Jamming with Jaimie Smith on Cultural Liturgies

The following notes are based on James K A Smith: Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation, Grand Rapids MI, Baker Academic, 2009 (Volume 1 of Cultural Liturgies.)

INTRODUCTION

p17 “Christian education” has routinely been understood to be about Christian ideas— which usually requires a defence of the importance of “the life of the mind”.  This leads to regarding the goal of Christian education as development of a Christian perspective, or more commonly now, a Christian worldview.

p17-18  In this study, Smith asks the major question what if education, including higher education, is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires? What if we began by appreciating how education not only gets into our head but also (and more fundamentally) grabs us by the gut—what the New Testament refers to as καρδια (kardia – “the heart”)? What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions—our visions of “the good life”—and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking? What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect..What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?…That actually is the wager of this book: It is an invitation to re-vision Christian education as a formative rather than just an informative project? [

p19.  Smith introduces the phenomenon of “cultural liturgies”….how and why do we humans  do what we do? [Smith explains in fn 8 p25 that he uses the term liturgy  as a synonym for worship. In the word liturgy, readers should not hear the valorization of any particular form or stye.]Cultural liturgies “ which have parallels with religious liturgies include shopping malls and the rituals associated with massive sporting events (anthems sung by spectators with hand on heart etc).

p21 The major icons and temples of modern America are found in shopping malls, not religious cathedrals. (This was written in 2009…in 2018 with the rapid increase in on-line shopping many American shopping malls are emptying out and going broke. Folk are buying on-line or shopping in unique and chosen shops of interest to particular buyers and interests, not necessarily vast crowds of ῾οι πολλοι. ) Nevertheless Smith’s point is that “shopping” tugs at the heart-strings of more Americans than does religious observance.

p25.  The  core claim of this book is that Liturgies —whether “sacred” or “secular” —shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world. In short, liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love….every liturgy is an education, and embedded in every liturgy is an implicit worldview or “understanding” of the world….an understanding of the world that is pretheoretical, that is on a different register than ideas.

p26-27. Because I think that we are primarily desiring animals rather than merely thinking things, I also think that what constitutes our ultimate identities— what makes us who we are, the kind of people we are—is what we love. More specifically, our identity is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate what, at the end of the day, gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, understanding, and orientation to our being-in-the-world.

p27.  What is the aim, or τελος  telos, end/completion point] of a Christian education?…I think we need a rearticulation of the end of Christian education, which will require a reconsideration of worldview-talk as it comes to dominate conceptions of Christian education.

p28   In a long footnote (fn11) Smith distinguishes between cognitive approaches to education (a reflective propositional way of intending the world that traffics in thinking and ideas)  and an affective “attunement”  to the world that precedes the articulation ideas and even beliefs. He describes this as akin to Heidegger’s account of Befuindlichkeit, “attunement” or “affectedness”.

p28 We are so prone to associating education with the cognitive stuff of ideas that it’s difficult for us to imagine education as a more formative, affective matter. Our imaginations get stuck in a rut, and it becomes difficult to get out of them to imagine things differently….(fn 12) This is an example of the way that particular configurations of the “social imaginary” can become so dominant that we fail to see them as a particular, contingent construal. Instead, these ingrained habits of perception are taken to just be “the way things are”. 

Thus Charles Taylor contends that the “modern” social imaginary “has now become so self-evident to us that we have trouble seeing it as one possible conception among others.”  [Taylor: Modern Social Imaginaries, Durham, NC, Duke University Press,2004, p2]  On p65 Smith summarizes Taylor’s definition of a social imaginary…all societies and communities are animated by a social imaginary, but this does not mean that all are oriented by a theory. The social imaginary …is “much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode”. …what we “think about” is just the tip of the iceberg and cannot fully ore even adequately account for how and why we make our way in the world. There’s something else and something more rumbling beneath the cognitive that drives much of our action and behaviour. The social imaginary refers to “the way ordinary people ‘imagine’ their social surroundings,” which is “not expressed in theoretical terms, but is carried in images, stories, and legends.”  [Taylor: op.cit. p23]

p30. Smith uses George Orwell’s novel Road to Wigan Pier, [London, Penguin, 2001] to illustrate how the English public schools had little success in inculcating Latin and Greek into their average students (including Orwell himself) but were highly successful in inculcating snobbishness …the despising of the lower classes. Orwell writes: You forget your Latin and Greek within a few months of leaving school—I studied Greek for eight or ten years, and now, at thirty-three, I cannot even repeat the Greek alphabet—but your snobbishnes, unless you persistently root it out like the birdweed it is, sticks by you to your grave. [ibid, p128]

p31  Smith uses Orwell’s example to show that whilst education promotes head knowledge what actually sticks is the emotional/gut level/heart knowledge communication that can easily occur in the educational process such as snobbishness in an upper class school, or in C21st Christian education,  where many Christian schools, colleges, and universities —particularly in the Protestant tradition—have taken on board a picture of the human person that owes more to modernity and the Enlightenment, than it does to the holistic, biblical vision of human persons. In particular, Christian education has absorbed a philosophical anthropology that sees human persons as primarily thinking things….leading to the dissemination of Christian ideas rather than the formation of a peculiar people. i.e. the “world-view” approach dominates.

p32 …such construals of worldview belie an understanding of Christian faith that is dualistic, and thus reductionistic: it reduces Christian faith primarily to a set of ideas, principles, claims, and propositions that are known and believed. The goal of all this is “correct” thinking….in the rationalistic picture …we are also seen as things whose bodies are nonessential (and rather regrettable) containers for our minds…..Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behaviour; rather, it’s a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly—who loves God and neighbour and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love.

p33  We fail to counter the powerful cultural liturgies around us. We need a pedagogy of desire.

p34 Before we think we pray….The classical axiom is lex orandi, lex credence:  what the church prays is what the church believes. We pray before we believe, we worship before we know….we need to move from the model of “Christian universities,”  …to “ecclesial colleges”.

PART 1 Desiring, Imaginative Animals.  

We don’t counter the powerful cultural liturgies around us. The church has a stunted philosophical anthropology  p41

 

p41….humans are lovers before they are thinkers.

p42…Protestant Christianity has been overly cognivist/overly intellectualist; focussing on “messages”…It is just this adoption of a rationalist, cognitivist anthropology that accounts for the shape of so much Protestant worship as a heady affair fixated on “messages”  that disseminate Christian ideas and abstract values (easily summarised on powerpoint slides). The result is a talking-head version of Christianity that is fixated on doctrines and ideas, even if it is also paradoxically allied with a certain kind of anti-intellectualism.

p43.  …before we are thinkers, we are believers…Beliefs are more “basic” than ideas.  Thus Alvin Plantinga speaks of “properly basic beliefs”  and Nicholas Wolterstorff of “control beliefs”….Beliefs, we might say, are more “basic” than ideas. …human persons are understood not as fundamentally thinking machines but rather as  “moral believing animals” [Christian Smith: OUP,2003], or as 

essentially religious creatures, defined by a world-view that is pre-rational or supra-rational.  For a more technical discussion of this point, see Herman Dooyeweerd, In the Twilight of of Western Thought: Studies in the Pretended Autonomy of Theoretical Thought, ed. James K. A. Smith, Collected Works B/4 (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1999.

p44-5.  Jamie Smith agrees that Reformed Christianity has laudably assaulted reductionist rationalisitic  claims for the ‘objectivity’  of reason that engender a secularlzation of the “public sphere”  [especially the massive work of Alvin Plantinga  and others such as Nancey Murphy [Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1990] and George Marsden: The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, New York, OUP, 1997]. Nevertheless  Smith argues that this model of the human person seems just to move the clash of ideas down a level to a clash of beliefs and secondly that it still tends to operate with a very disembodied, individualistic picture of the human person.  The beliefs that orient me still seem quite disconnected from my body…what I am passionate about, how do/should I worship, how I live,what I do in my life. He cites with approval Stanley Hauerwas: When Christianity is turned into a belief system, it is reduced to something available without mediation by the church. [How Risky is The Risk of Education?” in The State of the University: Academic Knowledge and the Knowledge of God.  Oxford, Blackwell, 2007,p51]  Smith will go on to argue in this book that the “Christian academy” must be more completely expressed through “church”.

p46.   Jamie Smith seeks to go back beyond Calvin’s emphasis on belief to the Augustinian idea  that our primordial orientation to the world is not knowledge, or even belief, but love….we must get into the heart of folk ahead of the head!

p47-73 Smith uses the philosophy of Derrida, Caputo, Husserl and Heidegger as the philosophical basis of his analysis. To further develop his case he uses theologians Augustine, Hauerwas, MacIntyre, Graham Ward, Aquinas, and George Lindbeck;  He also uses  contemporary film,  Nabokov on Dickens, American baseball drills, sociology’s critique of theological axioms as unverifiable, psychologist Timothy Wilson, Charles Taylor’s ground breaking work on “Social Imaginaries (p63), Pierre Bourdieu’s “logic of practice”, Pascal, Gordon Graham’s idea of the irreducibility of artistic “truth”, early Christian asceticism (the importance of shaping desire in order to know), and Tolkien. [Phew!!!  Take a big breath before you embark on these pages! they are demanding.]

In brief, We need to shape desire in order to know!  The Christian vision of the kingdom of God must discern to what ends all sorts of cultural institutions are seeking to direct our love. What we do (practices) is intimately linked to what we desire (love) so what we do determines whether, how, and what we can know. (p70)We need to accept that all societies throw up an array of liturgies that function as a pedagogy of desire.” [p73] The Christian view of human flourishing is very different from secular alternatives! Folk don’t need more ideas, data and dogma necessarily ..they need to increase their desire for God. Many Americans for this reason have turned from evangelicalism to Orthodox mysticism e.g. C6th Maximus the Confessor who taught that the key to directing and increasing one’s desire for God is the acquisition of virtues..non-cognitive dispensations acquired through participation in concrete Christian practices like confession. (p71)

In my view they also need a genuinely loving and caring community which demonstrates the love of God through  meaningful liturgy, genuine and practical support, opportunities for growth including spiritual growth and service, and rich fellowship.

 [My problem with Smith’s analysis at this point is that he is assuming these folk are already Christian which I am guessing is easy to do in America where there are still so many Christians.  He is right that many evangelicals have grown weary of thin praise services with lengthy exegetical sermons which can easily become a retelling of the text that has already been read aloud hence their interest in the spiritual depth of Orthodoxy.  But before secular folk can be bothered exploring a religious “social imaginary” they need to be persuaded through ideas, teaching, apologetics and a worthwhile philosophy of religion that there is some value in religious spirituality. Smith’s work is great for jaded and shallow evangelicals but we still need Christian schools and universities teaching the philosophy, apologetics and biblical theology of the Bible so that they are equipped to rightly divide the word of truth and give an account of the hope that is in them.  We can’t con folk into the kingdom by explosive activities like a football final or disguised greed like shopping malls..my experience of such youth work is that it certainly attracts the masses but it doesn’t translate to Christian commitment. The numbers only last while the excitement lasts….a bit like the prodigal son. True love of God only occurs through God calling and this is a much more mysterious event which happens to the most unlikely folk in the most unlikely way including even in some church services no matter how “ineffective” or “uninspiring” they may seem to others.]

p75-7  The question is not whether we love but what we love…I’m guessing that I don’t have to convince you that sex sells almost everything. It is so pervasive that we can perhaps become a bit blind to it….marketing taps into our erotic religious nature and seeks to shape us in a way that this passion and desire is directed to strange gods, alternative religion, another kingdom….what if we didn’t see passion and desire as such as the problem, but rather sought to redirect it? What if we honoured what the marketing industry has got right— that we are creatures primarily of love and desire—and then responded in kind with counter-measures that focus on our passions, not primarily on our thoughts and beliefs?  In Smith’s view the church tries to get ideas to trump passion …to bring passions into submission to the intellect .  (p76)

p77     Smith turns to Inklings member Charles Williams idea of “romantic theology” to counter the current ideas/beliefs based notion of Christian formation.

cf Charles Williams: Outlines of Romantic Theology”, ed. Alice M. Hadfield, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1990, p70 and He Came Down from Heaven, 1938 reprint, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1984 p.96….Love is a testament to the in-breaking or emergence of the divine in human experience, and thus to be affirmed as an expression of our deepest erotic passion, the desire for God. (p77) cf Augustine: You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you. 

pp78 – 9 Smith channels Baz Lurhmann’s film Moulin Rouge (desire for art challenged by the desire for love vs desire for money challenged by love)…Love wins; Williams might say starting with  ᾿ερος (eros) and ending with ᾿αγαπη (agape).  Smith uses this material  to challenge the criticisms of “mushy” worship choruses that seem to confuse God with our boyfriend.  (p79fn7)….. I don’t think we should so quickly write off their “romantic” or even “erotic” elements (the Song of Songs comes to mind in this context). This, too, is testimony to why and how so many are deeply moved in worship by such singing.While this can slide into an emotionalism and a certain kind of domestication of God’s transcendance, there remains a kernel of “fittingness” about such worship. 

p79      Smith further channels the work of Catholic novelists such as Graham Greene (especially in “The Heart of the Matter”, Walker Percy, Evelyn Waugh, Anne Sexton, Flannery O’Connor…the thin fulcrum that tips from sexual desire to desire for God…The quasi- rationalism that sneers at such erotic elements in worship and is concerned to keep worship “safe” from such threats is the same rationalism that has consistently marginalised  the religious experience of women— and women mystics in particular.

p.80-88    Smith investigates cognitive psychological studies based routines and rituals that create important habits and pre-cognitive dispositions in our lives and demonstrates links and similarities between habits (“thick” and “thin”), practices, rituals (including rituals of ultimate concern) and liturgies and channelling Tillich as well as George Lindbeck’s cultural linguistic model of religion.  Secular liturgies capture our hearts by capturing our imaginations and drawing us into ritual practices that “teach” us to love something very different from the kingdom of God.

p.90-1 By describing secular/cultural liturgies are religious, I mean that they are institutions that command our allegiance, that vie for our passion, and that aim to capture our heart with a particular vision of the good life….intentionally loaded to form us into certain kinds of people—to unwittingly make us disciples of rival kings and patriotic citizens of rival kingdoms.  Smith channels the film version of Spiderman 2 as a symbol of a human construction that got out of control and destroyed the humans which created it. It is form of apocalyptic literature. The question is when does our attachment to cultural practices become assimilation to culture.

p92.   We need a kind of contemporary apocalyptic…a genre that sees through the spin and unveils for us the religious and idolatrous character of the contemporary institutions that constitute our own milieu.

p93 Liturgies both secular and religious grab hold of our καρδια (kardia) [our heart] and want nothing less than our love….

p94 …secular liturgies function as pedagogies of desire

p95 ..the rituals associated with secular liturgies constitute a pedagogy, a training of our hearts and loves….its own education of desire…we are being trained to be a people who desire the earthly city in all sorts of guises….keep in mind that what’s happening between the commercials is very much part of this commercial outreach. Television was invented to create audiences for advertising, not the other way around. [fn9]..the hip, happy people that populate television commercials are the moving icons of the consumer gospel, illustrations of what the good life looks like: carefree and independent, clean and sexy, perky and perfect.  The mall creates a sense of “lack” which quickly translates to “need”. (p97)

pp96-101   …the mall’s version of the “kingdom”:

i) an implicit notion of brokenness akin to “sin”….the beautiful people are not like us, we’re not like them… if I consume I will be like them

ii) a strange configuration of sociality  …I shop with others.

iii) the hope of redemption in consumption….I shop therefore I am…but the dazzle fades rather quickly..

iv) a vision of human flourishing (quality of life) that is unsustainable….don’t ask don’t tell…though the US comprises only 5 per cent of the world’s population, we consume somewhere between 23 and 26 per cent of the world’s energy….a way of life we cannot feasibly extend to others…the privilege of exploitation…Smith uses Orwell’s novel The Road to Wigan Pier to highlight the exploitation of the industrial revolution.

p102  Smith illustrates the methodology of marketing  by channeling  the Frontline documentary “the Persuaders.”

pp103 -112 Smith discusses the cultural liturgy of the military -entertainment complex in society. Cf May Day in Socialist societies, the daily pledge of allegiance in the classroom, the national anthem at major sporting fixtures, July 4th parades, American nationalism in general  (p107)the gospel according to America compared with the Gospel of Christ; p108 in the American military a smooth fit between discipleship and killing..”a loyal American”..the loyalty oath..a  “matter of ultimate allegiance.  Smith channels the liturgy of American nationalism as shown in film..the masterful cinema of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”, the edgy drama of “Rescue” or predictable drama of The Patriot”…the entertainment industry churns out remarkable amounts of material that solidify the myths of the national ideal; also (p110) the more prolific examples of this genre ..found in the works of Jerry Bruckheimer…”Pearl Harbour”; “Black Hawk Down”; ..and sports mythologies like “Remember the Titans” and “Glory Road”; or the new “National Treasure” franchise (which plays on the sacralization of American founding documents.) This section concludes with a detailed excursus on Patriotism as a cultural liturgy..he quotes Augustine: Christ is the true patria [country – Confessions  7.21.27].

pp112 -121 Cathedrals of Learning: Liturgies of the University….a further pedagogy of desire….the university is not only, and maybe not even primarily, about knowledge. It is, I suggest, after our imagination, our heart, our desire. It wasn’t to make us into certain kinds of people who desire a certain τελος  [telos], who are primed to pursue a particular vision of the good life….while on the one hand it seeks to shut out reference to the divine, it nonetheless lives off the borrowed capital of religious aspiration.(p113)

 [as does the media and political world in the West …denying Christian morality and the achievements of Western Civilisation, it nevertheless is regularly outraged over “correct ” issues of gender/racial diversity/sexual assault whilst applauding the freedom of adults to indulge in complete sexual freedom/base pornography/sexually oriented daily sitcoms/licentious literature etc etc.  nb cf Hauerwas: A focus on the virtues means you cannot easily separate what you come to know from how you come to know. Any knowledge worth having cannot help but shape who we are and accordingly our understanding of the world. Thus I use the description, ‘moral formation,’ rather than education, because I think all education, whether acknowledged or not, is moral formation.” [“How Risky is The Risk of Education?”  in The State of the University : Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God, Oxford, Blackwell, 2007] (p113fn37).

p118-121 Smith channels Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons to underline his critique of university cultural liturgies…a sad story indeed although Smith notes (fn 46 p121 ) that Wolfe omits any reference to Charlotte Simmons’ religious belief, which, demographically, one would have expected to be a more significant part of her home formation and perhaps would have continued into her university habits.

p121-2  The Persisting Witness of Idolatry….secular cultural liturgies are visions of human flourishing..that are antithetical to the biblical vision of shalom..we need to see not only what vision of the kingdom is implicit in the practices of Christian worship but also the way in which Christian practices need to function as counter-formation.

p122-3   Smith quotes Calvin’s victim of the sensus divinitatis … “there is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an “awareness of divinity”….sin and the Fall cannot eradicate this seed of religion, this impulsion to worship. He quotes Calvin: …[man] prefers to worship wood and stone rather than be thought of as having no God…. Here Smith disagrees with Alvin Plantinga’s reading of the sensus divinitatis …as a “basic” knowledge of God, a natural disposition to form theistic beliefs,”  [Warranted Christian Belief, Oxford, OUP, 2000, PP170-75]whereas I think Calvin is asserting a natural instinct for worship.

pp123-5  Smith channels again the “romantic theology” of Charles Williams to underline his Calvin’s point about man’s natural instinct to worship…He who, not in any sense for himself or to himself, is surrendered to an entire ardour cannot be said to be far from the Kingdom which will manifest Itself at Its chosen time; the sooner if, as has been insisted throughout, this ardour is directed and controlled by the doctrines of the Christian Religion. [Charles Williams: Outlines of Romantic Theology, ed. Alice M Hadfield, Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 1990 p.72]. Smith further challenges “romantic” literature including Dante’s Vita Nuova, Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins and  Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

pp126-`29  Smith channels Orwell’s 1984 to demonstrate that sometimes Christians fail to articulate strategies of resistance [to the power of cultural liturgies] because they fail to see a threat…or misdiagnose the threat.  Smith argues that Christians misdiagnose the threat because of a flawed, stunted philosophical anthropology…while secular cultural liturgies are grabbing hold of our gut (kardia) by means of our body and its senses —in stories, images, sights and sound…the church’s response is oddly rationalist …still seeing us as Cartesian minds….while secular liturgies are after our hearts through our bodies , the church thing it only has to get into our heads…In 1984 Winston is private resister to the system at home and failed to register the potential power of the “system” to control him once he was betrayed. Winston assumed he was insulated and isolated and unaffected by the system but he misdiagnosed its power to control him..in 1984’s case by unadulterated fear (which sort of destroys Smith’s argument that in the end it is ‘desire” that wins us over but never mind].

PART 2 Desiring the Kingdom: The Practiced Shape of the Christian Life. (p131)

It is at this point in Smith’s argument that this book managed to lose some interest for me because his basic argument (in simplistic terms) is as follows: 1. Current American reformed Presbyterian church worship is based on a series of praise hymns, fairly intellectualised free spoken prayers and a lengthy analytical sermon about central Christian ideas.

2. Smith’s solution to this “mind centred” approach is to appeal to our heart and our desire by  introducing liturgy/sacramentalism into church worship which, in summary, looks basically like the modern Anglican Australian Prayer Book Eucharist and Baptismal services and special services such as tenebrae!  On the other hand,  my current worship experience could do with a bit (a lot?)  less formal liturgical process, ancient hymns, moral preaching only loosely based on a biblical text and formal prayer book prayers.  This new emphasis on early church liturgical practice and music has undergone a significant revival in the US as writers like Robert Webber and Marva Dawn attempt to put some “liturgical strength and culture” into Fundamentalist American church worship. I can understand their motivation but Australian Anglicanism tends to have the opposite problem…we could do with a lot more mind and energy in many of our Anglican worship centres especially in rural areas.

I have been an Anglican all my life and I can indeed enjoy high end cathedral worship. I have visited and worshipped in many of the world’s most amazing Romanesque and Gothic Cathedrals and even lowered myself to enter some Baroque cathedrals.  Nevertheless I have  to say that over 60 years I have never seen standard liturgical Anglicanism grow a church. The Holy Spirit grows the church and the Holy Spirit is unpredictable..worship needs to be flexible, up to date, accessible, friendly, challenging, Biblical, emotional, clear, loving and personal amongst other things.  Beautiful liturgy can be breathtakingly passionate  in the sense of a Bach Mass in B Minor but in the end the Gospel must be preached, the bugle must be heard clearly. I suspect African Anglican churches I have worshipped in could teach us more about how worship can become a liturgy of desire more so than a standard repetitive Anglican Communion service, no matter how beautifully read and/or sung.

There is a further problem with Smith’s material in this second section and this is the increasingly prolix nature of his prose: Consider this paragraph from p140: There is a performative sanctioning of embodiment that is implicit in Christian worship, invoking the ultimate performative sanctioning of the body in the incarnation —which itself recalls the love of God that gave birth to the material creation—its reaffimation in the resurrection of Jesus, and looks forward to the resurrection of the body as an eschatological and eternal affirmation of the goodness of creation.  By the way I fully agree with his defence of the importance of the permanent

materiality of creation but it is a little surprising to find a paragraph of this multisyllabic complexity in a book about how Christians have lost ground because of their overly mind-centred approach to Christian communication.

Nevertheless Part 2  of Desiring the Kingdom is a very detailed and helpful analysis of the purpose and justification  of the various elements of traditional Christian liturgical practice including its sacramentalism . I will not summarise this material but note various issues which interested me in particular.

  1. Too often we try to define the essence of Christianity by a summer of doctrines.   (p134)
  1. we begin with the Bible as the source of our doctrines and beliefs and then “apply” it to come up with worship practices that are consistent with, and expressive of, what the Bible teaches. (p135). The essence of Christian faith cannot simply be a summary of Christian doctrines.
  1. Channelling Catholic and Orthodox traditions Smith suggests that …human knowing of God is mediated through formation, imitation, affectivity, intuition, imagination, interiorization, and symbolic engagement. (p138). In  In fn10 on this page Smith suggests that “practical theology” should be at the centre of the theological curriculum, displacing the privileged place of “systematic” theology.  In good evangelical worship all of these nouns can and should be present in my view.

iv.  Smith suggests that it is crucial that we recall the priority of liturgy to doctrine. (p138)  I doubt that he has established this statement in his brief discussion on pp 138-9. Yes liturgy well and truly pre-dated the earliest formal creeds but 1 Corinthians 15 tells me that the basis around which the earliest Christians met for worship and “liturgy” were the central tenets of the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Messiah, of which the eucharist was indeed an evocative symbol.

v.   Smith again channels Walker Percy’s novel Love in the Ruins in his defence of sacramentalism and the celebration of the natural world. (p142) On p143 he channels for the same purpose Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem God’s Grandeur, and on pp144 -147 he channels Graham Greene’s novels and Anne Sexton’s poetry to illustrate the fundamentally aesthetic, not didactic  nature of Christian worship. Of course as a former teacher of English Literature no-one is more fond than me of including poetry in a sermon. But I have to say that my enthusiasm for such poetic injections is frequently not appreciated by my hearers, especially my wife! Perhaps I choose the wrong poets but one of my special favourites is Hopkins!   I must note that in footnote 27 p144  Smith does note: This is not to suggest that worship is merely aesthetic, nor am i suggesting that there is not a didactic moment to worship.  

vi.  Smith quotes N T Wright: Jesus determined that it was his task and role, his vocation as Israel’s representative, to lose the battle on Israel’s behalf. This would be the means of Israel’s becoming the light, not just of herself …but of the whole world. [The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was  and Is, Downer’s Grove,IL, Intervarsity, 1999.]

vii.  p166 and fn29p167: Christian worship practices carry their own understanding that is implicit within them (pace Charles Taylor), and that understanding can be absorbed and imbibed in our imaginations without having to kick into a mode of cerebral reflection.  I recognise that some might be uncomfortable with this claim, since it seems to suggest that there can be some sort of virtue in “going through the motions.” On this point I’m afraid I have to confess that I do indeed think this is true. While it is not ideal, I do think there can be a sort of implanting of the gospel that happens simply by virtue of participating in liturgical practices. (this is the ballpark of the principle of ex opera operate). 

[I do recall C S Lewis writing somewhere that the beauty of knowing the liturgy off by heart is that your heart and mind are left free to hear God speaking and to meditate in your own way..or words to that effect.]

viii. Regarding the greeting and sharing of the Peace, Smith comments: We are immediately reminded that worship is not a private affair… p169.

ix. p175. Regarding the reading of the ten commandments or a summary thereof, Smith comments: The secular liturgies of late modern culture are bent on forming in us a notion of autonomy — a sense that we are a law unto ourselves and that we are only properly “free” when we can choose our own ends, determine our own telos. Since its early beginnings, Charles Taylor notes, modernity has been marked by a rejection of teleology, a rejection of the notion that there is a specified, normative end (telos) to which humanity ought to be directed in order to enjoy the good life. And this rejection was driven by a new notion of “libertarian” freedom, which identified freedom with freedom of choice…The announcement of “the law”  is a scandal to those who are primarily formed by modern secular liturgies. The notion of “the law” of God is completely counter-cultural today.

x. p176 and fn.51. The announcement of the law reminds us that we inhabit not “nature” but creation, fashioned by a Creator, and that there is a certain grain to the universe—grooves and tracks and norms that are part of the fabric of the world. I’m alluding here to Stanley Hauerwas’s adoption of John Howard Yoder’s claim that “people who bear crosses” are “working with the grain of the universe.” See Hauerwas: With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI, Brazos, 2001 p17).

xi. p176 and fn 52.  Indeed the biblical vision of human flourishing implicit in worship that we are only properly free when our desires are rightly ordered, when they are bounded and directed to the end that constitutes our good. Thus Augustine considered the situation of libertarian freedom—having no defined telos and thus being “free” to do whatever I want (so valorised in modernity)— as actually the situation of fallen, sinful freedom.

xii. p180-1 excursus on confession as liberation. Smith uses Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American to underscore the liberating power of confession in people’s lives.

xiii)  p180 ..in confession and and assurance of pardon, we meet a moment where Christian worship runs counter to the formation of secular liturgies that either tend to nullify talk of guilt and responsibility or tend to point out failures without extending assurance of pardon. On the one hand, Oprah-fied liturgies tend to foster an illusory self-confidence (“Believe in yourself!” that refuses to recognise failure, guilt or transgression, castigating such things as “negative energy’” that compromises self-esteem.

xiv)  p182 fn60 Richard Hays emphasizes that for Paul, “the goal of God’s redemptive action” isn not the rescuing of individual souls but rather “to raise up a people to declare his praise”  (Hays: The Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989, p84] Or as he summaries elsewhere, “granted that Scripture tells the story of God’s activity, we must say in the same breath that God’s activity is directed towards the formation of a people “ (Hays: The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture, [Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 2005, p171] Consequently Hays admonishes that if we want to adopt a Pauline hermeutic—if we want to read the Scriptures as Paul did—then we need to adopt and “ecclesiocentric” (Echoes, 86, 183-94) or “ecclesiotelic” hermeneutic that sees this social focus of God’s creational and redemptive work as directed toward re-creating a people rather than saving individual people—“a people of his own” (Titus: 2:14).  [but, not to deny the strengtht of this Hay’s ecclesial approach,  how can you re-create “people” without saving individuals???]

xv) p185 Using 1 Corinthians chapter 1:27- 28 Smith reminds us that the church in Corinth at least was not made up of the flourishing “beautiful people” but the down-trodden…not just the have-nots; they’re also the are-nots”!

xvi) p185 and fn 72.  Smith comments on the idolisation of “the family”  in many evangelical churches. Thus Schmemann admonishes, “A marriage which does not constantly crucify its own selfishness and self-sufficiency, which does not ‘die to itself’ that it may point beyond itself, is not a Christian marriage. The real sin of marriage is not adultery or lack of ‘adjustment’ or ‘mental cruelty.’ It is the idolisation of the family itself, the refusal to understand marriage as directed towards the Kingdom of God”. (For the Life of the World : Sacraments and Orthodoxy, 2nd ed. [Crestwood NY, St. Vladimir’s, 1973, p90]

[this is a strongly made point and a very important corrective in relation to the failure of many churches to minister effectively to adult singles. Nevertheless I believe he goes way too far….Adultery is a real sin and so is mental cruelty …both are alive and well in evangelical and, I am sure, Orthodox marriages.] 

xvii) p186 Our baptismal promises attest to the fact that “the church is our first family”.

xix) p 189 Re Contemporary Concrete Renunciations in the Baptismal service.  The baptismal promises are very general. The sins of the modern age are perhaps more subtle…Think about the particular configurations of cultural institutions and practices the need to be (daily) renounced in order to truly foster human flourishing…[but who today (2018) decides what is a sin? Is it Facebook outrage? unelected & unaccountable media spokespersons and journalists? Politicians? University sociologists and psychologists? School teachers? This is not simple…]

xx) p191In contrast to secular liturgies that are fixated on the novel and the new (including the liturgies of the university) , which are trying their best to forget what happened five minutes ago, Christian worship constitutes us as people of memory. It cuts against the grain of myths of progress and chronological snobbery that assume “we” (late moderns) must know more and thus must know better. The communal recitation of the Creed conditions us to recognise the role of tradition in our contstrual of the world. It forms in us salutary habits of deference and dependence (anathema in liberal democracy) in what we think and believe, recognising and celebrating our debts and dependencies. In fn88 Smith recognises that the form of the creeds needs to be modified in relation to the liturgical and other situations of their use e.g. the discussion of the tenets of the creed being discussed in a theological lecture ideally should be worded differently from a creed being used in outreach worship.]

xxi) p192  What we believe is not a matter of intellectualising salvation but rather a matter of knowing what to love, knowing to whom we pledge allegiance, and knowing what is at stake for us as people of the “baptismal city”.’…rival cadences, sometimes doing battle in our imagination with the cadences of other pledges that would ask for our allegiance and loyalty.

xxii) p192 -3 The was we pray also will be nuanced by the situation in which we are placed. Eg we should perhaps try to appreciate how strange [public prayer] might look to Martian anthropologists, for here is a group of what appear to be otherwise (relatively) normal people engaged in a conversation with someone who seems to be absent…like having a conversation with ourselves…or in a kind of enchantment…but in fact ..we are called, even chosen, as a people not for our own sake but for the sake of the world…as Israel was chosen in order to be a light unto the nations.

xxiii) p195 Re the public reading of Scripture: We have emphasised that humans are liturgical animals, whose desire is shaped by rituals of ultimacy  that we described as liturgies. Implicit in such liturgies is a story; thus the claim that we are liturgical animals is a correlate of Alasdair MacIntyre’s claim that “man [sic] is in his actions and practice, as well as in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal. cf Hauerwas: We are a storied formed community…[ in The Hauerwas Reader: ed. John Berkman and Michael Cartwright, (Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2001, p171-99]

xxiv) p200 The eucharist is an eschatological supper awaiting the renewed kingdom of God.

xxv) Re forgiveness; As a school for learning to love our neighbour, and thus becoming reconciled, it is also a school for learning to love our enemies—the most scandalous element of renewed community in the kingdom come. [Of course both Corrie Ten Boom and the aftermath of the Rwandan tragedy remind us that after very deep and titanic hurt, true reconciliation cannot come before there is some sense of contrition on the part of the perpetrator (unless they are mentally unable to express contrition)]

xxvi) p205 re church financial practices: The reconciled and redeemed body of Christ is marked by cruciform practices that counter the liturgies of consumption, hoarding, and greed that characterise so much of our late modern culture. 

xxvii) p206 & fn.115  re the church reaching out:  Smith channels the Patty Griffin song No Bad News to highlight the line: Singing the End of Strangers…And we’ll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us, till there are no strangers any more. 

xxvii) p208 The question is how are Western Christians any different from our secular neighbours? Isn’t it the case that…we don’t seem to look  very peculiar? That is, we don’t seem to be a people that looks very different from our neighbour, except that we go to church on Sunday mornings while they’re home reading the paper…we will need a a more nuanced account of how some liturgies trump  others; in this case, we could suggest that though these parishioners participate in Christian worship, their participation in other secular liturgies effectively trumps the practices of Christian worship.

xxviii) p210  Smith defends some forms of modern monasticism…it is not a matter of seclusion. But neither does it see itself engaged in a triumphalist project of changing the world.

xxix) p218 The danger of an intellectualised “Christian world view” approach to Christian university process. …what if a Christian perspective turns out to be a way o domesticating the radicality of the gospel? What is the rather abstract formulas of a Christian worldview turn out to be a way to tame and blunt the radical call to be a disciple of the coming kingdom?

xxx) p219-20 Smith channels Hauerwas: When the Christianity of “Christian Education” is reduced to the intellectual elements of a Christian worldview or a Christian perspective, the result is that Christianity is turned “into a belief system available to the individual with mediation by the church.” [Hauerwas: How Risky? p51] Christianity “is not beliefs about God plus behaviour. We are Christians not because of what we believe but because we have been called to be disciples of Jesus. Becoming a disciple is not a matter of a new or changed self-understanding but of becoming part of a different community with a different set of practices.  [Stanley Hauerwas: After Christendom? How the Church Is to Behave If Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation Are Bad Ideas, [Nashville, Abingdon, 1991 p107.

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