Saturday, May 23, 2015

Who are we? Thinkers or lovers?

This month the theology reading group is discussing Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Culture Formation by James K.A. Smith. The last chapter has a helpful summary of the main claims of the book. (p. 215-216)
First, we humans are liturgical animals, whose fundamental orientation to the world is governed not primarily by what we think but by what we love, what we desire… 
Second, some practices are 'thicker' than others – rituals of ultimate concern that are bent on shaping our most fundamental wants and desires, trying to make us the kind of people who desire a vision of the kingdom that is antithetical to the kingdom of God… 
Third, Christianity is not only (or even primarily) a set of cognitive, heady beliefs; Christianity not fundamentally a worldview; rather, Christian practices, and particularly the practices of Christian worship, are the matrix for what can be articulated as a 'Christian world.'" 
I think the book offers a valuable corrective to any overly intellectual approach to the Christian life. However, in doing this I feel Smith overstates his case (and keeps making the same point again and again...).  He seems to claim a universal anthropology with little room for a diversity of human personalities. To illustrate this let me consider two characteristic (somewhat extreme) personalities that one may encounter among the Christian university students Smith is concerned with.

John is a literature major. He chose his current church because of the lively worship service. He has never read the church doctrinal statement. He does not understand why some people get in arguments about doctrine. As long as we love one another and worship the Lord from our heart that is what matters. John often tunes out during the sermon. He does not find it engaging. His favourite books in the Bible are the Psalms and Revelation. He mostly reads Christian devotional books. He really enjoys the music and the social time after church. But he has had personal conflict with people on the music team at church.

Joan is a mathematics major. She chose her current church because the teaching was "biblical" and aligned with her personal beliefs. She does not particularly enjoy the music and finds some of the social time after church awkward. Her favourite book of the Bible is Romans. The Christian books she mostly reads are systematic theology or Bible commentaries. She has had personal conflict with her Bible study leader about some of his interpretations of specific passages.

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