What Christians Can Learn from the Mall
Marketers are our cultures most brilliant psychologists. The worry is that they understand human psychology even more than the church.
James K.A. Smith, Betsy Barber, and Todd Pickett in a CCT Conversation on Embodied Spirituality: Exploring Christian Spiritual Formation.
Now, but what’s interesting about what you’re saying is the marketers and the sales folk and the manufacturers understand something about human anthropology that the church has lost. And the church might counter by saying, well, no, we don’t want to become like them, we don’t want to go for just the body and desire, we chiefly want to go for the mind. And I guess I want to ask you a little bit about that. I mean, affect and the body and emotion.
The body and affect are pretty closely tied together, have kind of been the awkward stepchild of modern Christianity. It’s kind of the embarrassed faculty that acts out and disrupts the mind. But you re-understand affect as a tension and the positive role of affect, closely connected to the body, in our formation. Can you talk about this re-understanding of emotion? Well, and what’s interesting, on the one hand I think that that intuition comes out of my own Pentecostal, charismatic background. So I would say one of the gifts of Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity is that it actually sort of revalues the emotion. Now, we could also have a conversation about how it perhaps overvalues emotion.
But at least it sort of says, oh, my emotions are also something that should be brought into alignment with what God desires for me. And those are a creational part of who I am. But interestingly, even someone like Jonathan Edwards, right?
Probably still the most brilliant American theologian that has ever written on this side of the Atlantic. The affections are defining for us. I think you’re totally right, though, Todd, that marketers are our culture’s most brilliant psychologists. They understand how this works, they understand the kinds of creatures we are. And my worry is that they understand it much better than the church does, which is why it’s so much more successful in forming us sometimes than the church is. Because, you know, marketing knows to appeal to the affections, not just to fool us but because that’s a legitimate part of who we are, right?
And then the church might see what’s wrong with that but then we think that the solution is intellectual and what need are experiences like you just described, Betsy, which are worship experiences, spaces, practices that equally recruit our affections.
And that happens, I would say, almost aesthetically, right, I mean, everything you described there were all the senses. And it’s interesting how, historically, worship was a much more visual, tactile, aesthetic experience. Not because it’s pretty, but because that’s how the story gets into your bones.
Plus, there were – most folks couldn’t read. So the pictures had to be in the windows, in the statues, in the practices, in the church year. And Jesus – I mean, we’re on such firm ground here. You know, coming right out of the old testament. We have Jesus and baptism and feasts and touching and healing and posture and prayer. As well as proclamation and he fed people too. I mean, it’s all there and it’s ours. The church just needs to take it back.