From the Body Up

In the Introduction to James K.A. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, & Cultural Formation Smith makes the argument that the theories we make about how we should educate people are formed from a prior assumption about what we believe people are. Smith argues that in our Modern age we generally assume that people are (at our core) thinking beings. Such a view of humanity results in a pedagogy that aims (primarily) at the head; education is seen as cognitive. Smith sees this approach to education as lacking because he sees the assumed anthropology as flawed. Smith argues that this truncated view of humanity (as thinking things) does not agree with the Bible’s more holistic view of humanity.

Smith believes that people are not (primarily) thinking things but primarily worshiping beings. This means that what we love shapes much more of who we are and what we do than what we believe. Further, Smith sees worship (liturgy or liturgies) encompassing every part of life. This means that he prefers viewing the world from a worship or liturgical perspective rather than from a “worldview” perspective. Smith does not desire to do away with the concept of “worldview” however, he sees worldview as falling in line with a truncated view of humanity and should be used as a part in a greater whole.

Because, Smith believes, we are primarily worshiping beings and all of life (even the mall) is acts of liturgies, we should see these liturgies as formative actions in our life. See Smith:

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. They do this because we are the sorts of animals whose orientation to the world is shaped from the body up more than from the head down. Liturgies aim our love to different ends precisely by training our hearts through our bodies. They prime us to approach the world in a certain way, to value certain things, to aim for certain goals, to pursue certain dreams, to work together on certain projects. In short, every liturgy constitutes a pedagogy that teaches us, in all sorts of precognitive ways, to be a certain kind of person. Hence every liturgy is an education, and embedded in every liturgy is an implicit worldview or “understanding” of the world. (pg. 25)

When Smith speaks of “liturgies” he isn’t necessarily speaking of a formal church structure of worship. Instead he is getting at the idea that actions and rituals (i.e. – buying food at the store, driving in the car, taking the Lord’s Supper) have a formative affect on our most basic desires. As he says, we are shaped from the body up more than from the head down.

This is not a very popular view in our day but the implications of such a reality are myriad. Desiring the Kingdom promises much from its introduction; more to come soon.

Michael

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