DESIRING THE KINGDOM REVIEW
Smith begins his study on Christian Education, Liturgy and Worldview with a tour of the local mall. This tour, however, is described using the language of liturgy rather than our common language. The mall becomes a perfect model to see how American corporate culture has come to understand the forming and manufacture of desire. The entire mall experience aims at creating previously absent desires or exaggerating desires to the point where they will be acted upon in the form of consumerism.
This example of the mall also offers a perfect model for Smith's idea of the manner in which humans function over against the main ways in which Christians have come to talk about Worldview. Worldview language in Christian circles have almost exclusively focused on cognitive process and intellectual (information) categories. Yet, the mall would hardly be confused for a place of high cognition, yet it competes with the church for the attention and desires of a Christian. Desire, not cognition, ought to be the currency of worldview thought.
This desiring rather than purely cognitive person is called the liturgical animal (or homo liturgicus). To make his point, Smith often draws stark contrasts between cognitive and affectual. A picture is preferred to an idea. (53) Smith clarifies that it is a picture painted by stories and myths, picture and icons. (54) Also, mind is contrasted with imagination. The dominant models which see humanity as primarily cognitive or believing fail to take the imaginative, affectual, and desiring aspects.
Smith expresses his anthropology in the phrase “desire forms knowledge” (70) meaning that our understanding comes from first desire, image and story before there is understanding. Understanding has been distinguished along the line of Heidegger. Smith is not alone in this observation of immediate response as a form of knowledge. Malcolm Gladwell made such a connection in “Blink,” observing how experts or long practictioners in a field can often make snap accessments or judgments with high degrees of accuracy before the sensory input is evaluated by high level cognition. However, this occurred first by cognition, working its way into the unconscious.
Smith adheres to the formula lex orandi lex credendi, the law of prayer is the law of faith. In other words, worship precedes doctrine. Smith makes this explicit in looking at the historical development of the early church where worship preceded the introduction of the Scriptures. Smith also applies that to the people of God today in being first worshipers before thinkers.(136-138)
Although the word is not used, Smith seems to adhere to a form of empiricism. “Gut” or “heart” language often relates to body and sensory experience. To build upon this empirical data, forming into habit, forms the greater part of the activities of daily life for the human creature. Cognition is segregated to those processes that analyze, make connections and articulate truth in proposition.
In practice, this analysis allows one to see the way non-Christians form our desires. The mall and the sporting event both shape our desires but neither do so through cognitive bookish approaches. For Smith, our cognitive approach must yield to an affective and imaginative approach to combat the world.
Smith's approach in Desiring God is helpful in broadening our view of humanity. A cognitive focused approach relegates all but intellectual matters to the perifary. Rationalism must ensue and a platonic anthropology takes the place of a Christian one. Plato believed vice merely flowed from ignorance. Eliminate ignorance and you eliminate vice. A Christian perspective must take into account our bodies and the whole human including their affections. All of these aspects, also, are fallen and mere informational approaches do not produce virtue and eliminate vice. Smith's evaluation rightly recognizes this reality.
Smith challenges the cognitive approach, however, by greatly depreciating the role of the mind. Such an approach brings with it serious and troubling questions: One cannot help but question that if a view of man that depreciates the bodily for the cognitive does not acknowledge the whole human, does one that depreciates the cognitive, mental and intellectual part of a human in preference of the bodily properly answer this dilema or merely mirror it? As a human perceives their surroundings, does the input bypass the mind? Has the mind been relegated to such a narrow set of duties (higher level reasoning) that we merely aim for the animal spirits instead? Does the fact that the world aims directly for our desires and bypasses the mind validate the church doing the same thing?
The dominate language of Smith seems to be the language of “looking” and “seeing” and “picture.” However, Isaiah 53:2b describes Christ as “ he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Yet, the language of desire and heart longing pervades our religious expectations. Christ is the bread for which we hunger, the wine for which we thirst, and altogether beautiful. [Here I follow the vast majority of Christianity in time and number who see the Song of Solomon as having something to do with Christ and not merely lustful lovers.] Such statements may warn us that to harmonize these texts, we must see that what attracted disciples, crowds and martyrs to Christ is not purely able to be expressed in the language of sight. We look and see no comeliness. Yet we look and see beauty, and object of desire. That object of desire is not perceivable by the eyes but something different. We are invited to “come and see” but also not to look upon outward appearances.
Smith has put his finger on an important reality of the need for affective language and dimensions to our idea of what it means to be Christian. Yet, the idea of picturing and icons made me uncomfortable that it might be missing that though we may see those things, we may “see and not perceive.” Indeed, even the ears may be a medium by which we “hear, but do not understand.” We are invited to "come and see" (John 1:46) a man "with no form or majesty" (Is 53:2) and to see as lovely (Song 4:7) a man with "no beauty that we might desire him" (Is 53:2)
The thesis is very helpful in analysis. Smith focuses mostly on the contrast between the liturgy of consumption and a capitalistic culture or the liturgy of the University versus the liturgy of the Church, constructed to lead us towards desiring the kingdom. The language of forming desire, then, is the language of liturgy. The points of comparison, then, are the liturgies of the church and the liturgies of the world. What do we learn about reality in the church's liturgy? What is presented as the highest good and ultimate object of desire? These questions can assist in adjusting the liturgy to address these questions.
Addressing changes in our liturgy, however, may undermine lex orandi, lex credendi in an absolute sense. If we change our liturgy, we acknowledge that our worship must fit our theology and doctrine. Then, our doctrine precedes our worship, something that is expressly rejected in pg 136. Therefore, we must re-think lex orandi lex credendi.
Smith's one-sided language does, however, allow us to re-imagine the relationship between lex orandi and lex credendi. We desire to change the worship/orandi to fit our beliefs/credendi because our worship does feed, nurture and teach our beliefs in many different mediums. Through the hear, the eye, the fingers, and the mouth, our creed comes into our whole person. Yet, if the cognitive could not inform, and our beliefs could not shape our worship, then we would never know to change it. The relationship should not be seen merely as a one-way street. Our beliefs must inform our worship and our worship must teach our beliefs. The formation of new believers largely takes place through the worship of the community in word, sacrament and prayer. People do, however, move to new communities after conversion for the express belief that certain worship fits the creed better. This is because the Scripture determines worship, belief and all of life. We must have a third category of lex scriptura informing both belief and worship as belief and worship interact and work on each other without absolute priority.
Overall, Smith's book addresses a blind spot in my thinking on Spiritual Formation. Coming from a Reformed perspective and an introverted intellectual perspective, I am certainly one that is prone to miss that humans are broader beings than merely floating brains. Part of being human involves the affections and the imagination and if only the mind is addressed then people are being treated as less than human. However, Smith does seem to think we can separate and segregate (and ostrocize?) the mind as opposed to the rest of the human anatomy. Instead, in communicating the faith and discipling Christians must involve the mind, but also must involve the rest of the human. Smith's prescriptions, then, largely stand with a return to purposeful liturgy. Sacraments and Prayer must be given proper attention as well as a substantive pulpit. We must have our desires enflamed, but also we must know what or Who we are to love.
Summary: PRO: We should follow Smith in realizing the way worship drives our love of God and shapes us. CON: But we should reject the idea that worship drives our theology, but rather have our theology drive and be communicated by our worship. We also should reject having our emotions engaged apart from our mind, but rather engage the mind to drive the affections. Finally, we should reject using the eye or ignoring God's 2nd Commandment's validity for our view of worship.