Once in a while a book comes along that crystallizes the things you have been thinking and takes you further down the road. This was such a book.
James K.A. Smith contends that we are primarily “desiring animals” who think rather than “thinking things” who happen to have desires. He thinks much of Christian education has followed the latter conception and crucially fails to shape Christians who live and think Christianly. This is because their approaches failure to consider the importance of desire and the practices that direct desires in habits of faithfulness toward the kingdom. By contrast, he argues that secular consumerist culture has created effective liturgies to shape desire towards its end, as has the secular academy.
He argues for the recovery of Christian liturgical practices that shape the affections and practices of Christians toward the values of the kingdom. And in the longest chapter of the book, he considers how the “thick” (i.e. substantive) practices of Christian worship do this and how they may be enhanced, particularly in the Christian college setting. He believes that such practices not only shape us along kingdom lines but enable us to recognize the alternative “liturgies” for what they are.
One of my own reflections as a leader of a collegiate ministry with graduate students is that he names what I’ve long thought — that graduate education is not simply an informative process but a formative. And he provokes me to think about the “liturgies” and formative practices we pursue communally and how they enable us to keep focused on the kingdom of God rather than the academic kingdom. In the past I’ve pursued these more intuitively and informally but after reading this am challenged to think of how we might even develop a simple community “rule of life” in which we mutually encourage each other by various formative practices of prayer, scripture, communal life, sabbath, hospitality, and service to desire the kingdom.
Bonus added by the editor: James K.A. Smith’s presentation on Culture as Liturgy (50 min, 11 sec) as part of the Gospel & Culture Lecture series.