The Table Video

James K.A. Smith

Borrowing Spiritual Practices: Incorporate or Reject?

Professor of Philosophy / Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview, Calvin College
March 27, 2014

Philosopher James K.A. Smith (Calvin College) explains how Christians have appropriated their worship traditions, being influenced by other spiritual traditions. Where should contemporary Christians draw the line?


Christian practices were already the sort of re-appropriation and reorientation of other “religious practices” that they inherited from Israel and from Judaism. And so that didn’t require a wholesale dismissal of those, it was a sort of creative, critical appropriation that then redirected them to Christ and his Kingdom. The same thing is true, you know, Christian worship did not fall from the sky. Historic Christian worship, the liturgy that we followed tonight did not fall from Heaven. It was culturally produced and we have to be honest that they’re both appropriating Judaism’s practices and Roman practices. Right?

Now, they weren’t blind appropriations, right? They were re-appropriations that re-indexed them, biblically, to Christ and his Kingdom. So I think there’s always kinds of re-contextualization of practices that are going on in the history of Christian worship. I haven’t thought much about yoga. I do think it’s a really interesting testimony of a very holistic tradition, right? That gets… That we are embodied souls, right? The connection between those two things. My hunch is that… Yeah, I don’t know where the other shoe drops here, ’cause I honestly don’t, you can probably tell I’ve never done yoga a day in my life. [laughs] But I at least think, I don’t think there can be some sort of knee-jerk Christian rejection wholesale. Just like I don’t think that there could be an uncritical embrace. So somewhere between, as Christian scholars were doing this all the time, right? What does it look like to sort of critically learn from what the… You know, in the Christian tradition we have a notion of common grace. Which is that the spirit is operative even outside of the sphere of the church. And so John Calvin would read Plato and learn something from Plato. Well it seems like something like that could hold for looking at other kinds of practices as well, and asking, “Are there actually common grace insights “in those practices that the church “could critically appropriate for Christ and his Kingdom?” What do you think? [laughs] All right. That’s the best I could do. Sir.

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