Notes and Musings After Reading ‘Desiring the Kingdom’

Desiring The Kingdom: notes and musings

Overall Score: 3/5 (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/43877739-jon-beadle)

Italics = my thoughts


The life of the mind is a study that is very concerned with Christian higher education – a decidedly modern approach to education.  – 17

Thesis: ” [Desiring the Kingdom is] an invitation to re-vision Christian education as a formative rather than just an informative project.” – 18 “philosophical anthropology”

“What if the church unwittingly adopts the same liturgical practices as the market and the mall? Will it then really be a sight of counter-formation?” – 25

“These quasi-liturgies effect an education of desire, a pedagogy of the heart. But if the church is complicit with this sort of formation, where could we look for an alternative education of desire?” – 25

Core Claim: “…liturgies – whether “sacred” or “secular” – shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world. In short, liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love.” – 25

Defining Education: “An education, then, is a constellation of practices, rituals, and routines that inculcates a particular vision of the good life by inscribing or infusing that vision into the heart (the gut) by means of material, embodied practices…Behind the veneer of a “value-free” education concerned with providing skills, knowledge, and information is an educational vision that remains formative. There is no neutral, nonformative education; in short, there is no such things as a “secular” education.

I’m learning that the “Secular” is a myth, a game that millions participate in on a daily basis. It feigns the common space as a neutral space. War, it seems to communicate, the opposite of neutrality. The path to peace in this case is the path to a static utopia of live and let live. As we have seen with the new activists, the public space is longing to be filled with values. Whereas the liberals (I include conservatives within this designation of lower case “l”) pretended the public space was neutral – although it was certainly not neutral, cultivating a generation of Christian consumers and “know-nothings” – radical progressives now demand that the public space be populated by a liturgy of inclusivity, equity, and diversity. For our purposes, I will here on out refer to the big three as the “unholy trinity.” We believed that secular education was nonformative, when it reality it was all formative.

If Christians are to retain any level of continuity with the global church, as well as the historic church, she is then to shed the dead weight of liberal secularism and adopt a post-liberal strategy. One facet of the solution must be to reclaim a form of Christian education that does more than teach Christian ideas and form students with apologetics, the “life of the mind.” The Christian school must first and foremost be a place, as Jamie Smith articulates, that cultivates what students should love; in short, virtue. We begin with that which is below the neck and move onto the mind. And what we love is that which is what we desire as a way of life (Smith 2009, 27). Our love is shaped by practices and refined by the mind[1]. A Christian education is not primarily to do with “Christian” ideas; rather, it has to do with Christian formation. It is formation over, but not against, worldview. If both are held in proper perspective then all of the classics may be engaged because there is no fear that a pagan idea will dominate a Christian idea. All truth is God’s truth, and the same goes for formation. If it forms you to love God, and magnify his Son, Jesus Christ, it is “Christian.” The center of gravity for your mind is your body.

Therefore, the primary Question beneath all questions that we should be asking is this: Is Christian education one in which all ideas that are passed from instructor to students being countered by the very environment (Smith 2009, 31)?

“Let me suggest an axiom: behind every pedagogy is a philosophical anthropology.” – 27

Part 1: We Are What We Love

Overall goal: “…to scketch a formal account of education as the formation of the imagination by affective practices.” – 37

Ch. 1: Homo Liturgics: the human person as a lover

Rationalist-Based Anthropology: For us to be “Educated” we are “formed.” You are not educated if you know things; rather, you are properly educated if you have the virtue and the skill to navigate the chaotic world with your identity, emotions, and reason intact (Smith 2009, 40). Unfortunately, we have often taught students that their actions flow directly from their mind. Perhaps it is the leftovers of the Certasian way of thinking (I think; therefore, I am”), or perhaps we were so desperate to short circuit the work it took to develop students in a way that strengthened against the bonds of secularism; but we are not first thinking creatures. We are first lovers. We do what we want to do, period. The mind is primarily a lawyer, trying to help our desire justify its actions.

Faith-based Anthropology: “What defines us is not what we think – not the set of ideas we assent to – but rather what we believe, the commitments and trusts that orient our being-in-the-world. – p. 43

Objection #1: Beliefs are often ideas set beneath other ideas. Thus, it keeps the person swimming in rationality, and makes the Christian obsessed with apologetics on the same footing as the rationalist she is trying to critique.

Objection #2: Person-as-believer is still the Cartesian individualist model. – 44

If our way of life can be accomplished without any mediation from the church, it is a Christian heresy. Who of us can live as a body without a head? Perhaps like a chicken we end up running around the yard, but not for very long (Smith 2009, 45).

“While the Reformed tradition of worldview-thinking generates a radical critique of rationalism and its attendant claims to objectivity and secularity, the critique still feels reductionistic insofar as it fails to accord a central role to embodiment and practice. Because of this blind spot, it continues to yield a quasi-rationalist pedagogy.” – 45

The Augustinian claim is that human are primarily oriented towards the world through love. The person-as-thinker and person-as-believer claims are anthropological reductions. – 46

Person-as-lover Anthropology: We are “embodied agents of desire or love.” – 47

“So as we inhabit the world primarily in a noncognitive, affective mode of intentionality, implicit in that love is an end, or telos. In other words, what we love is a specific vision of the good life, an implicit picture of what we think human flourishing looks like.” – 52

“Augustine would say that the effect of sin on our love is not that we stop loving but that our love becomes disordered. It gets aimed at the wrong ends and finds ‘enjoyment’ in what it should merely be ‘using.’ Or, in other words, instead of being caritas, our love becomes cupiditas. See Augustine, Teaching Christianity 1.26.27-1.27.28.” – 52 (footnote 25)

Social Imaginary Versus Worldviewism – 65

“The ‘social imaginary’ is an affective, noncognitive understanding of the world. It is described as an imaginary (rather than theory) because it is fueled by the stuff of the imagination rather than the intellect: it is made up of, and embedded in, stories, narratives, myths, and icons. These visions capture our hearts and imaginations by ‘lining’ our imagination, as it were – providing us with frameworks of ‘meaning’ by which we make sense of our world and our calling in it. An irreducible understanding of the world resides in our intuitive, precognitive grasp of these stories.” – 68

In order to grow in one’s desire for God one must grow in virtue (noncognitive “dispositions”), acquired through practice. Christian truth is such that you only “know” it is true when you have first begun to live as if they are true. – 71

(Reminder: Read George Linbeck)

Ch. 2: Love Takes Practice: Liturgy, Formation, And Counter-Formation

This is an incredibly boring chapter. It connects many cultural dots for the groundwork laid in the first chapter but has no profundity whatsoever. Seriously.

Ch. 3: Lovers in a Dangerous Time: Cultural Exegesis of “Secular” Liturgies

“We also need to keep in mind just how this process works. Because we are embodied, affective, liturgical animals, our love and desire are shaped and directed by rituals and practices that work on our imaginary; this can often be a sort of automation that inscribes in us habits formed without our recognition because they are operative at the level of the adaptive unconscious – particularly if we fail to recognize the practices as formative rituals.” – 94

We begin with liturgics – the practices, stories, myths that shape our unconscious, thus our lives – move on into the imaginative, where our conscious mind interacts with the unconscious, and rituals are then enacted. Thus, it is wise for the church to have an intense interest in the stories, films, and imaginative formative influences that are out there in the world because their influence is more powerful than even the lecturing that secularism engages within. In fact, in America, most people are not consciously secular. They go to church, believe in God, the divine plan that mystically governs their lives, and purpose. And yet, secularism is the unconscious religion because these same people live in such a way that is anti-thetical to the Christian tradition. Meaning: Christians in America today have more in common with Epicurus than St. Benedict, or St. Augustine. When we accept the cultural liturgy as normative for the water we swim in, our churches will be parallel with the mall-as-polis.

There are no limits to the impact of consumerism on Christian church. And this view of capital is not neutral. Just attend a heavily populated youth group.

Are the kids reciting the Apostles Creed?

Are they taking communion?


The likelihood of ancient forms in the youth space is slim to none. Rather, it is a rush to mimic the culture. A concession in order to “get them in the door to hear the gospel.” The problem is clear: we make believers who are still thoroughly persuaded by the forms of consumerism than that of Christianity. I’m not saying Youth Groups should not have hip hop or games; rather, they should be given to discipleship for the whole person. The role of consumerism is of a non-stop revolution. And yes, that may make me sound like a Marxist (I am not!) but the criticism must be taken seriously. Our children seek stability, and the constant barrage of activities will only hollow out their faith before they are able to get started. The primary issue, unfortunately for the average, and passionate, youth pastor, is that the primary agent in the kid’s conversion to secularism is not the media, but their parents. When I was a youth pastor, parents would come to me in tears. Why isn’t my child a Christian? Perhaps their entire experience was in the externalities, completely devoid of mystical encounters – whether the gifts of the Spirit or the simplest of experiences in “listening prayer.” So when the student is told every week that they can’t do anything, it’s all grace, they hear a slice of truth, but none of the power, narrative, coherence of the Gospel that has the power to keep them. And if they were to put their trust in that power, parents would also realize that the Holy Spirit can keep them in that love more than their inherent ability to be deceived. Parents who want their children to be disciples should first become disciples themselves, get more excited about worship that the Bachelorette, and perhaps their children will follow suit. I say this as a parent.

Every parent should read “Demons” by Dostoevsky. It paints a portrait of a handful of smart young people.  

God does not go to church. We go to Him. The Magi were seeking not a country, but a King; a Kingdom. In this sense, the dominion of our King is our King Himself. This is why discussions of the dialectic between the individual and the collective fall flat in the church because the “community” of faith is a synthesis of the two.

Part 2: Desiring the Kingdom – The Practiced Shape of the Christian Life

A more practical approach. Also, meh.

Ch. 4: From Worship to Worldview – Christian Worship and the formation of Desire

“The point here is that just as worship precedes the formation of the biblical canon (“The Bible”), so too does participation in Christian worship precede the formulation of doctrine and the articulation of worldview. Lived worship is the fount from which a worldview springs, rather than being the expression or application of some cognitive set of beliefs already in place.” – 136

Those who constantly emphasize that their service is not meant to be a “show” and yet, constantly dim the lights and turn up the sound to the level of a deafening effect are lying. The sacramental space is the “social imaginary.” It is the place where we reimagine “place” in the world. So when the worship space is merely a nest for the spoken truth, it is already subverting its potential by refusing to nest the space in the imagination of the unconscious, which celebrates love, purpose, hope, and, well, the story within the story, the Gospel. We must be vigilant in asking the following kinds of questions: does our heart scream at the level of a Handel’s Messiah when we see the break broken over the communion table, or when we get an unexpected discount at Target?

When Jesus lifts up the bread and says “This is my body,” He claims the universal within the particular. The transcendent fully collides with the immanent, within that brokenness. It is, as one songwriter has said, a collision more akin to a sloppy wet kiss than a proper ballroom dance. (Smith 2009, 149).

“First, it is not only high-church or liturgical contexts that are liturgical and formative. All Christian worship – whether Anglican or Anabaptist, Pentecostal or Presbyterian – is liturgical in the sense that it is governed by norms, draws on tradition, includes bodily rituals or routines, and involves formative practices. For instance, though Pentecostal worship is often considered to be the antithesis of liturgy, it actually includes many of the same elements: charismatic worship is very embodied (hands raised in praise, kneeling at the altar in prayer, laying on hands in hope, etc.); it has a common unwritten routine (“praise” music, followed by quieter “worship” music, followed by the sermon and then often “altar time”); and these practices of Pentecostal worship are deeply formative, shaping our imagination to relate to the world in a unique way. In this sense, even Pentecostal worship is liturgical; indeed, as we’ve emphasized above, Christian worship can’t help but be embodied and material.” – 152

Ch. 5: Practicing (for) the Kingdom: An Exegesis of the Social Imaginary Embedded in Christian Worship:

“ [the eucharist is] the school of active love for neighbor.” – John Paul II

Ch. 6: A Christian University Is for Lovers – The Education of Desire

Students should not be handed a “Christian” perspective. They should in fact, let go of perspective and seize Reality. Perception is not Reality, only to those who are willing to live with their eyes on the three feet of ground in front of them. (Smith 2009, 218).

Corruption of the Youth = New Monastic Vision for Christian life

Final Takeaways:

Rod Dreher did it better with _The Benedict Option_.

I really want to read _For The Life of the World_ now!

The use of pop culture and movies are helpful, but beneath the scope of his engagement. If you distinguish between thick and thin practices, why pander? I don’t think he often chooses the most interesting examples, which was also a problem  with his book on Charles Taylor and Relativism.

My favorite part of the chapters were always the footnotes. Sassy. Tasty. 

Now I want to read Graham Greene.

The first chapter is worth the entire book. Or just read the first chapter, and pick up rod Dreher’s book. 

I can’t drop Douglas Wilson’s criticism of this book — that Smith actually argues for a slimmed down version of Modernity with the use of Post-Modernity as a lens for his critique of Modernity. This is unavoidable for most po-mo types because their very critique is contingent upon modernity having the cultural power, making po-mo “parasitic,” dependent and weak. Thus, Smith’s post-liberal ideas are much stronger. But he simply tells us to go read his other book…boo! 

Smith really, really, absolutely, really, adores Heidegger. I was almost moved to pick up my copy of _Being and Time_ but then decided to take a Tylenol instead.

[1] In Jonathan Haidts book “The Righteous Mind,” he makes a solid case for the human being as an animal of desire, first, and of the mind, second.




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