Like the rest of Scripture, the psalms are both divinely inspired and thoroughly human. Even more wondrously, they are simultaneously God’s words to us and our words to God. Most important, these spiritual songs filled and expressed the heart of the eternal Word made flesh. They prophesied cosmic wholeness, and they fed the soul of the human who’d accomplish it.
Our era is marked by a deep hunger for wholeness, intactness, integrity. We’re all painfully aware that—globally, nationally, and personally—“things fall apart.” Christians know the Lord is the one in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17) and that he’ll return to bring full healing to a fallen, fragmented world. But what happens in the meantime—when, under severe pressure, our most personal way of connecting to him collapses as well? If we’re not careful, efforts to bind up a brokenhearted faith can create further fractures within our souls.
In a moving personal reflection, James K. A. Smith describes himself as a philosopher who has lost faith in the religiously persuasive power of reason. Smith isn’t advocating an anti-intellectual faith; he’s calling for anti-intellectualism in connecting to Christian truth. He decries the emotional barrenness and pastoral ineptitude of the “baseline Platonic picture of the human person in which reason rules the passions and emotions.”
Smith’s confidence in philosophy (as he frames it) crumbled during a time of deep depression when reason couldn’t make sense of his condition, much less lift him from a pit of inexplicable despair. He lauds the presence of his counselor who, instead of offering abstract analysis, lovingly jumped in beside him.
My purpose here is not to directly respond to Smith (others have done so). If Smith is merely rejecting rationalism and its residue in Western faith, then with him I say “good riddance.” His vision for creative art’s contributions to faith and human wholeness is beautiful. Yet there is a warning in the way that—in tune with our tribalistic times—Smith praises good things partly by punishing other good things for being different.
Smith cites Hans Urs von Balthasar as motivation for a new modus operandi: “Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed.” Smith reasons, “If love alone is credible, literature is truer than philosophy.” He wants to write with “allure rather than acuity,” in a way that works “from the imagination up. Philosophy is out because it “doesn’t ‘speak’ imagination,” and the logician “speaks a tongue that’s foreign to the heart.”