Cultural Liturgies & the Church’s Counter-Liturgy (James K.A. Smith) — Discussion Questions

The following is a list of discussion questions composed for a CrossWay Community Church small group, Christ & Culture, for use throughout May 2019.

Week 1 – Examining Cultural (Deformative) Liturgies

ASSIGNMENT: Read chapter 2, “You Might Not Love What You Think” in You Are What You Love (or alternatively listen to James’ video of a talk by Smith on this subject).

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Think about your last trip to the mall. What did you do there? What did you buy? How were people around you spending their time or money?


  • Prov 4:23.
  • Mt 12:33-35.
  • Rom 12:1-2.
  • Eph 4:17-25.
  • 1 John 2:15-17.
  • James 1:27; 4:4. 


  • What is the basic premise Smith is arguing?
  • Why do we do what we do? // How do we change why we do what we do (sanctification)?
  • Augustine famously said, “God, you have made us for yourself. And our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee?” // Do you agree? // If so, how does this shape our understanding of the human experience (human nature)?
  • Are there any critiques, concerns, or cautions you might have with Smith’s material and arguments?
  • We might say, somewhat in contrast to Smith, R.C. Sroul says this:

The key method Paul underscores as the means to the transformed life is by the “renewal of the mind.” This means nothing more and nothing less than education. Serious education. In-depth education. Disciplined education in the things of God. It calls for a mastery of the Word of God. We need to be people whose lives have changed because our minds have changed. … The key to spiritual growth is in-depth Christian education that requires a serious level of sacrifice. … True transformation comes by gaining a new understanding of God, ourselves, and the world.

What’s true in what each is saying? What are the potential pitfalls of each?

  • Smith argues that we need to come to view our culture’s practices as “liturgies.” What does he mean by this? Is this helpful?
  • What our some of the “liturgies” (or “places of liturgy”) of our secular cultural? And in what specific ways do they form their participants?
  • How might you look anew in this way at things like the mall, stadium-sporting events, the university, the cinema/TV/streaming service, political campaigns or media, the smartphone, social media, patriotic holidays and rituals, the business world, etc.? What “gospel” (particular vision of the good) do these “liturgies” form and direct our hearts toward?
  • What does it mean to be counter-culturally Christ-like in the midst of these deformative cultural “liturgies”? In other words, how do we then live?
  • How does the church, the communion of the saints, help us (help each other) to have our hearts increasingly formed in this way into “maturing followers of Jesus by the power of the gospel”?

CLOSING APPLICATION: Studies show that some brands can inspire worship-like devotion (see box on p. 52). When does brand loyalty turn into worship? What brands do you have religious devotion to in your life? How should you reconsider your relation to these things?

Week 2 – Considering the Church’s Counter- (Transformative) Liturgy

ASSIGNMENT: Read chapter 4, “What Story Are You In?” in You Are What You Love.


  • Prior to reading Smith, on a scale of 1-10, how important would you have rated the role corporate worship in your Christian life and discipleship? And why?

“If we want to be a people oriented by a biblical worldview and guided by biblical wisdom, one of the best spiritual investments we can make is to mine the riches of historic Christian worship, which is rooted in the conviction that the Word is caught more than it is taught.” – James Smith

  • Have your views on corporate worship changed since reading Smith? If so, how?
  • If you could diagram the plotline, or “narrative arc,” of our church’s 
worship service, what story would it be telling?
  • Consider the different parts of our gathered worship (e.g., call to worship, song, prayer, scripture reading, preaching, sending–benediction or charge; in addition, we might also consider some practices that are more prevalent in other traditions: reciting a creed together, confessing our sin, etc.). How do these practices form us as followers of Jesus? What does each “habit” communicate to and instil in us? What “story” does each part tell us?
  • Do we usually feel a need to confess sin? Do we want to?
  • Why do you think Christ chose to give us the Lord’s Supper in the form he did? How does the Lord’s Supper form us? How does it’s “ritual” (its practices—”the way we do it”) form us?
  • What is lost if we are not a part of the church’s regular rhythm of gathering together for worship (e.g., say we are not a part of a church; or consider the increasing trend to “do” church digitally / online, apart from an actual gathering of other believers)? What do we miss?
  • One thing we’d obviously miss is relationship. But, in addition to that, what do we miss “liturgically” (or “formatively”) (imagine how James Smith might answer)?
  • Why is worshiping “shoulder to shoulder” with others important? What does “liturgical habit” convey to us; and how does the mere fact of worshiping with othersformus?
  • Worship also involves our bodies (i.e., it’s embodied). Why is this important? Is it?
  • Last meeting we saw how the various “cultural (secular) liturgies” that surround us are regularly bombarding us with their own competing vision of what we’re “here for” (why we exist, “the good life,” what our need is, and how we can remedy it). // How does our Christian worship answer the question of“what we’re “here for”?
  • Let’s be “apocalyptic” for a minute… If you remember from last time, that means “to lift the veil”—often by painting a picture through the use of symbolism—to expose what’s “really happening” or “really going on” (think of books like Daniel and Revelation). If you were to pick a metaphor, illustration, or picture to explain what’s “really going on” in our Christian worship, what would it be? Explain…
  • How does this vision of the church’s worship sustain you to live in a hostile world and empower you to live on mission for Christ?


  • What’s one way God has used this small group to grow, challenge, or encourage you in your discipleship?
  • How can we be praying for you as we enter into the summer?