Novelty-seeking, feel-good


J K A Smith suggests in his latest book, You Are What You Love, that the central question of discipleship is ‘what do you want?’. This sounds alarmingly like typical American me-centrism, but thankfully the book assuages that concern by focussing on the communal phenomenon of (traditional) liturgy, and its propensity to habit-forming. This is a deeply thought-out book, unsurprisingly for Smith. In it he makes a case for worship in the churches being an antidote to secular worship, which, in our society, often involves the shopping centre/mall, and the impulsive behaviour that consumerism and advertising cultivates.

He comments on the power of our unconscious motivations and the power of culture to shape our thinking. He ropes in Saint Augustine and apocalyptic literature, which is about unmasking the present rather than predicting the future, criticises the Enlightenment philosophers for being somewhat naïve about our supposed power to be rational, and criticises modern churches’ tendency to try to make worship mirror secular worship (rock concert-like, commodity-oriented, self-fulfilling rather than self-giving). Smith is not immune to using contemporary culture to make his points, but he warns against age-targeted, novelty-seeking, feel-good worship that reinforces the idea that the church is there to serve me, rather than reinforcing the idea that church is about mutual, selfless service. After-all, as he says, you try and compete on equal terms with rock concerts and shopping centres, and the church will not win. The sameness and lameness of much contemporary praise and worship music somewhat proving the point. The church needs to show an alternative.

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