Agora Lecture: James K.A. Smith

smith-jamie“You are what you love.” This was the theme and the refrain of James K.A. Smith’s compelling lecture hosted by the Agora Institute in conjunction with the Templeton Honors College and Eastern University on March 17th, 2016. We are more than just “thinking things,” he insisted, arguing that it is not just our intellectual assent to propositions that should matter to us as Christians, but also our rightly-oriented loves and desires. In the Gospel of John, Jesus did not ask, “What do you know?” He asked, “What do you want?”

As Dr. Snell said in his introduction to the lecture, nobody has thought more about the significance of this question in recent years than Smith. The prolific and accomplished Calvin College philosophy professor holds the Gary & Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology & Worldview and has produced such works as the award-winning Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? (2006) and Desiring the Kingdom (2009), Imagining the Kingdom (2013), and How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (2014). He has been published in First Things, Christianity Today, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal – just to name a few.

Smith’s most recent book, published this March, is called You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit and focuses on the ways in which the culture shapes our loves and our selves. Whether we know it or not, we are constantly participating in what Smith calls competing cultural liturgies – the routines of modern life that vie for our attention and influence our desires. This is why Christian habit-formation is so important: the habits we adopt form us just as much as — or more than — the ideas that we believe or know. “We need more than knowledge, not less than knowledge.” Knowledge alone is not enough to make us good disciples. “Discipleship,” Smith says, “is a way to curate your heart to be attentive to and intentional about what you know. So discipleship in Christian formation is more a matter of hungering and thirsting, and not just knowing and believing.”

The lecture was followed by a series of audience questions and well-delivered answers from Smith. Many students got the chance to converse with Smith, who was as personable as he was rhetorically gifted. The event was very positively received, the Templeton and Agora community grateful for Smith’s thought-provoking, timely insights.

Smith’s full lecture at Eastern University can be found on the Agora Institute’s YouTube page.


Article by Emmalee Moffitt (’18): Emmalee is a student of philosophy, history, and Orthodox thought and culture in the Templeton Honors College. Her other interests include theology and literature, particularly poetry. She is a lover of good writing and conversation, and hopes to pursue an academic career that combines her interests in philosophy, history, and theology. 

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