The Church: Identity, Mission, & Cultivation

The below is a Gospel Life Course taught during May 2018 at CrossWay Community Church.

Week 1 — Introduction, Identity, & Mission
May 6th, 2018

Week 2 — Cultivation, pt. 1
May 13th, 2018

Week 3 — Cultivation, pt. 2
May 20th, 2018

Week 4 — Cultivation, pt. 3
May 27th, 2018

“What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” (Carl Trueman)

In Carl R. Trueman’s book The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism, he included a chapter entitled,”What Can Miserable Christians Sing?”

The answer to that question, Trueman answers, is the Psalms and specifically the Psalm’s model of lamentation.

Of this short chapter Trueman states,

This little piece which took minimal time and energy to author has garnered more positive responses and more touching correspondence than anything else I have ever written. It resonated with people across the Christian spectrum, people from all different church backgrounds who had one thing in common: the understanding that life has a sad, melancholy, painful dimension which is too often ignored and sometimes even denied in our churches.

He describes his purpose for writing as

to highlight what I saw as a major deficiency in Christian worship, a deficiency that is evident in both traditional and contemporary approaches: the absence of the language of lament. The Psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, contains many notes of lamentation, reflecting the nature of the believer’s life in a fallen world. And yet these cries of pain are on the whole absent from hymns and praise songs.

CarlTruemanHe sums up the thrust of that chapter as follows:

There is nothing in the typical book of hymns or praise songs that a woman who has miscarried a baby, or a parent who has just lost a child to cancer, can sing with honesty and integrity on a Sunday.

The desperation and heartache of such moments are things which we instinctively feel have no place in a religion where we are called on to rejoice in the Lord always. Yet there is a praise book which taps such emotions and gives the broken-hearted honest words with which to express their deepest sorrows to God.

It’s called the book of Psalms; and its recovery as a source of public praise in the Christian church can only help the church overcome its innate triumphalism and make room for the poor and the weak.

In short, he says, in the Psalms “one finds divinely inspired words which allow the believer to express their deepest pains and sorrows to God.”

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Review of Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith

Summary

Desiring the KingdomJames 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.

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Goodreads Review of Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural FormationDesiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary:
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.

Thoughts:
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.

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