So we assume that a disciple is a learner who is acquiring more infor- mation about God through the Scriptures—that serious discipleship is really discipleship of the mind. And of course that’s true. Scripture en- joins us to take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2).
body by its weight tends to move towards its proper place. The weight’s movement is not necessarily downwards, but to its appro- priate position: fire tends to move upwards, a stone downwards. They are acted on by their respective weights; they seek their own place. Oil poured under water is drawn up to the surface on top of the water. Water poured on top of oil sinks below the oil. They are acted on by their respective densities, they seek their own place. Things which are not in their intended position are restless. Once they are in their or- dered position, they are at rest.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU THINK.” That is a very explicit way to state what many of us implicitly assume. In ways that are more “modern” than biblical, we have been taught to assume that human beings are fundamentally thinking things
hile we might never have read—or even heard of—seventeenth-century French philosopher René Descartes, many of us unwittingly share his definition of the essence of the human person as res cogitans, a “thinking thing.” Like Descartes, we view our bodies as (at best!) extraneous, temporary vehicles for trucking around our souls or “minds,” which are where all the real action takes place
ndeed, at a glance, given our habits of mind, you might think Paul is praying that the Christians in Philippi would deepen their knowledge so that they will know what to love. But look again. In fact, Paul’s prayer is the inverse: he prays that their love might abound more and more because, in some sense, love is the condition for knowledge. It’s not that I know in order to love, but rather: I love in order to know. And if we are going to discern “what is best”—what is “excellent,” what really matters, what is of ultimate impor- tance—Paul tells us that the place to start is by attending to our loves
St. Augustine, a fifth-century philosopher, theologian, and bishop from North Africa who captured this holistic picture of the human person early in the life of the church. In the opening paragraph of his Confessions—his spiritual autobiography penned in a mode of prayer—Augustine pinpoints the epicenter of human identity: “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”3 Packed into this one line is wisdom that should radically change how we approach worship, discipleship, and Christian formation. Several themes can be discerned in this compact insight.
The gospel is the way we learn to be human.4 As Ire- naeus once put it, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”5 Sec- ond, the implicit picture of being human is dynamic. To be human is to be for something, directed toward something, oriented toward some- thing. To be human is to be on the move, pursuing something, after something. We are like existential sharks: we have to move to live. We are not just static containers for ideas; we are dynamic creatures directed toward some end. In philosophy we have a shorthand term for this: something that is oriented toward an end or telos (a “goal”) is described as “teleological.” Augustine rightly recognizes that human beings are teleological creatures.
ou have made us to know you, and our minds are ignorant until they understand you.” The longing that Augustine describes is less like curiosity and more like hunger—less like an intellectual puzzle to be solved and more like a craving for sustenance (see Ps. 42:1–2)
This teleological aspect of the human person, coupled with the funda- mental centrality of love, generates Augustine’s third insight: because we are made to love the One who made and loves us—“we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19)—we
Augustine goes on to unpack the analogy: “My weight is my love,” he says. “Wherever I am carried, my love is carrying me.
key question then: How do I acquire such virtues? I can’t just think my way into virtue.12 This is another difference between laws or rules, on the one hand, and virtues, on the other. Laws, rules, and commands specify and articulate the good; they inform me about what I ought to do. But virtue is different: virtue isn’t acquired intellectually but affectively.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kind- ness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col. 3:12–14)
To “put on” Christ is to clothe ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gen- tleness, and patience (cf. Rom. 13:14).
Good moral habits are like internal dispositions to the good—they are character traits that become woven into who you are so that you are the kind of person who is inclined to be compassionate, forgiving, and so forth. Virtues thus are different from moral laws or rules, which are external stipulations of the good.
key question then: How do I acquire such virtues? I can’t just think my way into virtue.12 This is another difference between laws or rules, on the one hand, and virtues, on the other. Laws, rules, and commands specify and articulate the good; they inform me about what I ought to do. But virtue is different: virtue isn’t acquired intellectually but affectively. Education in virtue is not like learning the Ten Commandments or memorizing Colossians 3:12–14. Education in virtue is a kind of formation, a retraining of our dispositions. “Learning” virtue—becoming virtuous—is more like practicing scales on the piano than learning music theory: the goal is, in a sense, for your fingers to learn the scales so they can then play “naturally,” as it were. Learning here isn’t just infor- mation acquisition; it’s more like inscribing something into the very fiber of your being.
hus philosophers and theologians from Aristotle to Aquinas have emphasized two aspects of virtue acquisition. First, we learn the virtues through imitation. More specifically, we learn to be virtuous by imitating exemplars of justice, compassion, kindness, and love. In our culture that prizes “authenticity” and places a premium on novelty and uniqueness, imitation has received a bad rap, as if being an imitator is synonymous with being a fake (think “imitation leather”). But the New Testament holds imitation in a very different light. Indeed, we are exhorted to be imitators. “Follow my example,” Paul says, “as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1
Virtues are learned and acquired, through imitation and practice. It’s like we have moral muscles that are trained in the same way our bi- ological muscles are trained when we practice a golf swing or piano scales.
If you are what you love, and your ultimate loves are formed and aimed by your immersion in practices and cultural rituals, then such practices fundamentally shape who you are. At stake here is your very identity, your fundamental alle- giances, your core convictions and passions that center both your self- understanding and your way of life. In other words, this contest of cultural prac- tices is a competition for your heart—the center of the human person designed for God, as Augustine reminded us. More precisely, at stake in the formation of your loves is your religious and spiritual identity, which is manifested not only in what you think or what you believe but in what you do—and what those practices do to you.
n order to appreciate the spiritual significance of such cultural practices, let’s call these sorts of formative, love-shaping rituals “liturgies.” It’s a bit of an old, churchy word, but I want to both revive and expand it because it crystallizes a final aspect of this model of the human person: to say “you are what you love” is syn- onymous with saying “you are what you worship.” The great Reformer Martin Luther once said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your
od.”15 We become what we worship because what we worship is what we love. As we’ve seen, it’s not a question of whether you worship but what you worship— which is why John Calvin refers to the human heart as an “idol factory.”16 We can’t not worship because we can’t not love something as ultimate.
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