The hardest thing about doing philosophy is certainly not reading books and thinking. By far the most difficult is understanding the fault lines that make up the world of professional philosophy and finding one’s place within it. It’s not uncommon to shift between styles as one goes through the first few years of training; [...]
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you know someone who has de-converted from Christianity or lost their faith in some way. It’s also pretty likely that this person has cited science as a catalyst for that rejection: they finally had a serious encounter with Darwin in college, started reading Richard Dawkins, [...]
Journalist Kathryn Schulz has written a long piece on selfhood that is a lucid lay overview of the philosophical problem of the “self.” The story is framed as a meta-critique of the most popular self-help books, and Schulz points out that the entire enterprise of self-help is based on the tenuous, probably-false idea that [...]
Since part of my resolution for 2013 is to write every day, it seemed fitting to begin the year by trying to stitch together some disparate things that have been floating around in my brain on the subject of writing, particularly writing on the internet.
When it became clear that blogging was going to be [...]
My whole tendency and, I believe, the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk Ethics or Religion, was to run against the boundaries of language.
Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) was a French-Lithuanian Jewish philosopher and Talmudic scholar who has come to play a fairly large role in [...]
I think Andrew Sullivan has some reading to do. I say this mostly in jest – I hope he doesn’t spend his blog hiatus reading these books. But short of an essay that responds to Sullivan’s understanding of Jesus, history, and liberal democracy, I thought I would offer [...]
In reading various reviews and reflections on Robert Bellah’s latest tome, Religion and Human Evolution, I was reminded of some thoughts I had written down about Peter Rollins’ work. I have tried to cobble something coherent together here which conveys my general criticism, which is basically historical in nature. One reflection on Bellah [...]
It is disappointing to see a Christian fulfill what I would have thought was a tired stereotype: asserting that a rival belief or argument is ultimately based on immorality. Aside from being a conversation-stopper, in today’s world it seems to exude the bunker mentality of a subculture that does not want to sincerely engage with [...]
James K. A. Smith is currently Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI where he also teaches in the Department of Congregational and Ministry Studies. He also serves as Executive Director of the Society of Christian Philosophers. His book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation was awarded The 2010 Word Guild Award in Leadership/Theoretical, as well the Christianity Today2010 Book Award in Theology/Ethics. His new book, Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition, was just published by Brazos.
1. You’re currently teaching philosophy at Calvin College, and you’ve written a series of books, from academic philosophical studies to collections of op-ed essays about contemporary Christianity. For Patrol readers who aren’t familiar with your work, tell us a little about your journey: when you became a Christian, when and why you decided upon a life in academia.
I wasn’t raised in the church and became a Christian when I was 18 years-old, back in Canada (through my girlfriend—now wife—doing a little missionary dating). This was a sort of Damascus Road experience for me, not because I’d been a licentious frat boy but because I quickly discovered why I had a brain. I immediately abandoned my plans to become an architect in order to pursue what I sensed was a call to pastoral ministry. When I was a sophomore in college, I discovered Reformed theology and then, shortly afterwards, began reading Francis Schaeffer and later Alvin Plantinga. All sorts of lights went on for me and I began to sense that perhaps my calling was to be a Christian scholar.
So at the end of college, I had to choose between seminary and grad school in philosophy. It was a real struggle for me—one of the few really existential choices I had to make. But when we settled on the academic direction, everything sort of fell into place and I was at peace with the decision. I’m sometimes still tempted by pastoral ministry a bit, but it’s a heck of a lot more work, so that usually passes pretty quickly.
However, I do think it’s been that sort of “pastoral” side that has always made me inclined to be a scholar who tries to serve the church—trying to think through issues and challenges in order to help the church be a faithful witness in our late modern culture. I think that’s what’s behind my more “popular” work: I sometimes describe that as “outreach scholarship.” My exemplar here is Rich Mouw, one of my predecessors in the philosophy department at Calvin and now president of Fuller Seminary. Rich is the model of what we might call an “ecclesial scholar.”
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