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The Table Video

James K.A. Smith

Going Through the Motions: When Liturgy Seems to Fail

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

Sometimes, people who have been exposed to Christian practices and traditions for their whole life don’t end up becoming well-formed Christians who act like Jesus. Philosopher James K.A. Smith offers some thoughts about when liturgy seems to fail.


Well what about all the people who’ve gone through the motions their whole life and they don’t look any different than anybody else? And in which case, I do think it’s important to come to a reflective understanding of why we do what we do when we worship. And often people who are raised in traditions that aren’t characterized by that, what my colleague John Witflee calls Liturgical Catechesis, where you help people understand why we’re doing what we’re doing when we worship. For them, it has only and always been doing what Mom and Dad told me to do, and therefore they’ve never owned what’s at stake in what they’re doing.

In a way, I mean I think our kids have gone through a certain kind of liturgical experience, and you know, they’re 15, and most days [snoring]. And yet that doesn’t mean it’s not doing something to them, but I hope when they’re 27 they come back and it’s like alright, I understand why I’m doing this, and you sort of own it. Cause there is something about, I say there’s virtue to going through the motions, but I don’t think that’s the ideal all the time. So Vatican Two talked about full conscious active participation in worship, and I think it’s putting those two things together in a way.