Desiring the Kingdom

By: Diane Chandler
Friday, October 1st, 2010

Recently, I read the book entitled Desiring the Kingdom by James (“Jamie”) K. A. Smith (2009).  As a philosopher, Smith attempts to provide a critique of current Christian worldview parlance and approach by offering another model in which to view the human person, formation, faith, and the role of the Christian college or university.

Rather than a book review, per say, I want to offer my reactions and recommend that you consider reading it yourself, rather than simply reacting to my comments.  While I do not agree with all that Smith advances regarding formational approaches to the human person, I believe that his perspectives are worthy of consideration and offer those in Christian higher education and the church a perspective worthy of discussion and dialogue.

Overall the book attempts to rearticulate the telos (or goal) of Christian education from being one that relates to establishing a distinctively Christian worldview through the development of the cognitive domain to being one that views education as formational and guided by what we love and desire, as fostered through worship.  What he aims at is the differentiation between education as informative and education as formative.  As you can well imagine, this topic greatly interests me. 

Smith critiques an understanding of the Christian faith as being reduced to a set of ideas and principles, which creates worldview thinking at the expense of our calling to be passionate followers of Christ who love rightly both God and neighbor.  Smith argues that we are oriented to the world by the primacy of that love. Therefore, Smith offers Christian worship as the most profound practice that shapes our identity and takes us beyond a mere belief system to a fully embodied identity as loving God and neighbor. 

Leaning on Augustinian tradition, Smith advances that human identity is not simply about rationalism but about our hearts and the shaping role of godly love in the process.  He argues that we are not just thinkers and/or believers but rather affective and embodied beings, more disposed to feel that to think our way through life, primarily being driven by love.  He offers, “This sort of ultimate love could also be described as that to which we ultimately pledge allegiance; or, to evoke language that is both religious and ancient, our ultimate love is what we worship” (p. 51). In other words, our loves constitute our identity, and our identity is shaped by the practices in which we engage. [Smith offers a realistic parody of the American shopping mall to illustrate how our practices shape our identity and our loves.  Most American can easily get the point related to the inordinate driver of consumerism.]

Although an engaging and well-written piece, I do have some reservations.  First, formation of our minds in the cognitive domain is not nor should not be bifurcated from heart formation, and neither the cognitive nor affective should be isolated from what Smith call’s desire, the vision of the good life that causes us to flourish and live well.  He claims that we are affective before we are cognitive.  This distinction seems to me to be a false dichotomy.  Second, the book is shy on biblical and theological support.  Given that Smith approaches this work from a philosophical lens, it would be helpful to see more anchoring of his work in the Scriptures.  Third, in any discussion of Christian formation, the role of the Holy Spirit must come to bear. And again, this is observably absent.  However what I found noteworthy is Smith’s emphasis on worship as the cornerstone of our formation.  One becomes like what one worships.

Overall, I found this book a worthy read and look forward to your comments.

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Diane Chandler
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3 Responses to “Desiring the Kingdom”

  1. Michele Lum says:

    Thanks for posting your views about the book. I agree that the formation of our minds comprise a balance of the cognitive and affective, not either or. The same to be true in the formation of one’s Christian worldview with the starting point being interaction with God and his word and allowing his truth to be proven in our everyday experiences.

    • Diane Chandler Diane Chandler says:

      Thanks, Michelle. I hope that you will consider reading the book. I was just interacting with some folks today about the book which they praised. Also I have met some of the author’s colleagues at the conference that I’m attending. A biblical perspective and worldview is shaped by interaction with God by the power of the Holy Spirit which reveals to us the truth of the Word of God.

  2. isai says:

    I like your second critique is that philosophy should know its place and take its rightful back seat to theology. speaking of false dichotomies…deja-vu there for a second. nevermind.
    and just because Smith claims we are affective before we are cognitive, doesn’t mean he is bifurcating the individual. From what I understand of Smith and his Radical Orthodoxy, and I would suggest that he is, rather, describing the process of human apprehension, as opposed to its state of being.

    Now I’m going to go read this book.