Desiring the Kingdom Book Club, week 9:

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Desiring the Kingdom Book Club

This week we’re discussing chapter 4, pages 131-144, about the nature of material and our priorities in worship and worldview. I’ll admit, this section made me nervous and uncomfortable, more so than the previous chapter. In this chapter, Smith would say one thing that I knew I agreed with, and then pair it with something I did not agree with.

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Summary: Practices matter, but where are our priorities?

As a staunch reformed believer, I believe that all our practices should be determined by Scripture alone (sola Scriptura). They must be determined by something, and Smith goes too close to saying that practices should be chosen by the emotion they evoke rather than by whether or not they are indicated by Scripture itself. Yes, the early church was worshiping before the Bible was solidified and early humanity (some, anyway) was worshiping before Moses. However, we live after Moses and the Canon, we do not have direct prophets or apostles, because we have something better – the Word.

If God speaks to us in His Word, then we cannot start with an anthropology that says feeling or body or practice is to be preferred over Word. Jesus is the Word made flesh, so flesh and Word are not inseparable, but one in Christ Himself. However, creation (materiality) was created by the Word, and so the Word precedes stuff. Christ was in the beginning as the Word and only later in history as Man, with body. So I do believe that historically, even, we must prefer God’s Word over materiality, over emotion, over practices. The Word is first and foremost, even if it appears to be too cognitive for our tastes (it is, indeed, of faith, which is not really material or cognitive or emotional, but simply spiritual). But faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God – not by feeling or doing, but by words.

In this section, the fact that Smith is dividing mind and body and soul and elevating one over the other is all too clear and messes up his argument. It appeared in the beginning that he was going to argue that the rational mind shouldn’t be considered the only part of us that matters, to the exclusion of our body, but now he seems to be saying that the rational mind should be demoted and valued less than our bodies and materiality.

We should not be gnostics (the body is to be rejected and abhorred) nor materialists (there is no spiritual element in the world), but the middle ground between those two extremes needn’t be emotionalism (which his example of the Good Friday service seemed to indicate – if it evokes the emotions we [think we] should feel, then it’s right and proper). God gives us material sacraments in water, bread, and wine, and God Himself took on human flesh, so we cannot ignore or hate materiality. However, we only know about water, bread, wine, and incarnation through Scripture and through the faith implanted by the Holy Spirit. So, it appears that a biblical ordering of these would be Word by the Spirit, and matter as a sign and seal, not Matter plus Spirit, and then Word, as Smith seems to be indicating.

One thing Smith has correct: Your anthropology determines your pedagogy, and your worship shapes your worldview. So, let us keep our worship biblical and our anthropology biblical, above all else.

Further Book Club Conversation

Visit these other participants’ posts and keep the conversation going in the comment sections! You don’t have to have a blog to participate. Please jump on in.


Next week: finish chapter 4.

15 Responses

  1. Jen
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    Looks like you and I had a very similar take on this chapter!

  2. Lisa
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    This is an interesting take on the chapter and one I never would have considered. I did not feel like he was dividing mind/body/soul but rather emphasizing (again!) that we ought not separate them. The practices of the early church, which were a continuation of what had been handed down to Moses by God Himself, were inseparable from the Word of God. The Apostles did what Jesus had taught them to do and the practices which continued to be handed down helped to inform the final compilation of the sacred texts which form what we know today as the Bible. The Bible and Holy Tradition ought not be separated any more than individual body and soul ought to be. They are a whole piece, and it’s not ok take one part and place it over the other – they each inform and shape the other. It’s probably pretty clear from all that that I do not believe in Sola Scriptura. :)

    I don’t believe that emotionalism is an acceptable alternative either. But again my take on this section was different than yours. His description of the Tenebrae service seemed to me to be a call to bring the body back into worship and to involve more than just the mind. I’ve written about that already in some of my posts, so I won’t say too much here. I think he was trying to say that sometimes experience helps to enhance and sometimes even bring about understanding of scripture in a way that merely reading cannot.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      Well, I think tradition is what must be filtered through God’s Word. Who decides what traditions are, well, orthodox, and how do they decide? How do we know? God’s Word.

      The Pharisees had a long tradition on their side, and a well-intentioned one – they were the authorities, the leaders, the holy ones – and a huge part of Jesus’ earthly ministry revolved around him telling them that their traditions missed the point of God’s revealed Word.

      • Lisa
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        You’re right. The Pharisees made mistakes because of their love of tradition, and their hearts began to be aimed wrongly. But that doesn’t mean that the traditions themselves were wrong, just that they loved tradition more than they loved God and Jesus tried to help them see that.

        As for who decides what traditions are correct, well, the same Holy Spirit who inspired scripture guides and instructs in this area as well. Jesus said that the “gates of hell [would] not prevail against [the church]”. So we trust that what has continued to be handed down and preserved has been preserved not by men but by the grace of God. And yes, scripture is most definitely an authority, but human reason can twist and interpret the word wrongly, so there needs to be an authority against which one can check one’s interpretation to be sure that it’s correct.

        I’m not trying to argue or prove that I’m right – I sincerely hope I’m not coming across that way. Forgive me if I am.

        • Lisa
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          One more thing and then I promise I’ll stop! ;) The point I was trying to make above about interpretation of scripture needing a frame of reference and not being done individually outside of tradition, can also be made in reverse – tradition also needs a reference and should look to scripture for that. So, like I said before, the two need to exist together and should not be separated.

  3. Dawn Duran
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    I came over to say that I think I should just stop reading this book and pay attention to your synopses. I am really slogging through this. But this post was terrific, Mystie. And very helpful for me in my own (minimal) efforts to process this book. Then I read Lisa’s perspective, and that also makes a lot of sense. I’m glad you guys are able to think critically about this book. I feel like I am just pushing through it because I bought it and committed to it. Thank you for helping me get something out of it by blogging about your impressions.

  4. Courtney
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    My first comment, though I have been following along the whole time. But I just had to say I was smiling as I read because I took this chapter so very differently than you did.

    First, I have to admit that I am NOT a staunch reformed believer. I am Orthodox Christian and so my background beliefs on sola scriptura and the physical body are about as different from yours as can be. :)

    I agree with Lisa that I did not take it as a demoting of intellect with only the body and emotion as important. I took it as a call to bring worship into more than just the mind, to include body and emotion to an equal level. We are not just intellect, after all. We are bodies, whether we choose to like it or not. This is why the Orthodox Church worships with all the senses- icons for sight, incense for smell, prayer ropes for touch, holy communion for taste, singing for hearing. In a more Protestant outlook one could say this is why you kneel to pray, why you clasp hands, why you close eyes. It is impossible to separate the body from the mind, all attempts to do so can only result in half prayer.

    I cant wait to hear more responses to this chapter, I really had no idea when reading it that it would bring such a varied response.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      Thanks for commenting, Courtney, and adding to the discussion! It is interesting what provokes the most difference in opinion. :)

  5. Emily
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    I found this section oddly unbalanced, also. It left me wondering if Smith would add some qualifications in the second half of the chapter.

    I grew up attending a liturgical, but liberal church. Though the traditional liturgy does point to Christ, without explicit preaching of the gospel I did not know what to believe until I joined a para-church youth group in high school. My experience leads me to believe that though liturgy is good, it is not enough by itself.

    Also, I found it interesting that a huge part of Smith’s arguement throughout the book is that we are worshipping creatures. Worship comes naturally to us. But now he seems to neglect this a bit. As fallen humanity, without being informed by truth, we worship idols.

    • Lisa
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      It’s interesting that you say that about being worshipping creatures, because my thought was that he was making that point exactly – the early church was already practicing “right worship” because they were already informed by the Truth, both in the person of Jesus and in the worship practices and the law which had been passed down by Moses and which Jesus affirmed by keeping following Himself.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      I think that’s a great point, Emily. Simply worshiping, saying it is part of the church, doesn’t make it true worship. How many times did the Israelites worship false gods, calling their worship the worship of Jehovah? Lots of times.

      There’s a tradition and a part of holy writ that should instruct and warn.

  6. Brandy @ Afterthoughts
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    Did Smith actually mention the Law or prior-to-Christianity traditions? I need to go check. My sense was that he implied that what we do sort of came out of nowhere, which really bothered me because the Church is the continuation of God’s people, not the beginning of it, if that makes sense.

    Or maybe I skipped over something important on accident?

    Mystie, I appreciate you bringing in the “faith comes from hearing” because I think it is too true that he neglected that part.

    By the way, by the end of the chapter, I felt like we needed to start using the word “faith” instead of “belief.” I have always used them interchangeably. But when Smith uses it, he means the mind in exclusion of the heart. Faith seems to work, better, then because it still seems to imply both. I think belief used to imply conviction of the whole self…I don’t know. Now I’m rambling…

    • Lisa
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      He may not have mentioned them – I returned my copy to the library so I can’t check. But that was the impression that stayed with me from my reading.

      • Brandy @ Afterthoughts
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        Drat. You really are going to make me go back and check! :P

        • Emily
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          I went back and skimmed the section again last night. Smith emphasizes “worship before worldview” and says nothing about where early Christian worship came from. If he’s arguing, as Lisa says, that Christian worship is built on traditions from the Law and Moses in the light of Christ’s teaching and work among them, I would agree. However, to me, Smith came across as saying so strongly that worship is pre-cognitive, that he implied a cognitive aspect of worship is unnecessary. Yet, right worship requires at least a simple understanding (cognitively, as well as with body and soul) that “Jesus is Lord.”