformative read, both in terms of how you think about yourself and your own desires and longings, as well as how you think about ministering to and discipling others toward Christlikeness."
"With fresh, engaging language, the author explores the habits in our culture, in our lives, in our churches. . . . No matter what a believer's background, the book encourages us to identify and evaluate the rituals in our lives and in our households, with a view to eliminating some and creating others that will lead to healthier and more worshipful spiritual lives. . . . I don't come from a liturgical background, and I know that formality can often become rote and ignored, but this book helped me see more of the value of internalizing the tenets of Christianity through the creeds and prayers--and of course through Scripture memorization, which we can all work at on our own. . . . The take-away is this: a challenge to become aware of the influences on our hearts, and to take corrective action as necessary to develop new habits of the heart and spirit. In beginning to do this, I'm seeing small but healthy changes in my life, and I believe that new habits are forming."
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