The questions we ask ourselves will define our practices. Think about the questions you ask either consciously or subconsciously and they will shed light on your daily, weekly, and yearly practices. For example, we would probably all agree that the question “how do I live the most comfortably?” is a deep value of Western Culture. If this is the question you are seeking to answer, then the practices that you develop in your life will follow.
Depending on your view of comfort, you will develop certain practices within your day, week, and year. The biggest might be a job or career choice. If comfort is of supreme value you may sacrifice calling for comfort. There is, of course, nothing wrong with desiring comfort or even for that matter a sustainable living. But is comfort the highest of all Kingdom values? Maybe another way to state it is that “your view of life will determine what you do in life.” Our cultural paradigms rest on the central questions that we ask as a people.
Your view of life will determine what you do in life - Mike Pumphrey Click To Tweet
Habitus vs. Practices
The latin term habitus refers to an ancient concept originally introduced by Aristotle and later re-worked by Thomas Aquinas.[i] It is understood as a system of embodied dispositions and tendencies that organize the ways in which individuals perceive and react to the social world around them. While similar, this is a little different than practices.
For example, if I wake up tired tomorrow, I may decide that I want to implement a new practice of sleeping nine hours a day because nine hours of sleep feels better than the five hours I got last night. There’s no other reason apart from being tired of being tired. But if I decide to make a life shift based on a conviction that sleeping nine hours a night will make me more alert and improve my physical and mental health, then my practice becomes habitus. I have taken some time to deeply understand the impact that sleep and lack of sleep have on my life and made changes as a result.
I develop habitus in my life by resetting my life in order to achieve this desired outcome of nine hours of sleep. What once was a practice of sleeping every night has turned into deep conviction, resetting the rhythms and patterns of my life in order to extend my sleep schedule because I firmly believe it will change my life. So the question is how do our spiritual practices become habitus? Habitus is built out of a deep conviction and understanding of myself, God, and the world around me.
The Church’s values and practices are also defined by the questions it asks. The church in western culture is coming out of a time where we have asked questions like, “Where do I go? What is life after death? When will God make things right? When will Christ return? When will the world end?” These questions all are primarily eschatological in nature and there has been a heightened sense of these questions for the last several decades.
The Church is not alone in asking these questions. We have seen these same questions reflected in pop culture, from R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It”, to the popular book series “Left Behind”, to classic apocalypic movies and shows like “Armageddon,” “Contagion,” and—more recently—the cult show “Walking Dead.”
In Acts 1:6-8 while Jesus was with His disciples for 40 days before His ascension, we find them asking questions that are distinctly eschatological in nature. Jesus responded to their eschatological question by challenging them to make a paradigm shift: “You cannot know times and dates which have been fixed by the Father’s sole authority.” Jesus shifts the emphasis away from eschatology and refocuses the disciples’ attention back to the lessons He had taught them:
“But you are to be given power when the Holy Spirit has come to you. You will be witnesses to me, not only in Jerusalem, not only throughout Judea, not only in Samaria, but to the very ends of the earth.”
Jesus was not condemning their eschatological question, but was trying to push their cultural paradigm towards a healthy ecclesiology.
Rather than being preoccupied with “when will this whole thing come to an end,” Jesus was inviting them into a deeper understanding and joy by partnering with Him in His plan to renew all things. He did not want them to get caught up in the old paradigm of the Sanhedrin, which had an undue emphasis on eschatology and the dates, times, and endless speculations about the coming of the Messiah, rather than on the things that Jesus had taught them and shared with them about the Kingdom of God.
Jesus invites his followers into a deeper understanding and joy by partnering with Him in His plan to renew all things - Mike Pumphrey Click To Tweet Interestingly enough, while the religious leaders and followers of that day were very adept in prophetic writings looking for the coming Messiah, they had failed to participate with God in His redemptive work and therefore didn’t realize the Kingdom of God when they had seen it. They speculated about the time of Messiah’s coming, but missed it.
As I read through the scriptures and better understand Jesus’s invitation for His disciples to follow Him, it was never built around a theology of escapism, but rather a theology of pressing into God’s Kingdom with patience, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
In the same passage in Acts 1:3, it says Jesus didn’t just appear to his disciples for 40 days, but spent that time teaching them about the Kingdom of God. In verse 4 He commands them to wait (patience) for the Holy Spirit who will empower them.
As we learn to follow Jesus, we are in the same kind of paradigm shift as the early church. We are rediscovering in our time what it looks like to be the church, God’s representation of His Kingdom in the world to the world. Instead of focusing on leaving this place one day, we are learning how to focus on what it means to be the church.
When Jesus was inviting others to follow Him, He was inviting them into something. He was inviting them to be the people that would show the rule of God to the world in its backward and counter-cultural way. The Church would be the called out ones to show a Kingdom that is, but is not yet fully present.
Jesus calls the Church to show a Kingdom that is, but is not yet fully present. - Mike Pumphrey Click To Tweet If my paradigm never shifts to an ecclesiological one and remains only eschatological in nature (only focusing on life after death), then Jesus’s command to follow becomes selfishly personal and private and I never become an agent of God’s reconciliation and work in this world.
If I only allow the questions of life after death to affect my theology and if my whole theological paradigm is built off of where I go when I die, I am dangerously close to haphazardly falling into a life of practices that only reflect this. We must avoid a view where we only see the gospel as “fire insurance.” This leads to an escapist faith that misses the true essence of what it means to be the church today and a part of God’s redemptive work in this world.
As I mentioned earlier, it is interesting how the questions we ask affect the practices that we participate in. I was sitting with a young man a few years after he was baptized, deciding to follow Jesus. In the years that had passed, he had walked through a difficult divorce. I felt the Spirit nudge me to ask him how his faith helped him walk through this difficult time. He thought for a minute before responding “Murphy’s Law: what can go wrong will go wrong.” His response was not exactly the gospel message, but I couldn’t help but walk away wondering if the Church’s heavy bent towards eschatology rather than a balance of vibrant ecclesiology may have added to this cynical and fatalistic view.
Habitus & Healthy Paradigms
When Jesus invited His disciples to follow Him, it was an invitation to developing not only healthy paradigms, but also a habitus (a set of practices born out of deep conviction influenced by our view of the world) that would truly reflect our desire for God’s Kingdom to be here on Earth as it is in Heaven. When our theology forces us to live into God’s Kingdom today, we will actually see God’s people develop a life transforming and world changing Habitus. But if we don’t see the pendulum shift from escapism, our practices will be little more than adopting our culture’s worldview (like Murphy’s Law) with a private faith in a God that has no transformative effect on my life today, but may be there when my life here is over.
[i] Omar Lizardo, “Habitus” (University of Notre Dame, 2012), 1, https://www3.nd.edu/~olizardo/papers/habitus-entry.pdf.
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