Christianity’s tension between ideas & practices; Ken Myers & James K.A. Smith talk it out


I loved the way Francis Schaeffer engaged ideas. However, ideas can be overemphasized, both in apologetics and church life.

What follows are excerpts from a conversation between Mars Hill Audio Journal‘s Ken Myers and Calvin College philosopher James K.A. Smith.

MYERS: The concern that I had — and I had this concern with Schaeffer — is that, Schaeffer makes it sound like all of Western history is a kind of excretion of practices which were purely based on ideas, rather than a complicated intermix between ideas, and economic and technical developments — and particularly economic developments. Well, anyway, this is taking us …

SMITH: Well, it’s interesting … I find this conversation about the relationship between practice and ideas really important, and I find it important for the church … that dialectic between practice and reflection is exactly the process of sanctification.

MYERS: Exactly … We participate in practices before we know what we are going to learn from them.

SMITH: Yeah. Yeah.

MYERS: We don’t participate in practices because we’ve learned all the things they represent, and now having signed the contract that we agree with all these things, we’re going to now do them.

(From Mars Hill Audio Journal, Volume 82)

This reminds me of a quotation by another contemporary Christian philosopher, Linda Zagzebski, from a personal essay she wrote for the book Philosophers Who Believe:

“The natural order of religious belief is not usually to form propositional beliefs first and only later to engage in the faith life of a community. If we disengaged ourselves from the practice of faith in order to ‘find out’ if it is justified, there is very little chance that we will ever find out.”

I think these things can, in part, point to the value of liturgical worship. Participation in liturgy is a kind of externalized practice that can work in conjunction with ideas to develop a whole person.

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