Calvin Prof Reimagines Scholarly Work into Book for Lay Readers

Written by Ann Byle on . Posted in Local

book235James K.A. Smith wrote the book "Desiring the Kingdom" in 2009 under the banner of what he calls "advanced scholarship." Meaning he wrote it for other academics and scholars.

But that book got so much attention and prompted so many speaking engagements and questions that he decided to expand his premise, add to his original research, and write a new book that reaches general readers. "You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit" was recently released by Brazos Press, a division of Grand Rapids-based Baker Publishing Group.

"I thought 'Desiring the Kingdom' was kind of accessible for laypeople, but that turned out not to be so," said Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College. "And yet it got lots of attention and I got invitations to speak at churches and Christian schools. The audiences' eyes would light up at the ideas, but the book caused their eyes to glaze over."

His new book is reaching a whole new audience in a form that he calls "outreach scholarship:" translating scholarship for general readers.

"I'm trying to get people to see that discipleship isn't about getting the right information into our heads, but learning to love the right things," said Smith. "It's not enough to deposit the right doctrines and beliefs; the Holy Spirit needs to recruit our hearts."

Learning to love God, he said, is about acquiring new heart habits. Our hearts are influenced by our cultural practices. Take the mall, for instance. Smith calls the big mall in any city one of that city's most religious sites. It's a cathedral of consumerism that shapes those who visit.

"We think going to the mall is something we do, but really it's doing something to you. A visit to the mall is a ritual that trains you to love stuff," Smith said.

Think also of a stadium. The stories rehearsed at the beginning of a sporting event become a ritual, a liturgy. And a smart phone teaches users that they are the center of the universe: that you should never be bored, should be entertained constantly, and that you can get what you want immediately.

"I want people to realize that if they want to become Christ-like, they need to take stock of all the ways their hearts are being de-formed. We need to see what rituals and routines we give ourselves over to," said Smith. "The trick is to ask yourself what is something I do that is doing something to me."

"You Are What You Love" is available at Baker Book House, the Calvin College bookstore, and online.
Author Information
Ann Byle
Ann Byle is a freelance writer and owner of AB Writing Services. She writes for a number of publications including WMCN, Publishers Weekly, CBA Christian Market and Grand Rapids Magazine, and is author or coauthor of several books including The Baker Book House Story, The Call to Care: A Compassionate Response to Caring for Vulnerable Children (2018) and Christian Publishing 101 (2018). She and her husband Ray, a science teacher, have four young adult children.

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