In an article I wrote for Chuck Colson in 2011, titled 'What the Church Can Learn from the Mall', I argued that the marketing industry behind the mall has understood one basic fact of human nature: we tend to follow after those images of the good life that have first captivated our hearts. The things we love tend to be cultivated through the embodied practices that educate our desire and, in so doing, shape our understanding of the good life. This understanding often happens on a level far deeper than the cognitive mind is even aware.
I am indebted to James K.A. Smith for helping me to understand this. He has pointed out that “the mall…[grabs] hold of our gut (kardia) by means of our body and its senses - in stories and images, sights and sounds, and commercial versions of ‘smells and bells’...” When our senses are constantly immersed in the stimuli of the consumerist gospel, our heart unconsciously begins to associate the symbols and implicit messages of the mall with the good life.
What can the church learn from this? According to Smith, Christian worship should also seek aim at the heart by training the body. In chapter 5 of Desiring the Kingdom, Smith has a fascinating discussion of the elements of traditional Christian worship – elements which, ironically, many “seeker-sensitive” churches have thrown out in their quest for relevance – to show how these can help to train our heart to desire the Biblical visions of the good life.
It is important for the church to train our minds, but if Smith is correct it is even more important for the church to grab our hearts.
To read more about this, visit my article 'What the Church Can Learn from the Mall.'
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