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.
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
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Next week: finish chapter 4.