Desiring the Kingdom, week 15: Formation, Goals, and Beliefs

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Desiring the Kingdom Book Club

It’s the last chapter! We’ve made it!

In the heavily-footnoted sixth chapter of Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith talks about the Christian university. To keep it more applicable to us, I thought I’d take some of his key points and apply them to the Christian homeschool instead. :)

Summary: What are we really about?

Now, how can we start to take these ideas we’ve discussed so far and apply it to our lives and our homeschools?

Thinking, Believing, Doing

Rather, we sought to show that what Christians think and believe (and they do think and believe, and that’s a good thing!) grows out of what Christians do.

Well, this is true as Smith has shown, but Smith has neglected to mention that the best practices are carefully thought out before they are done. It’s more like a cycle than a chicken-and-egg problem. The thinking and the doing are mutually reinforcing. They both influence each other. I’ve always liked the way Doug Wilson put this one:

What you believe comes out your fingertips.

and

What comes out your fingertips is what you believe.

The first sentence makes it clear that head knowledge isn’t belief. If you believe it, you act on it. And the second formulation is the scary one. Sin is an act of unbelief. We act in alignment with what we think in the moment we’re acting – it’s not coolheaded and deliberated thought, but it is our gut belief in that moment. Which belief in us the strong enough to shape our choices?

Lord, I believe. Please help my unbelief.

And, then, of course, choices made once become easier to make again, and we always rationalize and justify ourselves; in that way, our actions do shape our thinking and our beliefs.

For me, this makes me seriously consider a few key poor choices I make frequently. What do they say about what I believe? What belief are they reinforcing? What truth counters it and transforms the story (and my heart) to make the right choice attractive?

Radical Reconfiguring

We end up thinking that being a Christian doesn’t radically reconfigure our desires and our wants, our practices and our habits.

But it does. Or it should.

Does it change how we measure and evaluate success? Even at our gut level? At our first-reaction level?

Does it change how we spend our free time, our family time, our weekend time? Or do we look, act, and feel like every other American trained to believe that shopping is therapeutic?

Does it change how we relate to people: to our husbands, to our children, to our church family, to the watching world? How?

Formation of Disciples or Consumers?

If the goal of Christian worship and discipleship is the formation of a peculiar people, then the goal of Christian education should be the same.

Here is a good place to make a correction to a previous post I made. It turns out that indeed, being made in the image of God is historically developed as meaning we, too, like Christ, are made to be prophets (communicate with God and of God), priests (worship), and kings (ruling and creating). We are little prophets, little priests, little kings – representing and working out His rule in this world. I thought the two weren’t connected, but they are.

So what are we working to produce in our children when our time with them is up? College graduates? Paycheck earners? Husbands and wives? I’m not saying and Smith isn’t saying these things are bad, but that they are inadequate goals. Seek first the kingdom and all these things shall be added unto you. It’s not an either/or proposition. But college graduate makes a SMART goal that can be checked off a box, whereas “disciple of Christ” can be assessed but never marked complete or even satisfactory.

Now, I don’t think this distinction is something that will necessarily affect our choice of math curriculum or whether or not we study Latin or grammar or anything else. What it does affect is our orientation to our task and our children. What path are we hurrying them along? What’s the carrot we dangle in front of them? (Do you want to be able to afford a family when you’re grown up?) What’s the stick we use to prod? (If you don’t do your math you’ll wind up a homeless bum) These practices reveal our heart and shape theirs.

The radical reorientation is of the question that drives you: What does God want me to do right here, right now? This isn’t some ambiguous seeking out of where God wants you to be in ten years, but rather, what has He already revealed about this choice I’m about to make right now? And then, will I honor it or not? God’s will is that we pray. God’s will is that we rejoice. God’s will is that we give thanks for everything at all times. I think the more we can bring ourselves ’round to that place, where we first stop to submit ourselves to giving thanks in prayer, then a lot of what we see as “complicating factors” in our decisions would melt away. And the more we take the time to help our children to pause, to pray, to give thanks, the more we help form them into followers rather than self-justifiers. Even in things as small as tears over a math problem.

We would make sure our days have time and space for Bible reading and talking of God’s Word (prophets), for worship and prayer (priests), and for creating and tending (kings).

Would you risk it?

I think Smith is right on in this commentary:

It’s likely that [this model of education] would not lead to “success.” As Hauerwas wryly observes, ‘to educate our children in such an alternative culture will mean that our children cannot presuppose that the education they receive will make it possible for them to be successful actors in a world shaped by a quite different culture.’ Indeed, that is precisely the risk of an authentic Christian education. Is that a risk we are willing to take? I wonder.

I think homeschoolers are familiar with variations of this concern and many of us have decided that yes, it is worth the risk that our children be odd in a society that prizes popularity and trendiness. I know I usually, however, take the approach that ours will be the most likely to succeed because our children will be able to think and communicate in a world that increasingly can do neither. But what if that’s not the case? Are we going to cave on our convictions based on fears about job prospects? Are we going to shape our school days in the end based not on our convictions but on our fears about high school transcripts and getting into college?

What you do shows what you actually believe.

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: Last wrap up post for any further thoughts or applications you want to develop.

One Response

  1. Lisa A
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    Thank you for hosting this discussion, Mystie. I really enjoyed participating and following along.