One of the major concepts behind the work of James K. A. Smith is that discipleship and formation is much more about the gut, or the complex world of intuitive motivations shaped by culture and liturgy, than it is about cerebral reflection and information acquisition. Culture eats Bible reading for breakfast in other words. Now this proposition has some allies throughout church history and is still advanced in many high church traditions which champion formation through very formal liturgy (the jury is still out on the long term effectiveness of such rigid liturgies).
An unexpected ally to Smith is Simon Sinek who in his book Start with Why, posits a mirror like vision for the business and leadership community. In Sinek’s work, he advances the concept that we are motivated by ‘why’ more than ‘how’ and ‘what’ in decision making. It is the ‘why’ which biologically connects with the region of our brain that shapes decision making. Sinek discusses the neurobiology of motivation and links that to his thesis that we must start with ‘why’ as leaders.
What I find interesting is that Sinek’s work, while not Christian or very theological in the traditional sense, makes a better case for Smith’s concepts than Smith. Because Sinek doesn’t attempt to make Christian formation all about the ‘why,’ he avoids the landmines which Smith encounters when he makes formation a linear causality of culture>will>intellect. While Sinek and Smith may actually be saying much of the same thing, Smith creates more problems than solutions in making the entire theological discipline dependent on cultural formation and liturgy. Sinek avoid this error by staying in his lane and makes a compelling case for his thesis.
All of this to say, both Smith and Sinek are on to something important when it comes to formation and discipleship: we must pay attention to how we are formed and what is motivating us. To believe that we are simply formed into Christ by intellectual information transmission is myopic. Many of us have tunnel vision when it comes to discipleship and as a result experience a truncated relationship with Jesus and his church. Sinek and Smith both seek to disturb the assumed norm that information leads to transformation and for that we should be thankful.