And…I’m back. The last couple of weeks have been good but crazy here with our mission organization’s annual conference, a weekend away for our tenth anniversary, and tired kiddos with colds. (Well, that part’s not good, but I suppose to be expected with the long days spent in childcare during the conference and general lack of normal routine.) Now we are in to three weeks of our co-op program which is busy in its own way, but it does mean that I do get a wee bit of time at home with all the kids gone to their respective classes when I don’t have to go help with something. So here’s to hoping that I will have a little more time to chat with you in this space (assuming that both power and internet are functional at the same time). J
In this week’s section of Desiring the Kingdom, Smith discusses (among other things) the role that the recitation of the Creed (referring to the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed) and the exposition of the Scriptures in the sermon have in worship and formation. This section made me think about these issues from a couple of different angles, and in order to keep my post for this section from rambling on too much, I am breaking it into two parts (look for part two on Thursday). He likened the Creed to the ‘pledge of allegiance’ for the Kingdom of God and noted that it roots us to our historical faith – a faith that has endured for many generations. The exposition of the story of the Scriptures “narrates the identity of the people of God, [is] the constitution of this baptismal city, and [fuels] the Christian imagination.” He also says that Scripture shows us “the kind of people we’re called to be”.
In the midst of his discussion he also made a couple of comments that rather struck me. Regarding the Creed he says: “What is articulated in the Creed has been behind much of what we’ve been doing in worship.” He also says that “Christian worship is deeply shaped by an explicit articulation of the story in the Scriptures.” In other words our practices are (or should be) rooted in and informed by our beliefs – our doctrines – as articulated in the Creed and in the Word. He also made the comment that “By emphasizing that the practices of Christian worship are formative at a fundamentally precognitive, affective level, I am not suggesting that in Christian worship we kiss our brains goodbye.”
Huh. Really? Did anyone else kind of get the feeling that he was kind of contradicting himself? I have had the niggling sensation from the beginning of the book that Smith has been trying to dismiss the importance of the life of the mind, the role of ideas and beliefs in shaping us. In both of my posts on Chapter 4, I basically laid out why I disagreed with this point of view and why (here are those posts again: Part 1 and Part 2). While I agree with doctrine/belief alone aren’t enough to change us and that they must be coupled to our practices, I will always maintain that our beliefs need to be the guide for our practices and not the other way around. And without the informing ideas behind our practices (worship practices or otherwise), the practices themselves become pretty meaningless. It seems very much to me that here Smith is changing his tune and basically saying what I was trying to say in my response to Chapter 4. Not really sure what to make of that – did I miss something along the way, or is he really contradicting himself? Or was he just being hyperbolic to make a point in Chapter 4 (he does sort of seem to like to do this)? Am I just too practical to wrap my head around his philosophical meanderings? I don’t know.
As I’ve been thinking about these issues over the last couple of weeks, I came across this very interesting article on “Intellectual Discipleship” by Al Mohler. It is full of the type of language that Smith detests: “worldview”, “cognitive principles”, “thinkers”, “doctrine”. And yet, at the same time, I think they are working towards similar ends. Mohler points out that “A robust and rich model of Christian thinking – the quality of thinking that culminates in a God-centered worldview – requires that we see all truth as interconnected. Ultimately, the systematic wholeness of truth can be traced to the fact that God is himself the author of all truth. Christianity is not a set of doctrines in the sense that a mechanic operates with a set of tools. Instead, Christianity is a comprehensive worldview and way of life that grows out of Christian reflection on the Bible and the unfolding plan of God revealed in the unity of the Scriptures.” The role of the mind is vitally important – I think the key is to make sure that we don’t stay there. Our ‘way of life’ needs to grow out of the beliefs and doctrines and ideas that our minds receive. Our whole selves need to be affected. Perhaps paying attention to our practices is part of the way that we can ensure this takes place – that ideas and beliefs don’t remain only in our minds? Just a thought that crossed my mind as I consider the interaction between belief and practice.
Just this morning I came across this thought in Sinclair Ferguson’s book Children of the Living God:
“Paul says we are transformed as we ‘reflect’ or ‘contemplate’ the Lord’s glory. How do we do this? Primarily by looking at the Lord as he has revealed himself in Scripture. It is only as our lives are in line with Scripture, and as our minds are devoted to understanding and applying it obediently, that this reflection of Christ takes place. This produces the renewing of the mind which Paul describes elsewhere (Romans 12:1-2). Notice that such renewal is the opposite of being conformed to the image the world desires to produce in our lives. Conformity to Christ, through the use of the renewed mind, always produces nonconformists! But Christians are not nonconformists in order to be difficult, or even simply for the sake of being different. Rather, we are nonconformists because we conform to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. This new attitude of mind emerges from the fact that we are new men and women, children of God ‘created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness’ (Ephesians 4:23-24).”
Nonconformists. A ‘peculiar people’ – that’s Smith’s terminology. A people who are not conformed to the habits and patterns of this world, but who are conformed to the image of Christ – who are committed to pursuing His Kingdom. That’s the goal, regardless of what vocabulary one wants to use to describe how to get there.
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