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?

SCRIPTURE TO CONSIDER:

  • 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. 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:

  • 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? Continue reading

NFL Thanksgiving as a Cultural Liturgy of “God & Country,” Nationalist Militarism (James K.A. Smith)

As always, James K.A. Smith is equally perceptive of cultural habits as he is insightful in his analysis of them.

In today’s The NFL’s Thanksgiving games are a spectacular display of America’s ‘God and country’ obsession, published over at the The Washington Post, Smith plays on a common thesis in his writings:

Whereas many see our culture’s habits, traditions, and institutions as mundane, non-religious affairs, James sees much more at stake. They are competing rituals, or “religious” liturgies competing for our worship and shaping our loves.

Christian worship is formative — forming us into a people who love Christ and his kingdom. Our competing cultural “liturgies” (e.g., here: a traditional NFL Thanksgiving; or in other places in Smith’s writing: e.g., the mall as a house of worship for consumerism — quite relevant for tomorrow’s Black Friday) have a deformative power, pulling on our affections and, in the process, misplacing them (idolatry).


Continue reading