In observing how practices and rituals comprise most of our habits, even in â€œthe mallâ€ (which he describes as a sort of center or â€œchapelâ€ of cultural practice), Smith aims at Christian Education for its failure to recognize that itâ€™s true goal, formation, happens â€œaffectivelyâ€ and much more thoroughly to us by our cultural â€œschoolingâ€ that permeates the habits of â€œsecularâ€ society. (More on â€œsecularâ€ later)
This line grabs me as a central thrust of the book:
Could we offer a Christian education that is loaded with all sorts of Christian ideas and information â€“ and yet be offering a formation that runs counter to that vision?
p. 31 Desiring the Kingdom
A similar question posed form a slightly different angle occurs to me: Is it true that churches are actually offering a different/counter formation, or a formation at all? I am reminded of David Fitchâ€™s book â€œThe Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the church from Big Business, Parachurch organization, psychotherapy, consumer capitalism, and other modern maladiesâ€. Fitch would seem to be answering Smithâ€™s question in the book quotation above with â€œthey seem to be leaving formation up to the devices of other cultural forces, and trying to combat all those formative forces with â€˜learningâ€™ that is focused on information and intellect. â€œ So I suppose that the â€œformation that runs counter to that visionâ€ is not offered, but rather â€œgiven awayâ€ or â€œfarmed outâ€ to the cultural forces, while we hammer away at the â€œlearningâ€ by offering ideas and opinions we hope will â€œcancel outâ€ the effects of the â€œwrong ideasâ€. Hmmmmm.
Smith seems to be gearing up in the intro to take on the churchâ€™s habit of succumbing to this â€œpassing on of information as formationâ€ idea; this â€œhanding overâ€ of the â€œways of lifeâ€ to rhythms and practices that are taught in the culture, and that these practices are seemingly just accepted as â€œthe way things areâ€ and natural; transparent as formative forces. Theyâ€™re â€œtransparentâ€ because the church falls into the Western trap of thinking of learning and education as exclusively â€œof the mindâ€ and ignore the formative force of habit and the shaping of desires.
Smith also sees, rightly I think, that culture â€“ secular culture — is also religious. It has a â€œliturgyâ€ — â€œpracticesâ€ that â€œschoolâ€ us; that form us, in ways much OTHER and DEEPER than â€œthoughtâ€ or â€œopinionâ€. So Smith suggests that there is, in fact, no culture that is â€œsecularâ€. There is a telos or end goal to all â€œcultural liturgiesâ€. Much like his earlier work, â€œIntroduction to Radical Orthodoxyâ€, where â€œtheologyâ€ is not just a category for the religious institutions, but the national ones as well. National ideology has a â€œtheologyâ€, regardless of their protestations that they are â€œneutralâ€ on religion.
So, just 31 pages in, I already feel confident about recommending this book. Much more to come. If I can get a good scanning and OCR setup connected at my desk here, there will be several more quotes.
(update: I found this blog post about Desiring the Kingdom, where the author comments extensively and an interesting discussion ensues.