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The Table Video

James K.A. Smith, Betsy Barber& Todd Pickett

Christian Education for the Whole Person

Professor of Philosophy / Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview, Calvin College
Director, Center for Spiritual Renewal and Associate Professor of Spirituality and Psychology, Biola University
Dean of Spiritual Development, Biola University
March 28, 2014

Thinking is good. But how can we both think well and love well? Is that the place of the university? Can the university be a place to be both informed and formed? James K.A. Smith, Betsy Barber, and Todd Pickett in a CCT Conversation on Embodied Spirituality: Exploring Christian Spiritual Formation.


Do the traditional liturgies of the classroom of higher education or any place Christians are being formed in a college classroom. Do those need to start changing? And how would you say they need to change?

Yeah. I think on the one hand, of course, a Christian University and a seminary are not the church. It’s fair enough to say, you know, they are intellectual institutions. They are defined by that project of research and learning and exploration. That, however, doesn’t settle the pedagogical.

Well, and pragmatically speaking, you know, well, pastors should separate those things. They may just go on and not make that distinction. They may make the church a kind of little university, so go on.

No, no, no, that’s right, that’s right. It’s funny, because some readers of my work worry that I’m trying to make the university into a big church, so that’s why I sometimes–

Todd: Are you?

No! What I do want, I want to see the university and the seminary as embedded institutions within the church’s life. These are the places we come to think. Thinking is good, but I think now what we need to ask ourselves is, what would be the practices and ethos of those institutions that would equip us to think well and love well and to have our habits shaped?

I think we are just starting to have that conversation. How would the ethos of a Christian university or seminary change if it was also going to be a formative space and not just an informative space?

What I am hearing, it sounds like there is space for a conversation to happen at universities and seminaries about what other practices could be admitted, because it seems to me that, especially in undergraduate Christian colleges, students are living together, they are eating together, they’re worshiping together, they’re learning together, and these are all parts of an education that need to be taken seriously, because these are a kind of constellation of practices that they’re getting. My concern is that we need to train students, even at this educational level, in all of these, because they inevitably will kind of teach as they have been taught.

Yes, and I agree. Both college and seminary are such fantastic seasons of life to invite students to try on new practices, which then, you hope, take and then will continue to shape them for a lifetime. I think we need to be much more intentional. It’s why the Student Affairs division and the Academic division have to be in sync and feeding and fueling one another.

Which has not traditionally been the model. Often spiritual formation, while theology has been discussed in the classroom, spiritual formation or spiritual life has been outsourced to the co-curricular as if, well, that has to do more with practices and the heart and things like this.

That’s my concern, this kind of distinction that we’ve somehow inherited. I think it goes back to the modernist university, and kind of sending theology down the road.This is why the premodern university is another resource for us. If you go back to, think of how the University of Paris or Oxford or Cambridge began. They bubbled up out of monastic communities.

That’s right, that’s right.

Do you know what I mean? They were spaces of a holistic community of practice in which then was embedded intellectual investigation. Because I think you’re right. We don’t wanna compartmentalize this and bifurcate it.

Sometimes the piety and spirituality that is fostered in the extracurricular undercuts the intellectual project. I’ve seen that happen. So there’s no extracurricular. There’s just co-curricular, and all of that has to framed towards the end of loving God and loving learning for God’s sake.