By Steven Norris
“I think. Therefore, I am.” So goes the oft-quoted maxim from 17th century mathematician, scientist, and philosopher, Rene Descartes. Most of us merely nod in agreement, not taking the time to think through the implications of such a statement.
At the heart of who we are as humans, is it our brain (or ability to reason) that is fundamental to our existence? Are we really just “brains on a stick” or “thinking things”?
The message at the heart of Christianity seems to suggest otherwise. When asked about the most important commandment in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus did not respond with specific tenants of doctrine or about believing in an orthodox manner. Instead, he talked about love.
Quoting from the book of Deuteronomy, Jesus states, “The greatest command is this: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
Too often, however, I’m afraid that we have relegated discipleship to little more than “knowledge acquisition.” We say things like, “Do you want to grow in your faith? Read this book. Go to this conference. Attend this retreat. Listen to this podcast or sermon.”
The implication seems to be that growth as a person of faith is little more than putting more knowledge into our heads. If we learned just the “right” things, we would be more Christlike in our living.
Except, we know that the reality doesn’t live up to the promise. We live in a time where we have more access to the vast quantities of human knowledge than any point in history. By a few clicks and swipes, the phone in my pocket can grant me access to more information than I will ever be able to process in a lifetime.
Yet, this access has not translated into a world that looks more and more like the Kingdom that Jesus envisioned. Why is this so? Could it be that we’ve started with the wrong assumptions about what it is that makes us truly human?
In his book, “You Are What You Love,” philosopher James K.A. Smith suggests that a truly Christian form of discipleship “is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than knowing and believing. . . . Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t just inform our intellect but forms our very loves.”
Smith argues that practicing faith is about developing in the heart and soul particular habits that orient us towards a different way of living and being in the world. Likewise, Smith suggests that the cultural liturgies of our day have a profound impact in shaping our hearts and defining for us the nature of “the good life.”
Smith’s analysis of those cultural liturgies that unconsciously shape our hearts is eye-opening and sobering. However, it is not without hope. To be formed in the way of Christ is about reorienting and calibrating our hearts to love in the way that Jesus loved. It is to be captivated by a vision of the kingdom that Jesus preached and modeled, desiring that reality above anything else. This is the Church’s calling, if only she has ears to hear.