Volume 46 - Issue 1

Brains, Bodies, and the Task of Discipleship: Re-Aligning Anthropology and Ministry

By Matthew C. Bingham


Exploring the intersection of anthropology and ministry, this article offers an appreciative critique of recent authors who suggest that effective Christian discipleship requires holistic, bodily engagement. James K. A. Smith and others have helpfully drawn attention to ways in which contemporary evangelical approaches to Christian formation can risk over-emphasizing the transfer of information while neglecting things like desire, love, and imagination. Having thus diagnosed the problem, these authors suggest that the solution lies in a turn towards “embodied rituals” that they believe can more effectively form the whole person. Through a critical evaluation of this proposal, the present article seeks to distinguish between its attractive aspects and those which would unhelpfully undermine the Reformation emphasis on the primacy of Word ministry. The article concludes by suggesting ways in which evangelicals might advance a more holistic approach to discipleship that is congruent with longstanding Reformation priorities.


1. Introduction

The call to Christian ministry is a call to make disciples, a call to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Pet 5:2) so that each believer might grow to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). That this is so seems clear enough in Scripture. Yet precisely how and by what means disciples are to be made has proven far more controversial throughout the history of Christianity. Whether debating the optimal balance between Word and Sacrament in corporate worship or querying the biblical warrant for everything from small groups to monastic orders, the means through which Christians might best “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18) has been a perpetual cause of controversy and debate, and a potential source of tension for church leaders who feel acutely the ministerial responsibility to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Col 1:28).

And while such issues are often considered to be primarily matters of practice—more about what Christians do rather than what Christians believe—it is essential to recognize that practical questions about the means of discipleship are actually downstream from more fundamental questions about Christian anthropology. What we think people are will inevitably affect how we interact with them, how we minister to them, and how we disciple them. Or, to put it negatively, if we misunderstand what human beings are then we will inevitably misunderstand how to best help them grow. Thus, to successfully disciple the men and women in our churches, we must first correctly align our anthropological conviction with our ministerial practice.

Helpfully, this basic continuity between anthropological theory and ministerial praxis has been highlighted in recent years by a growing number of evangelical thinkers. Authors such as Justin Whitmel Earley, Tish Harrison Warren, and Dru Johnson all take seriously the need to correlate who we are with how we minister and are sensitive to the ways in which a persistent neglect in this area has done spiritual harm to many.1 Leading the pack in terms of scholarly productivity, influence, and depth of vision is surely the theologian and philosopher James K. A. Smith. While Smith’s thoughts on ministry and anthropology can be found spread throughout his substantial body of work, his most sustained vision for aligning anthropology and ministry appears in his Desiring the Kingdom and its more accessible follow-up, You Are What You Love.2 Insightful, creative, and erudite, these books make the point that “every approach to discipleship and Christian formation assumes an implicit model of what human beings are,” and it is thus incumbent upon the church to pursue patterns of discipleship that conform to a biblical picture of the human person.3 In other words, those who care about getting discipleship right must work hard to correctly align their ministry with their anthropology.

But it is at precisely this point where Smith and others worry that contemporary evangelicalism has failed. They argue that the “approach to discipleship and Christian formation” advanced by most evangelicals today conceals an impoverished anthropology that does not properly align with a more holistic and biblical understanding of the same. Namely, Smith claims that most evangelicals assume “an overly cognitivist picture of the human person” that “tends to foster an overly intellectualist account of what it means to be or become a Christian.” This misshapen faith, Smith contends, “is a talking-head version of Christianity that is fixated on doctrines and ideas” but neglects equally important aspects of being human, things like desire, love, and imagination.4

This is an important critique that all Christians—and especially those in ministry—cannot afford to ignore. My own experience of American and British evangelicalism, particularly in its Calvinistic and Reformed expressions, suggests that Smith’s diagnosis of a “talking-head” Christianity that fails to really engage the hearts of its hearers is often worryingly accurate. Were critics like Smith to review my own past preaching efforts, for example, they would certainly find ample evidence to advance their thesis. I cringe to recall one particular attempt to preach 1 Corinthians 15 on Easter Sunday in which I delivered up a 5,300 word treatise that featured many fine exegetical and theological comments but offered very few reasons why anyone should care. Looking back over the manuscript, I see that many concepts and key words were explained and defined, but little attempt was made to actually engage the hearts and imaginations of my hearers; there simply was not a lot there to draw them into the drama of the resurrection and kindle their desire to know and serve the resurrected Christ. Such preaching does indeed seem to betray precisely the sort of misalignment of ministry and anthropology that worries thinkers like Smith, a misalignment that implicitly “reduces human beings to brains-on-a-stick.”5

And yet, while one might affirm this diagnosis of the problem, serious questions can still be raised regarding the particular re-alignment being offered by Smith and company. Of particular interest is the increasingly popular claim that the road back from an overly intellectualized faith runs through the body. Evangelicals are being told that the best, or, perhaps, the only way to properly form disciples is to find modes of worship and reverence that engage bodies rather than just minds. At their most forceful, these authors seem to claim that real spiritual growth will be difficult, if not impossible, apart from holistic bodily engagement. As Smith has put it, the “way to the heart is through the body.”6

If such claims could be substantiated they would represent a major indictment of the typical evangelical worship service, small group meeting, or “quiet time,” all of which are word-heavy and body-light. These claims regarding the primacy of the body would also lend credibility to many longstanding critiques of the Protestant tradition as leveled by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians. Indeed, channeling the Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor, Smith suggests that “one of the unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation … was a process of excarnation—of disembodying the Christian faith, turning it into a ‘heady’ affair that could be boiled down to a message and grasped with the mind.”7 The charge that Protestant worship fails to holistically engage the whole person and all five senses is a standard point of contention between the representatives of Wittenberg and Geneva on the one hand and those of Rome and Constantinople on the other. Thus, one cannot help but notice some conspicuous continuities between, for example, James Smith’s rhetoric in You Are What You Love and Christian Smith’s account of his departure from evangelicalism and conversion to Roman Catholicism. When the latter Smith complains that Protestantism naively equates discipleship with “didactic learning,” one could be forgiven for confusing him with the former.8

Yet, while perhaps troubling to historically-minded Protestants, observing such continuities is not our purpose here. Rather, the present article wishes to consider a more practical question: namely, if I am an evangelical church leader, does my failure to promote embodied practices in worship and discipleship result in stunted spiritual growth for the people under my spiritual care? Have I badly misaligned my anthropology and my ministry? If evangelical church leaders are indeed operating with an implicit anthropology that is malformed and sub-biblical, an anthropology that regards men and women made in God’s image as little more than “brains-on-sticks,” then we have serious work to do. But if, on the other hand, the charge rests upon faulty assumptions and fails to capture the richness of the Protestant tradition, then the rising popularity of such rhetoric among ostensibly Reformation-minded evangelicals is, itself, a cause for legitimate concern.

In what follows, this article will interact with this cluster of issues across four major sections. To begin, we will glance back to the Protestant Reformation to briefly consider how the Reformers themselves sought to align Christian ministry with a more biblical anthropology. Then we will shift our attention from the Reformers’ re-alignment project to the contemporary proposals on offer from evangelicals like Smith, offering both an analysis followed by an appreciative critique. And, then, finally, we will build on that appreciative critique by exploring how those in ministry today might capitalize on some of the helpful insights advanced by the aforementioned authors, while also avoiding roads that may lead to unhelpful places.

2. Past Alignments: Anthropology, Ministry, and the Protestant Project

The quest to successfully align anthropology and ministry is not new. One might even conceive of the Reformation itself as an attempt to do just that. Though we typically identify the Reformation’s raison d’être with the doctrine of justification by faith alone, it is also worth noting that the recovery of that soteriological insight into how a person stands before a holy God was inseparable from the recovery of a vital anthropological insight about the kind of creatures God has made us to be. Namely, God made men and women as creatures who acquire that justifying faith through hearing God’s word. The reformers recovered not only the centrality of faith, but also an apostolic anthropology that foregrounds the divinely-appointed means through which that faith is kindled: “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 14:17). Thus inspired by an understanding of the human person as the kind of creature who is spiritually transformed through hearing and understanding and appropriating the proclamation of God’s word, the reformers “all, without exception, regarded preaching as fundamental to their duty as pastors, and to their evangelical mission.”9

The reformers’ enthusiasm for preaching is well appreciated, but what is perhaps less well appreciated is the way in which this privileging of word ministry represented a profound attempt to align anthropology with ministry. Think of what Protestants were rejecting when they did this: they were rejecting a religious world of late-medieval Catholicism in which the body was effectively privileged over the mind and heart, an observation best illustrated by considering the medieval mass. As the Roman Catholic historian Eamon Duffy has documented, “the liturgy lay at the heart of medieval religion, and the Mass lay at the heart of the liturgy.”10 But by what mechanism did the mass shape and form the people of God? Transformation was certainly not imagined as happening through hearing the words of life, meditating upon them, and being transformed thereby. The words of the mass, after all, were recited in a Latin which very few could understand, and were delivered with the priest facing ad orientem or with his back to the people. Thus, the late-medieval mass seemed signally unconcerned with how words and ideas might affect the faithful. Rather the mass achieved its desired effects through the proper arrangement of physical bodies.

For the mass to be efficacious, one required, in the first place, a proper body to officiate—that is, a priest’s body, a rightly ordained body, a body which, through the sacrament of Holy Orders, had been impressed with a special metaphysical character that differentiated it from other non-ordained bodies. Then one needed this proper body to be physically located in the proper place: in the church, at the altar, facing east. And then, while there, this particular body in this particular physical location needed to coordinate his lips and arms in a series of carefully prescribed movements, uttering the words of institution and elevating the consecrated host above his head, a choreographed liturgical dance that, if done correctly, effected necessarily the miracle of transubstantiation and the concomitant flow of divine grace.

At each step, this represented a privileging of the physical over the cognitive and the affective—right bodies, in right places, doing right things, and repeating right words. If the priest happened to be reflecting deeply upon sacred mysteries while raising the host above his head, that would be wonderful, but if, instead, he rushed, if he mumbled, if his thoughts wandered and were largely elsewhere, it did not compromise the efficacy of the mass performed because, ultimately, what mattered was that the proper physical things were properly coordinated in time and space. This basic logic was intrinsic to the system and it generated “a sort of ‘arithmetical piety’ that gave ‘almost a magical value to mere repetition of formulae.’”11 It was just this sort of “arithmetical piety” that induced the wealthy to hire “mass priests,” clerics paid to perform these embodied actions over and over again for the exclusive benefit of their patrons. Henry VII (1485–1509) is said to have ensured that no fewer than 10,000 masses would be said on his behalf, and, according to the historian Francis Oakley, even an “ordinary merchant” might manage to finance several hundred.12

And while the priest enacted his ritualized movements, the people’s successful engagement with the mass was likewise predicated upon the proper configuration of their bodies. For the mass to achieve its intended spiritual effect, the people needed to be in the right place, at the right time, and looking in the right direction. Within medieval Christendom, the bread and the wine were not ordinarily given to the people directly. One would not receive the wine at all, lest it be scandalously spilled, and one would only receive the bread perhaps once a year at Easter. Instead, as Eamon Duffy explains, for “most people, most of the time the Host was something to be seen, not to be consumed.”13 As the priest reached the moment of consecration and the point at which he elevated the host for all to see and adore, a bell was rung to signal to those present that it was time to look up and to be blessed in so doing. In this way, “seeing the Host became the high point of lay experience of the Mass.”14 Duffy’s survey of Eucharist art in pre-Reformation England found that “it was the moment of elevation of the Host which they almost invariably depicted.”15 Physically gazing upon the host ensured blessing in some real way, the viewer receiving grace, not only for the soul, but also for your body:

Behind all was the sense that those cut off from the opportunity of hearing Mass devoutly and seeing the Host were being deprived of precious benefits for body and soul. Mothers in labor could secure safe delivery, travelers safe arrival, eaters and drinkers good digestion, by gazing on the Host at Mass.16

Thus, for priest and layperson alike, the ministry of medieval Christendom was a ministry finely attuned to the proper coordination of bodies—bodies located in particular physical spaces and rightly coordinated in their movements. If you were in the same physical space as the host properly consecrated and elevated and if you lifted up your gaze at the right moment, blessings would be yours; but if the right bodies were not arranged in the right ways in the right places at the right times then those blessing would be missed. Now, obviously, there was much more to late-medieval piety than this, and no one would wish to suggest otherwise. But while there was more to it than this, there was not less, and this emphasis on people as physical bodies in need of physically mediated remedies loomed large as the irreducible baseline of late medieval piety. If James Smith and others are worried that evangelicals often reduce people to “brains on sticks” then here was a nexus of ministry and anthropology that often seemed to treat people as nothing but the sticks—sticks to be stacked and arranged in configurations designed to produce maximum spiritual effect

This was the world out of which the Reformers emerged and into which they introduced an incredible realignment of anthropology and ministry. Into this world the Reformers brought an anthropology insistent upon the idea that a human is not just a body needing to be physically manipulated in just the right manner. The Reformers foregrounded the idea that a human being made in God’s image was deeply and profoundly a creature who listens for the word of God, who hears, who understands, who believes, and who is spiritually transformed thereby. If “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17), then when the faithful look to Christ they see the one who “loved [them] and gave themselves for [them]” so “that he might sanctify and cleanse [them] with the washing of water by the word” (Eph 5:25–27). In this way the Reformation, then, was a realignment—an attempt to realign anthropology and ministry by recognizing that people have minds and hearts, minds which need to be taught so that hearts might be moved to love and service.

We see this new Protestant culture of prioritizing mind and heart in the renewed enthusiasm for and priority given to preaching among the reformers. The Hungarian Lutheran scholar Vilmos Vatja has written on the incredible degree to which Luther equated right worship with the hearing and understanding of God’s word so that one might be transformed by the same. One of Luther’s favorite stories from the life of Jesus was that of Mary and Martha, a story in which the reformer saw the Lord commending not Martha and her whirlwind of activity, action, and service, but, instead, Mary, who sat at Jesus’s feet and heard his word (Luke 10:39). So, likewise for Christ’s people today, said Luther and the Reformers, only “one thing is needed” (Luke 10:42): they too must sit at the feet of their Lord and listen to him. Vatja concludes that for the Reformers and Luther, in particular, “to hear God’s Word and to believe it is worship at its highest.”17

Thus, in their attempt to realign ministry and anthropology, the Reformers prioritized the mind and heart over the body, the interior over the exterior, the word over any enacted practice. And though this realignment project announced itself first and most boldly in the Reformation emphasis on preaching, as the Protestant tradition continued to develop, one sees the same basic logic emerging through a renewed emphasis upon personal piety as cultivated through reading and prayer—not memorized Latin prayers of which the speaker might have little sense, but prayers, whether set or extempore that were composed in the vernacular language and fully understood by the one offering them up to the Lord. Such tendencies were especially pronounced among English Protestants and the Puritans in particular. In his study of Being Protestant in Reformation Britain, Alec Ryrie concludes that the “intellectualism of early Protestantism is hard to overestimate.” By this, he does not mean intellectualism in the sense of elitism, but, rather he indicates a priority given to the mind and to learning that was meant to embrace the entire worshipping community. Ryrie continues,

Protestantism was a movement born and bred in universities, and it aspired to turn Christendom into a giant university, in which Christians would spend their time in private study or in attending the lectures and seminars which they called sermons, prophesyings, and conferences.… Protestants stressed learning because they believed that salvation came, not merely through faith, but through well–informed faith.18

The priority given to the mind by early modern Protestants is encapsulated nicely by the Puritan Jeremiah Dyke (1584–1639), who explained Christian growth as a movement from right knowing to right doing: “They must be first full of knowledge, that will be full of goodnesse. Full of knowledge, full of goodnesse, voyde of knowledge, voyde of goodness.”19 Or consider the example of Lewis Bayly and his bestselling book The Practice of Piety. Incredibly popular throughout Britain, Europe, and North America, Bayly’s manual of practical divinity enjoyed at least sixty-nine printings between 1613 and 1743.20 The book promised to instruct “a Christian how to walk that he may please God,” directions summarized by the frontispiece, which showed a “pious man” on his knees between a table on one side and an altar on the other. Upon the table was inscribed the directive, “Read,” and on the altar, “Pray.”21 According to this logic, spiritual growth was initiated by stimulating the mind rather than manipulating the body. And by shifting emphasis away from bodies coordinated according to the rhythms of the mass, and on to a worship that prioritized hearing, thinking, meditating, feeling, and knowing, the Protestant project launched a realignment of ministry and anthropology that has proven extraordinarily fruitful.

3. Proposed Re-Alignments: Habits, Liturgies, and Embodied Rituals

Yet whatever successes the traditional Protestant alignment of ministry and anthropology may have had in the past, influential voices within evangelical circles today are wondering whether the model has finally outlived its usefulness. As we have already observed, many are deliberately moving away from the word-centered piety that long characterized Protestant ministry and back toward a renewed interest in the role of the body in discipleship and spiritual formation. Focusing especially on the work of James K. A. Smith, we will now examine more closely this new proposed realignment of ministry and anthropology, and offer what I am calling an appreciative critique. Much that these authors have said is good, fresh, and helpful for church leaders looking to minister effectively in our twenty-first century context. But, at the same time, I worry that this literature also smuggles less helpful ideas in on the back of its more salutary insights.

We begin by recalling that Smith frames many of his big ideas in terms of the need to carefully align one’s ministerial practice with one’s anthropological conviction: “every approach to discipleship and Christian formation [i.e., ministry] assumes an implicit model of what human beings are [i.e., anthropology].”22 And Smith’s project, particularly in Desiring the Kingdom and You Are What You Love, speaks to both aspects of that realignment and advances two major premises. First, he puts forward the anthropological premise that human beings are primarily “lovers” rather than “thinkers”—what we will call “Big Premise #1” (BP1). And then, second, he builds upon BP1 to press home what we will call “Big Premise #2” (BP2): the idea that we can learn to love rightly through embodied ritualistic practices. In what follows, we will consider BP1 and BP2 in turn, and I will attempt to explain why I gladly embrace BP1 while raising serious concerns about BP2.

Smith’s BP1 offers an anthropological vision: a theological account of what a human being is. Namely, Smith states that “human persons are not primarily or for the most part thinkers.… Instead, human persons are—fundamentally and primordially—lovers.”23 A human being, we are told, can be defined by what he or she loves best. The primary alternative to the model of human-as-lover, has historically been, at least in the West, the model of the human-as-thinker. This model of the human person as essentially a “thinking thing” or, as Smith has more memorably put it, a “brain on a stick,” is “as old as Plato but rebirthed by Descartes and cultivated throughout modernity.” It is a model that imagines people as needing above all else “a steady diet of ideas, fed somewhat intravenously into the mind through the lines of proposition and information.”24

But, Smith warns, when Christians absorb this sort of anthropology, they unwittingly produce a “talking-head version of Christianity that is fixated on doctrines and ideas” rather than things like desire, love, and imagination.25 Smith contends that precisely such an “intellectualist model of the human person” has dominated evangelical Christian ministry, reducing people “to mere intellect” and naively assuming that discipleship “is primarily a matter of depositing ideas and beliefs into mind-containers.”26 Dru Johnson raises a similar point when he observes that in Matthew 16 “Jesus didn’t call people to take up their minds and follow him.”27 Likewise, Tish Harrison Warren has warned against “imagin[ing] the Christian life primary as a quest to get the right ideas in [one’s] head.” She recalls with regret a time in her own life when she “began to feel like the sort of Christianity that I gravitated toward only required my brain.”28

What, then, is to be done? Rather than reducing the richness of human identity to something more like a fleshy super-computer, Smith, inspired by Augustine, insists that we must “attend to our loves.” A strong sense of this thesis is neatly communicated through the titles of his books. The title, You Are What You Love—as opposed to, say, “You Are What You Think”—suggests a fundamental continuity between one’s core identity and that which one desires most deeply. Smith’s more academic treatment of these themes is titled, Desiring the Kingdom, as opposed to, perhaps, “Learning Information about the Kingdom,” or “Analyzing the Kingdom.” “To be human,” Smith explains, “is to be animated and oriented by some vision of the good life … we want that. We crave it. We desire it. This is why our most fundamental mode of orientation to the world is love.”29

So, then, if that is what a human person is, then our goal in ministry and discipleship, should not be so much to fill the head as to train the heart, to fire the imagination, and to kindle desire for God and his glory. What is most important, on this account, is not, ultimately, whether you have your propositional ducks all in a tidy row, but whether your heart beats in time with the rhythms of Christ and his kingdom. As Smith summarizes, “Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head … rather, it’s a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly—who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love.”30

This, then, is what I am calling Big Premise #1 (BP1). It strikes me as an undeniably attractive premise, one which, on balance, is in step with both Scripture and the spirit of the Reformation. The kind of “brains-on-sticks” anthropology that Smith is surely right to criticize, is one in which we assume, implicitly or explicitly, that if we can just get people to learn all the right things then we have done our job as pastors, as educators, as youth workers, etc. Instead, as Smith suggests, discipleship is holistic and involves shaping men and women into people who love God and love neighbor, who want what God wants, and who long to see his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. This is why, throughout the Bible, the blessed man or woman is one who does not merely know what God’s law says, but rather one who rejoices with the psalmist, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day!” (Ps 119:97)

And indeed, a great deal of post-Reformation Protestantism, especially in its Puritan and pietistic manifestations, has been preoccupied with this very point, pressing home the reality that while salvation certainly entails coming “to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), for that knowledge to be saving knowledge and not mere knowledge the heart must be fundamentally re-oriented toward God. The English Puritans, despite being enthusiastic advocates of right knowing as we mentioned earlier, always insisted that this godly knowledge was ultimately the God-appointed means to stir up godly affections and God-honoring loves. One thinks of how the Puritan Richard Baxter (1615–1691), for example, could recall his younger years in just such categories:

I wondered at the senseless hardness of my heart, that could think and talk of Sin and Hell, and Christ and Grace, of God and Heaven, with no more feeling: I cried out from day to day to God for grace against this senseless deadness: I called my self the most hard hearted Sinner, that could feel nothing of all that I knew and talkt of.31

Clearly, for Baxter, right knowing without right feeling was insufficient. Similarly, for the Puritan Thomas Watson (1620–1686), the key question to put before his hearers was not so much about their knowing or their doing, but ultimately about whether they were truly “lovers” of God. “It is not how much we do,” Watson insisted, “but how much we love.”32 The Dutch theologian Campegius Vitringa (1669–1722) nicely summarized the tradition when he wrote that the “source of the spiritual life is precisely this love for God. Where it reigns in a human heart, it absorbs and subordinates to itself all feelings and desires.”33 Such examples could be endlessly multiplied, for even a cursory examination of Protestant piety demonstrates that thinkers from Jonathan Edwards and Thomas Chalmers to John Piper and J. I. Packer have taught that Christian maturity entails renewed hearts that are ever more inclined to delight in godly things and feel repulsed by sinful things.

Thus, it seems that if we would heed the call from Smith to avoid a “brains-on-sticks” Christianity, our personal piety and public ministries would be the better for it. However, many recent authors pressing this point do not stop there. Having established this first premise, they quickly move to a second one, namely, that God-honouring affections are best cultivated through embodied ritualistic practices. This “Big Premise #2” (BP2) is put most concisely by Smith when he writes that the “way to the heart is through the body.”34 But what, exactly, does he mean by this?

The basic idea is that if love and desire are far more fundamental to a person’s identity than is their accumulated collection of facts and figures, then any attempt to shape or re-shape that love and desire through an appeal to more facts and figures is clearly wrong-headed and doomed to fail. The preacher expounding Matthew 6:33—“seek first his kingdom and his righteousness”—typically addresses men and women who already know intellectually that God should be their first priority, but this does not mean that those same well-informed folks will actually feel the weight of that and desire to live it out. What is a pastor to do?

The answer provided by James Smith and others is that you need to train their hearts by engaging their bodies:

We learn to love … not primarily by acquiring information about what we should love but rather through practices that form the habits of how we love. These sorts of practices are “pedagogies” of desire, not because they are like lectures that inform us, but because they are rituals that form and direct our affections.35

Embodied rituals, liturgies, and habits are “pedagogies of desire” that can, we are told, reach and redirect the wayward heart in ways that sermons, lectures, essays, and the like simply cannot. Smith explains that “disoriented heart-compasses requir[e] recalibration” and that “our loves need to be reordered (recalibrated) by … embodied, communal practices that are ‘loaded’ with the gospel and indexed to God and his kingdom.”36

And for people in ministry it is especially important to employ such embodied “liturgies,” Smith says, because the world is full of its own “liturgies”—secular liturgies that are also operating on the heart level to turn people towards idolatrous loves. Christian formation means turning people back through our own embodied ritualistic counter-liturgies. As Smith puts it:

You won’t be liberated from deformation by new information. God doesn’t deliver us from the deformative habit-forming power of tactile rival liturgies by merely giving us a book. Instead, he invites us into a different embodied liturgy that not only is suffused by the biblical story but also, via those practices, inscribes the story into our hearts.37

So, an obvious example that nearly anyone who advocates this position seems to bring up early and often is kneeling to pray. And, indeed, kneeling to pray is a widespread Christian practice in which the logic of a positive feedback loop between embodied practice and heart affection seems to make good sense. For example, in his book, The Common Rule, a book that openly acknowledges its intellectual debt to Smith, author Justin Earley talks about enhancing his prayer life through the embodied ritual of kneeling to pray: “Often one of the only ways to take hold of the mind is to take hold of the body.” He goes on to note that if kneeling is impracticable in a given context, he will substitute some other physical posture or gesture because “I need something physical to mark the moment for my slippery mind.”38

Or consider Dru Johnson, who, in his book Human Rites says that “rituals represent an embodied parable on our story of the world.” He explains that embodied rituals do not merely reflect one’s inner state of affairs, they also effect the state they represent; in addition to “symbolically reveal[ing] my thought life … [embodied] rites also do something to me.” As is typical of those making this argument, Johnson illustrates using the example of a person kneeling to pray, quoting the anthropologist Catherine Bell: “Kneeling does not merely communicate subordination … For all intents and purposes, kneeling produces a subordinated kneeler in and through the act itself.” To which Johnson comments, “So, not only can my outward actions express my inner thoughts, but my bodily actions can shape them too!”39

Now, of course, on one level, who could disagree with some of these comments? Might kneeling to pray bring about a pleasing congruity between one’s actual bodily posture and one’s intended spiritual posture, the outer and inner life coalescing as the forgiven sinner approaches a gracious God? Of course it could, and we would note in passing that Reformed Protestants, far from objecting to kneeling in prayer, often suggested that this was the ideal way to pray.40 And thus if Smith and others were simply trying to draw attention to our embodied nature and offer a gentle reminder that our conception of the Christian life should not wholly ignore this fact, it would be difficult to find fault with them.

But, actually, Smith and company are not just saying that. Rather, they seem to be saying quite a bit more. When Smith repeatedly stresses that “the way to the heart is through the body,” the clear implication is that if you are not reaching the body, then you are not reaching the heart. This amounts to a sweeping indictment of word-centered Reformation worship and piety and goes well beyond the suggestion that occasionally kneeling in prayer might be a helpful thing. If taken at face value, this logic suggests that Protestant parents and church leaders are guilty of serious spiritual negligence when they continue to emphasize things like catechesis and scripture memory while excluding the sort of sensory, embodied liturgical experiences more characteristic of worship in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. This raises the temperature of the discussion considerably and forces those in ministry to ask, and to ask with some urgency, should I accept Smith’s “Big Premises 1 and 2”?

4. Proposed Re-Alignments Reconsidered

BP1, as I have already suggested, seems a helpful corrective. Seeking to distance oneself from a “brains-on-sticks” Christianity accords with Scripture, the Reformed tradition, and common sense. But what about BP2? What about the idea that the best, or perhaps only, means to truly train the heart is through embodied ritual and sensory experience, the idea that “the way to the heart is through the body?”

Smith and other authors regularly suggest that acceptance of BP1 necessarily entails acceptance of BP2. BP1 is regularly elided with BP2, and as these authors seamlessly move from one to the other, the clear implication is that if you are nodding along with BP1 then you must inevitably also nod along with BP2 as well. Unfortunately, however, this implication is rarely made explicit and any logical connection between BP1 and BP2 is asserted rather than demonstrated. Consider, for example, the following passage from Smith:

To be conformed to the image of his Son is not only to think God’s thoughts after him but to desire what God desires. That requires the recalibration of our heart-habits and the recapturing of our imagination, which happens when God’s Word becomes the orienting centre of our social imaginary, shaping our very perception of things before we even think about them.41

This is an eloquent statement of BP1 to which I can only say, amen. But, notice what happens next:

So, like the secular liturgies of the mall or the stadium or the frat house, Christian liturgies can’t just target the intellect: they also work on the body, conscripting our desires through the senses. Christian worship that will be counterformative needs to be embodied, tangible, and visceral. The way to the heart is through the body.42

This is all BP2, but it is presented seamlessly as though it were an obvious and necessary implication of the preceding elucidation of BP1. Immediately after the paragraph cited above, Smith pivots back to BP1 to draw his conclusion: “That’s why counterformative Christian worship doesn’t just teach us how to think; it teaches us how to love, and it does so by inviting us into the biblical story and implanting that story into our bones.”43 This concluding sentence intermingles BP1 and BP2 as though the two propositions were self-evidently inseparable and mutually reinforcing.

This sort of conflation of BP1 and BP2 is typical of the way in which these arguments proceed. Rhetorically the effect is to use the obvious strength of BP1 to carry BP2 along in its wake. And yet upon closer examination, it is not at all obvious to me that BP2 flows from BP1, nor does it seem evident, whatever the relationship between the two premises, that BP2 is actually true. What reasons are we given to accept the truth of BP2?

The case Smith makes for why one should accept the claim that “the way to the heart is through the body” takes the form of argument by analogy. According to Paul Bartha, to advance one’s argument through analogy involves taking “accepted similarities between two systems to support the conclusion that some further similarity exists.”44 In Smith’s work the case for BP2 often employs such analogical reasoning: training the heart and cultivating godly affections is compared to some other kind of training—learning to play the piano, for instance—and the reader is invited to accept by the force of the analogy that certain principles governing, say, piano lessons, would also apply to heart lessons. But is this argument by analogy valid? As Bartha goes on to indicate, conclusions drawn from analogical arguments “do not follow with certainty but are only supported with varying degrees of strength.”45 In other words, an analogical argument is only valid to the extent that the two things brought into analogical relationship actually share the similarities suggested. And I would argue that the analogies invoked to establish BP2 are not particularly convincing.

One notices rather quickly that that when analogies are used to establish that “the way to the heart is through the body” they invariably draw upon examples of people trying to learn some sort of physical movement. In Desiring the Kingdom, for example, Smith explains the body-heart connection as follows:

Habits are inscribed in our heart through bodily practices and rituals that train the heart, as it were, to desire certain ends. This is a noncognitive sort of training.… Different kinds of material practices infuse noncognitive dispositions and skills in us through ritual and repetition precisely because our hearts (site of habits) are so closely tethered to our bodies. The senses are portals to the heart, and thus the body is a channel to our core dispositions and identity.46

This is straightforward enough in terms of what is being proposed, but it gives us very little reason to believe that the proposal advanced is, in fact, true. Why should I accept the assertion that “the body is a channel to [my] core dispositions and identity”? To establish his point, Smith turns to analogy. First he compares training the heart to learning to type: “how” he asks, “did your hands get to ‘know’” where the correct keys on the keyboard were? Smith’s answer is that your hands “learned” all of this “through rituals, routines, and exercises that trained your adaptive unconscious.”47 He then provides a second example, that of learning to play baseball: as baseball players field endless grounders, “the bodily practices (drills) … train the body (including the brain) to develop habits or dispositions to respond automatically in certain situations and environments. Our desire is trained in the same way.”48 The analogy is clear enough, and there is certainly an inner logic to it, but the real question is not whether the analogy makes sense on its own terms, but, rather, whether the proposed congruities between the two essentially different worlds of discourse actually hold up to scrutiny. In this case, do the suggested correspondences between physical training and heart training actually correspond? Are the things drawn together into analogical relationship actually congruent at the points the author imagines them to be?

If no such congruity can actually be demonstrated, then the entire case for BP2 begins to look rather suspect. This is because such analogical moves are so heavily emphasized in the literature. In You Are What You Love, for example, Smith likens training the heart to, among other things: learning to play the piano, acquiring a great golf swing, learning to drive a car, learning to type, acquiring tastes for certain foods, learning to enjoy exercise, learning to ride a bicycle, learning to play tennis, and learning to physically navigate a town.49

All of these proposed analogies make sense on their own terms, but, I do not believe they are actually good analogies. The chief defect stems from the fact that in all of these scenarios, both the means of skill acquisition and the skill ultimately in view are physical. Typically, these means of skill acquisition involve breaking down some complex physical movement into its constituent parts and then working on each discrete part over and over again until the entire operation can be performed smoothly—think of perfecting one’s golf swing by first working on one’s stance, then the movement of one’s hips, then one’s elbow placement, etc. And thus in all of the analogies offered, the physical means of skill acquisition correspond perfectly to the very physical end in view, namely, rapid, consistent, smooth, physical execution. Thus, something like learning to play the piano—a physical end—requires a physical means—repeatedly firing one’s fingers according to specific drills.

But a serious problem arises when Smith and others then carry these physical activities into realms in which the ends in view are not physical but mental, emotional, and cognitive. When we are told that learning to love God is like learning to swing a golf club, the unstated premise is that because the latter is amenable to embodied, repeated practice, the former must be too. But what is never actually proven is why anyone would ever think that this was actually the case. By repeatedly likening the cultivation of godly affections to the acquisition of various physical skills these authors smuggle in the idea that the same physical means of skill acquisition applicable to things like riding a bicycle will also apply to spheres in which the end result is not physical at all. But this is very problematic. Analogies used in this way can clarify a relationship the author wishes to posit, but they cannot establish that the posited relationship actually exists. And thus because the analogies used by Smith and company inappropriately confuse very different arenas, they cannot carry the persuasive weight these authors would like them to.

Furthermore, as one begins to evaluate the assertion that “the way to the heart is through the body,” life seems to be brimming with very obvious counterexamples, examples of situations in which the body is not recruited in any way and yet the affections are stirred and shaped. One imagines, for example, a movie theatre full of people watching James Cameron’s Titanic and being moved right across the emotional spectrum all while their bodies are utterly motionless and inert. If one replies that the 1997 Best Picture is a sensory feast for the ears and eyes, I would remind you that the claim being made again and again in these books, the claim to which I am objecting, is that embodied practices, rituals that physically move and position the body, offer the essential key to unlocking heart change. And in the movie theatre, whatever sounds and sights are on offer, the bodies are not moving.

Similarly, anyone who has read a novel, listened to a piece of music, or sat silently before a painting will understand that affections are stirred, imaginations are kindled, and hearts are trained, more often than not, by the relatively disembodied appreciation of ideas, words, and images. Experience proves that the converse also holds true: embodied rituals often fail to ignite the hearts of those involved. One thinks, for example, of the many people raised in highly liturgical, embodied traditions like Orthodoxy and Catholicism whose hearts were left cold and unmoved by what they came to regard, fairly or unfairly, as “mindless repetition.” When such obvious counter examples are combined with the confused quality of the analogical argumentation on offer, one is left wondering what reasons there might be to accept the premise that “the way to the heart is through the body.” Absent such cogent, compelling reasons to accept this premise, it does not seem at all obvious that ministers and parents and youth workers steeped in a logocentric Protestant religious culture should be urged to adopt new ministerial methods.

5. Finding a Settled Alignment: Word Ministry and Pastoral Imagination

If, like me, you find yourself attracted to what I’ve described here as Big Premise #1, and yet you remain skeptical of Big Premise #2, then the foregoing reflections will perhaps leave you wondering where we might go from here. If, like me, you are convinced that the Reformers’ emphasis on word ministry and their resistance to the use of extra-biblical rituals and forms in worship was, in the main, wise and congruent with the spirit of the New Testament, then you are left to puzzle through how your ministry can both preserve those biblical insights while also not treating people made in God’s image as though they were mere “brains on sticks.” To that end, let us reflect in this final section on how recent books on embodiment and imagination might prompt us to think more carefully about how we can best minister to whole people.

First, without necessarily agreeing with the idea that the “way to the heart is through the body,” or, as I have been calling it, Big Premise #2, we can still, helpfully, take the reminder that God has, indeed, created us with bodies. Our embodiment is not an accident or a mistake or a mere concession to our finitude, but, rather, something that reflects the will of an infinitely wise, wonderfully good, and unimaginably creative God. Thus, the reality of embodiment can and should impinge upon the way we imagine our church life, the way we pastor people, the way we construct our sermons, and the way we think about what it means to live in a God-honoring way.

Giving more weight to embodiment could take any number of forms. For example, without attempting to invent new “embodied rituals,” we could give more careful consideration to how we approach those “embodied rituals” that scripture already gives us, namely, the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Do we treat these like optional add-ons to be rushed through every so often, or do we approach them as key components in the life of the church? We could also attend more carefully to the ways in which our physical worship spaces impinge upon our worship experience. It seems to me that one can be fully committed to the second commandment’s perpetual relevance without supposing that a lack of aesthetic sense is thereby something virtuous. We could also pay more attention to ways in which embodiment affects spirituality and then explicitly develop these lines of reflection in our preaching and teaching.50

Second, we can more intentionally embrace what I have called Big Premise #1, the idea that human beings are not primarily knowledge-receptacles, but rather image-bearers with imaginations that need to be fired and desires that need to be creatively led towards God-glorifying ends. By casting a vision for this sort of holistic ministry, authors like James Smith have done us all a tremendous service. But for those of us committed to a Reformation, word-centered ministry, the answer is not to sideline preaching and catechesis in favor of new embodied rituals, but rather to recognize that word ministry is more than able to fulfill Smith’s wise call in BP1 to speak to the whole person. If we are not doing that, and if our churches do sometimes resemble dry information distribution centers, then shame on us. But, where I would depart from some recent authors, is to strongly affirm that the answer to bad preaching is not less preaching and more ritual. Rather, the answer to bad preaching is good preaching.

I fear that a growing number of people in evangelical circles might be giving up on the sermon as the primary place where God shapes his people precisely because the preaching they have grown up hearing rarely if ever captivated their imaginations in the way Smith and others describe. I recently got to hear an accomplished evangelical Christian artist give a fine talk on creativity and the Christian life. This was a thoughtful, reflective, incredibly gifted individual who harnesses various artistic forms to make the Christian story vivid and captivating. But after being captivated myself for forty-five minutes by his lecture, I was dispirited by an exchange that took place during the Q&A: when asked if he had any advice for preachers on how they could improve their sermons in light of his foregoing comments on creativity and imagination, the speaker seemed slightly caught off guard. It was clear that preaching was not a topic to which he had given much thought. And while that in itself is fair enough—this gentleman was not a pastor and was not there to talk about preaching—he went on to make a comment which I found both telling and discouraging. The speaker said something to the effect of, “You know, to be honest, the preaching in my church isn’t that great and it rarely if ever moves me. But that’s OK because I’m not really looking for the sermon to do that anyway. I get that imaginative, heart-level engagement through the liturgy and especially at the communion table.”

That remark saddened me, not because I reject the premise that the Lord’s Table should be a powerful locus of Christian formation (to the contrary, I suspect we twenty-first-century evangelicals are sometimes guilty of neglecting the Supper as means of grace). But rather the remark made me feel sad because here was a thoughtful, engaged evangelical who seemed to have, in some basic way, given up on preaching. That is a scandal. The reason the Reformers foregrounded word ministry was not because they were stuffy or elitist or overly rationalistic, but rather because Paul tells Timothy that his chief ministerial duty is to “preach the word in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2), and because Scripture continually describes the blessed person as one “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night” (Ps 1:1–2). So, if some of our most thoughtful and intellectually awake listeners are turning away from our preaching then that is a clear and urgent call to do better.

And that is precisely where books like You Are What You Love and Desiring the Kingdom can be so helpful to us, because they prod us and push us to remember that walking with the Lord is not, ultimately, about memorizing lists of facts and figures, but rather about being “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom 12:2). James Smith helps me see that and be excited about it. But, I do not think we need to deemphasize preaching or embrace embodied ritual to get there. Instead, we should be working to craft sermons that excite people’s imaginations and make them long for the kingdom of God. We need preachers who are not content simply to highlight an unusual verb tense, explain who the Amalekites were, and then sit down. We need preachers, rather, who do all of that explanatory work, but then go on to press the message home in surprising, exciting, imaginative ways, unfolding the manifold connections between the world of the Scriptures and the world of the hearers, drawing people into the story of God and his kingdom that they might long for communion with him as the deer longs for streams of cool water (Ps 42:1).

Doing that will require a commitment on our part to better cultivate our own imaginations. Drawing others into the story of God’s redemptive work requires that we first be so drawn ourselves. As Richard Winter argues, “imagination, creativity and interest in life … can either be cultivated, strengthened and developed or ignored, suppressed and allowed to wither and even die.”51 I do wonder whether much of the dissatisfaction with preaching today flows directly from the reality that too many would-be preachers are stepping into pulpits with imaginations that have been too long neglected. In pursuit of a corrective, let me conclude with four brief suggestions for how we might develop a word ministry that leads our hearers to not merely know more about the kingdom, but to actually desire it.

First, spend less time looking at screens and more time reading, praying, and thinking deeply. In recent years, both Christian and non-Christian authors have done fine work documenting the degree to which a more-or-less continuous engagement with screens is antithetical to the life of the mind.52 Unfortunately, in my experience, the response to such arguments, even among those who broadly agree with them, is to nod, voice concern, and then proceed to make no meaningful changes whatsoever. Yet this cannot be our response if we wish to present a vital, creative ministry of the word for twenty-first century hearers. Whatever form it takes, I am increasingly persuaded that more radical approaches are required if pastors are to cultivate the sort of rich interiority that will be required to consistently engage the hearts of our hearers.

Second, read Scripture more attentively. For the digitally-overloaded, twenty-first century preacher, the besetting temptation will be to read the Bible, as T. David Gordon has put it, “only for the overt content,” an approach that tends to flatten biblical passages and turn particular texts into opportunities for overly general remarks.53 To move from dull generality to the sort of concrete specificity that can stimulate real interest, we must practice a slow, patient, meditative reading of scripture. Too often the pressure of ministry and the ever-present distraction of our digital devices combine to squeeze out any real leisurely stretches of silence before the biblical text. And yet, such periods of distraction-free, focused immersion in scripture seem absolutely imperative if we would craft sermons that are truly alive.

Third, read widely.54 The most imaginative and interesting people I know are, without exception, people committed to reading both deeply and widely. They are curious about life and delight in exploring whatever happens to excite them. They are people who continually embody G. K. Chesteron’s maxim that there are no uninteresting subjects, only uninterested people. Charles Spurgeon urged students at his Pastors’ College to read right across the spectrum and “neglect no field of knowledge,” suggesting that the spark to enliven one’s sermon might come from “a naturalist’s journal,” a “traveler’s narrative of his voyages,” a work of history or botany or geology. “Yes, and even … a manual of alchemy,” said Spurgeon, “may like Samson’s dead lion, yield you honey.”55 To Spurgeon’s list of sources, I would be quick to add novels, poems, and plays. Serious literature, as the literary critic James Wood has observed, “makes us better noticers of life.”56 As we attend more carefully to literature, we are taught how to attend more carefully to the small but telling details that together constitute our human condition. And by thus presenting a way of noticing, describing, and exploring what it means to be God’s image bearers living in God’s world, novels furnish would-be preachers with both a more finely tuned understanding of what their congregants are experiencing day-to-day and a model for how one might transform those experiences into words.

Fourth and finally, make sure that you are taking time each week for reading and reflection on God’s ways and God’s world that is wholly unrelated to that week’s sermon or Bible study. If our only intellectual and emotional input is too tightly tethered to a rapidly approaching deadline, our reading and thinking will inevitably be characterized by a utilitarian ethos that stands irrevocably opposed to a deep, creative, and generative interior life. Desperately scanning through a trusted volume in search of an apropos quotation for tomorrow morning’s sermon may sometimes be a necessary expedient, but if this is the only way we ever engage great books, then a dry and sterile imagination will be the sure result. Perhaps the well won’t run dry this month or even this year, but eventually the delight of discovery will yield to the press of meeting deadlines. Imaginative connections between God’s word and God’s world abound, but such links will only be drawn by those pastors who regularly give themselves the gifts of solitude, quietness, and a deep reading that has no immediate object but the glory of God and the growth of the minister.

[1] E.g., Justin Whitmel Earley, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019); Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016); Dru Johnson, Human Rites: The Power of Rituals, Habits, and Sacraments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2019).

[2] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009); James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016).

[3] Smith, You Are What You Love, 2.

[4] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 42.

[5] Smith, You Are What You Love, 3.

[6] Smith, You Are What You Love, 46.

[7] Smith, You Are What You Love, 101; cf. Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2012).

[8] Christian Smith, How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011), 100; on the appeal of Catholicism and Orthodoxy among evangelicals, see Kenneth J. Stewart, In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis (London: Apollos, 2017), 253–73.

[9] Andrew Pettegree, Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 10.

[10] Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400–1580 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 91.

[11] Francis Oakley, The Western Church in the Later Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979), 118.

[12] Oakley, The Western Church in the Later Middle Ages, 118.

[13] Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, 95.

[14] Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, 95.

[15] Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, 96.

[16] Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, 100.

[17] Vilmos Vatja, quoted in Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Volume 4: The Age of the Reformation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 39–40.

[18] Alec Ryrie, Being Protestant in Reformation Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 261–62.

[19] Jeremiah Dyke, A Worthy Communicant (London: Dawlman, 1636), 111.

[20] Andrew Cambers, Godly Reading: Print, Manuscript and Puritanism in England, 1580–1720 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 243.

[21] Lewis Bayly, The Practise of Pietie: Directing a Christian How to Walke That He May Please God (London: Iohn Hodgets, 1613), frontispiece.

[22] Smith, You Are What You Love, 3.

[23] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 41.

[24] Smith, You Are What You Love, 3.

[25] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 42.

[26] Smith, You Are What You Love, 3.

[27] Johnson, Human Rites, 26.

[28] Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary, 41–42.

[29] Smith, You Are What You Love, 11.

[30] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 32–33.

[31] Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae (London: T. Parkhurst, J. Robinson, J. Lawrence, and J. Dunton, 1696), 5.

[32] Thomas Watson, Heaven Taken by Storm: Showing the Holy Violence a Christian Is to Put Forth in the Pursuit after Glory, ed. Joel R. Beeke (Grand Rapids: Soli Deo Gloria, 2019), 64.

[33] Campegius Vitringa, The Spiritual Life, trans. Charles K. Telfer (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2018), 17.

[34] Smith, You Are What You Love, 46.

[35] Smith, You Are What You Love, 21.

[36] Smith, You Are What You Love, 57–58.

[37] Smith, You Are What You Love, 83–84.

[38] Earley, The Common Rule, 37,41.

[39] Johnson, Human Rites, 17.

[40] E.g., William Gouge, The Whole-Armour of God (London: Iohn Beale, 1616 [RSTC 12122]), 341.

[41] Smith, You Are What You Love, 85, emphasis original.

[42] Smith, You Are What You Love, 85.

[43] Smith, You Are What You Love, 85.

[44] Paul Bartha, “Analogy and Analogical Reasoning,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019),

[45] Bartha, “Analogy and Analogical Reasoning.”

[46] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 58–59.

[47] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 59.

[48] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 60; for an example of a similar use of analogical reasoning to make a very similar point, though this time using basketball rather than baseball practice, see Matthew Lee Anderson, Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 210–11.

[49] Smith, You Are What You Love, 18, 19, 35, 36, 58–59, 62, 64, 107–8, 137–38.

[50] See, e.g., Christopher Ash, Zeal without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice (Epsom, Surrey: Good Book, 2016); David P. Murray, Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017); Shona Murray, Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).

[51] Richard Winter, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment: Rediscovering Passion and Wonder (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 82.

[52] E.g., Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (New York: Faber and Faber, 2006); T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009); Nicholas G. Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (New York: Norton, 2010); Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (New York: Penguin, 2019).

[53] Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach, 46–47.

[54] This theme is helpfully explored in Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013).

[55] C. H. Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1960), 36–37.

[56] James Wood, How Fiction Works (London: Vintage, 2009), 53.

Matthew C. Bingham

Matthew Bingham is lecturer in systematic theology and church history at Oak Hill College in London, England.

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