On Orthopathy: Part 4, Affectivity and Spiritual Formation

This really isn't a series about C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man, although we've begun with that book. I started with Lewis because of the central role emotions play in his vision of virtue and character formation. Virtue demands right affection--courage in the press, compassion in the face of pain and outrage in the face of injustice. 

This is interesting to me as right affection isn't regularly placed at the center of spiritual formation. Christianity has tended to privilege orthodoxy--right belief--over things like orthopraxy (right practice) and orthopathy (right affection).

Ponder, for example, the various things we discuss when we talk about spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines. We talk about prayer, Sabbath, Bible study, and fasting. And while these things do involve our affections, we rarely place emotions at the center of these practices, that these practices are habits of orthopathy.

That said, the work of James Smith, in his books Desiring the Kingdom and You Are What You Love, has put emotions back on the map in conversations about spiritual formation. For that a lot of us have been very grateful. 

What I think C.S. Lewis' work helps us see is that by "desiring the kingdom" we mean "virtue." "Kingdom" can be vague and abstract, where virtues like kindness and courage are easier to see and teach. With virtue you can be situationally-specific and point to models and exemplars. Martin Luther King Jr. was brave. St. Francis was kind. 

But either way, emotions become the focus and take center stage. Orthopathy is the deep engine of spiritual formation. We spend a lot of time and energy talking and arguing about Christian beliefs. So much of Christian life is about your agreement or disagreement with a theological or biblical proposition. But what is your heart up to? Moment by moment, and day by day? 

We should spend more time practicing and displaying the emotions and affections of Jesus.

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