James K. A. Smith sets out to present a vision of what a distinctively Christian education should look like. Without discarding the importance of what Christians think (worldview), he argues that authentic Christian learning ought to focus primarily on the formation of Christian desires (‘social imaginary’). In short, Smith argues that Christian education is more about formation than information, more about what one loves than what one knows. Practically speaking, distinctively Christian education should mean much more than merely teaching what is taught at any other university, but just from a Christian worldview. Rather, Christian education should be fundamentally rooted in liturgical worship as that discipline which forms students’ desires. Thus, he describes this educational ideal as ‘ecclesial,’ rooted in formative liturgical worship.
Smith’s philosophy of education is based on an understanding of worship, which is rooted in a specific anthropology. Therefore, although his main goal is to present a philosophy of education, his work has much broader implications for areas such as anthropology and corporate worship.
Smith begins his case by presenting an anthropology, because one’s view on education (and worship) is intrinsically linked to one’s understanding of the nature of man. Whereas the prevalent Christian anthropology seems to view man as primarily a thinking or believing creature, Smith argues that man is primarily a lover or desirer. Man’s decisions and behavior is primarily oriented by desire, what he loves, a vision of the ‘good life’ and a corresponding longing for it.
Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Smith argues that man is primarily a lover or desirer, in contrast to being primarily a thinker or believer. From this anthropology, he argues that our loves-desires are formed by habits, rituals, or what we might call liturgies if we want to show the high stakes involved in this practices and institutions. Our culture has its liturgies that strive to shape our desires. The church through its worship-liturgy offers a counter-formative liturgy. Similarly, the Christian school, which is to be an extension of the church, should be primarily about formation through such liturgical practices.
Part of Smith’s thesis is that other competing anthropologies (e.g., the person as primarily a thinker or believer) are reductionistic. I would argue that his approach (i.e., person as a lover-desiring) is likely equally reductionistic. I think he overestimates how much the pre-assumptions in liturgy actually form the worshiper. And I think he under estimates the effect that thoughts and beliefs (“worldview”) have on our behavior.
The following is a modified manuscript/outline from a sermon I preached on 1 Peter 2:11-25 at Lake Drive Baptist Church in December 2013.
I’ve entitled my sermon, “Christian Living in a Post-Christendom America.” What do I mean by “christendom”? “Christendom” refers to the “Christian Empire,” where Christianity is associated with the state, promoted by the state, or the dominant religion within the state.
In a sense, one could have previously referred to America as a form of this Christendom. But now days, it’s quite clear that we live in a post-Christendom America. –Not only non-Christian, but even increasingly anti-Christian.
A mere casual awareness of the news makes one aware of the rapid pace of secularization in our country. For example, only 17 years after President Clinton signed DOMA into law, President Obama successfully pushed for its repeal. And keep in mind, he entered office opposed to gay marriage. And the rapidness of this shift only mirrors trends in the general population. Or again, it only takes a brief glance at recent headlines to demonstrate this:
- “Starbucks Enters Same-Sex Marriage Boycott Wars.”
- “Supreme Court Will Consider Hobby Lobby Contraception Mandate Case.”
- Referring to Chick-Fil-A: “‘Eat More Ignorance’ Is More Like It.”
- “Southern Baptists Convention Fighting ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Repeal.”“Should the Boy Scouts of America Lift Its Ban on Gay Members?”
- “New Mexico Supreme Court Unanimously Rules Against Discriminating Anti-Gay Photographer.”
- “Judge Orders Colorado Bakery to Cater for Same-Sex Weddings.”
- “‘Duck Dynasty’ Star Suspended for Anti-Gay Remarks.”
And without necessarily endorsing any of the parties in these conflicts– And no matter what you think about these controversies on a political level, they nonetheless indicate an increasing hostility and threat to Christian thought and values. … We live in an ever-increasingly secular culture.
So, how are we as Christians to respond? What does Christian living look like in a post-Christendom America? 1 Peter has much to say about how Christians should live within a non-Christian and even anti-Christian society.
The Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture (available for free here), prepared by the Department for Theology and Studies of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) via Lift Up Your Hearts web site, states,
The reality that Christian worship is always celebrated in a given local cultural setting draws our attention to the dynamics between worship and the world’s many local cultures.
The Nairobi Statement helpfully organizes the dynamic relationship between worship and culture in terms of four dimensions:
- Transcultural – Having the same substance for everyone everywhere, beyond culture.
- Contextual – Varying according to the local situation.
- Counter-cultural – Challenging what is contrary to the Gospel in a given culture.
- Cross-cultural – Sharing elements across cultures.