“Beyond the Mind” by Todd C. Ream
Taylor University recently began a new campaign with the motto of “Beyond the Mind.” Billboards brandished these words along with images of students. Atfirst glance I must admit I was somewhat perplexed by this effort. Passing one of these billboards on Interstate 69 in northeastern Indiana I thought, “How could education transcend the mind? Is not the mind at the center of our very efforts?” The Yale Report of 1828, one of the great defenses for liberal education, argues that “The two great points to be gained in intellectual culture, are the discipline and the furniture of the mind; expanding its powers, and storing it with knowledge.”1 Those of us schooled in the practices of integration of faith and learning realize that such endeavors are primarily, if not entirely, cognitive. How then could an education go beyond the mind?
James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009) provides an answer to my question. While Smith has his reservations about the present state of the integration model, his intentions in this book are not simply to critique or deconstruct. In contrast, he, perhaps like members of the Taylor community, seeks to identify a means of transcending a singular focus upon the mind. For Smith, the integration of faith and learning is not simply a cognitive endeavor but one that makes demands upon the whole person. By invoking the phrase “whole person” here, I am not seeking to conjure up images of the wellness wheel so many of us were exposed to in junior high or high school health classes—one where the sum total of one’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual makeup yields such a being. In contrast, I am offering, following Smith’s lead, that a whole person is one whose mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual forms of well-being are inextricably tied to one another. For Smith, this understanding is first initiated not by the university but by the Church. Our participation in the Church’s liturgy is what awakens us to the reality that as beings created in God’s image, we are more than just the sum total of these capacities. Christian scholars then realize that our efforts to integrate faith and learning go not simply beyond the mind, but also beyond the heart, the body, and the soul.
In order to come to terms with the significance of the claims in Smith’s book, contributions to this symposium were made by scholars formed by an array of Christian traditions and academic disciplines. Perry L. Glanzer is a Baptist and a social ethicist. David S. Guthrie is Reformed and a higher education scholar. David also served as a dean of students and an academic dean. Steven M. Nolt is a Mennonite and an historian. John W. Wright is a Nazarene and a Biblical theologian. James (Jamie) K. A. Smith concludes this symposium by offering a response to these reviews. Our collective hope is that we can, with Jamie, think through how Christian higher education in varying ways must somehow go beyond the mind.
“The Thinking Heart” by Perry L. Glanzer
We recently found our attempts to engage in Christian education undermined by the U.S. Postal Service. Our kids received a free magazine composed largely of pictures from a toy company. They loved it. They spent vast sums of time looking at the pictures and talking about what they wanted to buy. At first, we thought this practice would quickly fade away like most kids’ desires. Instead, it became a daily ritual of covetousness that we realized we had to attack. We reasoned, we scolded and at various times placed the magazines on top of the refrigerator. We are not quite sure if any of these strategies worked, although we did hear our oldest son telling our youngest that he looks at the magazines too much.
This story provides perhaps one small confirmation of the fundamental thesis of James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom. Our fight with our children was not over a complex cognitive worldview. In contrast, our battle centered upon what became a worship experience complete with icons, rituals and daily practices. Smith contends that Christian education fundamentally pertains to the practices that form our loves and not merely the information that shapes our head. Or, as Smith describes the book’s central point, “It is an invitation to re-envision Christian education as a formative rather than just an informative project” (18).
Smith, while not downplaying or dismissing the whole tradition of helping students “develop a Christian worldview,” clearly thinks it needs a correction. Instead of thinking of humans, as Christian Smith proposes, as “moral, believing animals,” he wants us to think of ourselves as fundamentally worshipping animals. My children, James Smith would likely suggest, were engaged in worship. He argues compellingly that we need to return to what Scripture and Church Fathers such as Augustine say is central—how we order our loves should be the most important focus of life and of Christian education.
We learn how to order our loves, Smith argues, through various worship practices. Smith uses numerous examples to demonstrate ways that our lives are formed by secular liturgies—thick practices or habits “that play a significant role in shaping our identity” (80). These practices guide and shape the direction of our loves. Smith provides wonderfully textured descriptions of the liturgical nature of shopping malls, nationalism at sporting events, public schools, movies, and life at universities. Similar to the great educator Jon Comenius’ work, The Labyrinth of the World, you can feel, taste, touch, see, and hear Smith’s descriptions.
The antidote to these secular liturgies, Smith claims, is not another dose of didactic sermons, Bible studies or classes informing students about the Christian worldview. These cognitive approaches are like “the church pouring water on our head to put out a fire in our heart” (75). Instead, he believes we need the whole-bodied practice of certain kinds of Christian liturgies. As Smith writes, “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” (131).
Smith offers a compelling counter to overly cognitive approaches to Christian formation that neglect the central role that desires or the ordering of loves play in human life. As someone who grew up in the Baptist tradition where the practice of rousing hymns, fiery revival preaching and emotional church camps tugged effectively on one’s heart, I can find much to sympathize with Smith regarding the effective use of certain worship practices in cultivating and shaping one’s affections.
As a Baptist, however, I worry that Smith’s argument may undermine the growing yet still fragile intellectual strength of evangelicalism that certain liturgies, such as Baptist liturgies, sometimes failed to nurture. I later turned to the Reformed tradition not for its riches in directing my heart but in helping my head. Perhaps the Reformed tradition needs a little more emphasis upon loving God with one’s heart, but the Baptist tradition needs a bit more emphasis upon learning to love God with one’s mind.
In fact, Smith’s argument rests on a distinction that I do not find biblically necessary. Smith says we are “governed not primarily by what we think but by what we love” (209). The Bible indicates that we love with both our mind and our heart and both need equal emphasis and formation. When I interviewed over 100 Russian teachers after the fall of communism about moral and religious education, I heard constant complaints about Russian Orthodox worship services despite the full-sensory, material appeals of such liturgies (for example, candles, icons, incense, bells, beautiful architecture and symbolism). One teacher’s comments were typical:
For example, if I go to our church [the Russian Orthodox Church], I told you that I understand nothing there. That’s why it does nothing for me. That’s why I can’t believe. Why should I believe? What they are talking about is in their old Slavonic language.2
Embodied worship practices that fail to be cognitively compelling will also lack formative power over our loves as well.
Finally, Smith claims “our loves and desires are aimed and directed by habits”(209). He should also note that relational love is what first and motivates our engagement in habits. When Tiger Woods reflected upon why he engaged in rigorous practices to perfect his golf talent, he recalled, “Golf for me was an apparent attempt to emulate the person I looked up to more than anyone: my father.” Relational knowledge, encounter, and admiration often come even before the difficult practices associated with church worship. For the Christian, it remains a certain kind of relationship of love, grace, and mercy with our Father that leads one to desire to engage in the hard work of worship that forms us to be saints.
“Bravos and Buts” by David S. Guthrie
Plenty that Smith has imagined and written in this book will be animatedly reviewed and discussed—including in this issue. I certainly would like to say more about the numerous topics and ideas than space permits here. For my part, based on my continuing passion for and curiosity about American higher education in general and Christian colleges in particular, I have purposefully focused my brief comments on some of Smith’s musings about the same. More specifically, I have organized the review around two themes: 1) Bravos; and 2) Buts. I hope that readers may glean a few glimpses of what Desiring the Kingdom “sounds like” while at the same time offering Smith a few opportunities for rejoinder.
I am utilizing the theme “Bravos” to indicate my hearty applause for a few comments that Smith makes in reference to Christian higher education. There are plenty from which to choose. I include three here, as follows:
1. According to Smith, all colleges and universities want their graduates to love something or some things, and consequently develop and offer daily and assorted “liturgies” that disciple their students to pledge and to cultivate this love. Not all such liturgies are intentional, nor are all effective.3 Similarly, graduates’ embrace and expressions of this love in their daily lives is neither uniform nor consistent. In any case, Smith draws attention to the idea that all institutions of higher learning are purposefully invested in formation projects … to which I say Bravo!4
2. Relatedly, Smith believes “the primary goal of Christian education is the formation of a peculiar people—a people who desire the kingdom of God and thus undertake their vocations as an expression of that desire” (33). Such a statement no doubt precipitates a swift and hearty “Amen!” from all who work in Christian colleges. Smith’s point, however, is that Christian colleges have been seduced by and even take their lead from other suitors.5 To use Smith’s own words, Christian colleges and universities “produce professionals who do pretty much the same sorts of things that graduates of Ivy League and state universities do …[and] generate an army of alumni who look pretty much like all the rest of their suburban neighbors”6 (212-213). Though perhaps difficult words to hear, Smith presses Christian educators to redouble their efforts to avoid educational liturgies that contradict the project of Christian formation, and conversely, to pursue educational liturgies that resonate with the project of Christian formation7… to which I say Bravo!
3. I also appreciate Smith’s analysis of the ways in which the Reformed tradition is open to distortion. For example, he contends that the Reformed tradition can be too wed to a rationalist paradigm in its [over]emphasis on developing a Christian worldview or informing Christian minds to the diminution if not exclusion of robust, embodied practices of Christian faith in the everyday world.8 In addition, Smith opines that “[the Reformed] affirmation of creation slides into an affirmation of the world, which then slides toward affirmation of ‘the world’ even in its distorted, misdirected configurations. In the name of the goodness of creation, we bend over backward to affirm common grace and are embarrassed by the language of antithesis” (184) In each of these cases, I believe Smith pin-points valid and ripe-for-discussion critique, particularly among those of Christian faith with a Reformed accent … to which I say Bravo!
In this section, I identify four issues in Desiring that I am still pondering, but about which I experienced what might be called a “yes, but” reaction as I read. They are as follows:
1. I have already affirmed my appreciation for Smith’s critique of the Reformed tradition. But Smith asks this poignant question: “Could it be the case that learning a Christian perspective doesn’t actually touch my desire, and that while I may be able to think about the world from a Christian perspective, at the end of the day I love not the kingdom of God but rather the kingdom of the market?”(212). Is the real culprit having an interest in understanding the implications of the history of redemption for all of life? Or, is the problem that, until Jesus comes again, it will be the case that a spring can yield both salt water and fresh, to paraphrase James’ rhetoric? Of course, the hope is that the sanctification process, over time, will result in the spring not being capricious as routinely, as brashly, or as unwittingly. But, is it fair to finger a Christian college’s interest in helping students develop a Christian view of all things as the insidious demon that should be exorcised? I would like to hope that more Christian institutions (and Christians) most of the time would embrace thinking and doing and doing and thinking9 and perhaps call it the formation of godly wisdom in students.
2. In the second point in the Bravo section, I applauded Smith’s calling out Christian colleges’ complicity in too readily and too carelessly embracing principles and practices that do not comport with the Christian gospel. But I was surprised to observe that—after a compelling case for a full-bodied, practice-oriented, kingdom-loving, Christian faith-in-action apology—Smith offers a scant seven pages outlining a reform of Christian colleges based on his argument.10 Moreover, the majority of his prescription in this section of the book is with respect to co-curricular practices such as chapel and “dorm life;” very little comment is made regarding implications for pedagogy,11 and no mention is made of curricular reform at all. I will add quickly that overlooking any consideration of the curricular implications of Smith’s thesis in Desiring represents a Lenten-like stripping of a fundamental liturgy of the Christian academy, if not a contradiction to Smith’s central thesis itself!
3. In the first point in the Bravo section, I commended Smith for suggesting that higher education is, by definition, in the formation “business.” But how is the formation in which Christian colleges engage the same as and/or different than the formation in which churches engage?12 In which Christian families engage? At first blush, my sense is that the formation that these three “institutions” undertake has considerable overlap; certainly all have the same telos in mind, at least at their best—that students, parishioners, and family members respectively come to sing “I love thy kingdom, Lord” with gusto. Are there also differences, however, in the particular liturgies that Christian colleges, Christian churches, and Christian families utilize respectively? Moreover, does it seem appropriate that that part of God’s kingdom called Christian colleges would focus differently and/or simply more (for example, in comparison to Christian churches and/or to Christian families) on a thoughtful and “academics-framed”13 consideration of all things—historically and currently, secular and Christian?
Given Smith’s generous and humble reliance on several Christian traditions to fuel his own desiring of the here and coming kingdom, I have no doubt that those who read Desiring will likewise find Bravos and Buts in abundance. But that makes it a book well worth swallowing and embracing in the interest of providing a valuable resource towards deepening our love for the One who reigns even now.
“Transforming our Thinking Through Living Worship” by Steven M. Nolt
My school, Goshen College, does not play the national anthem before sporting events. The omission occasionally angers visiting fans14 and even dismays a few of our own players. Why do we persist in this unpopular choice? The quickly-delivered answer is that the song’s overt military imagery and its implicit call to military allegiance do not fit with Mennonite peace commitments. But is such an explanation adequate? Or more pointedly: Does our explanation demand more of us than not playing the anthem?
I thought about this all, and a great deal more, while reading the fresh and provocative book by Jamie Smith. Smith challenges those of us engaged in Christian higher education to reconsider what we are about. Making a helpful break with the Christian college paradigms of “worldview formation” or “information-plus-Jesus,” he argues persuasively that all education is fundamentally about formation. He develops a complex but understandable anthropology that takes into account our embodiment and our desire (affective, precognitive love) for something beyond ourselves. Education, then, “is a constellation of [social] practices, rituals, and routines that inculcates a particular vision of the good life by inscribing or infusing that vision into the heart … by means of material, embodied practices” (26). Formative practices—which he terms “liturgies”—shape our habits and order our desires. As Smith explains, “secular” liturgies powerfully aim our desire toward things such as consumption, nationalism, or objectified sex. He argues that we must understand Christian education as a set of counter-liturgies that order our desires toward God and God’s Kingdom, and that such formation can only be sustained by corporate worship that is attentive to tradition-tested, formative practices. In fact, worship is so basic to Smith’s understanding of Christian education that he suggests that a better name would be “ecclesial education,” since we must first worship (fully and corporately) in order to understand (217).
As a historian I appreciated this book’s contextual grounding, concern for tradition, and repeated affirmation that recognizing our embodied existence also recognizes that we are embedded in time. I kept thinking of other voices from the past who would affirm and enrich portions of Smith’s argument—from Jonathan Edwards, who made beauty and aesthetic desire central to his arguments about worship and God, to the pre-Christian Xunzi, who emphasized the role of ritual as the basis—and formation as the goal—of meaningful (Confucian) education.15 As a historian I also wondered if some of the “secular” liturgies Smith exegetes so skillfully might soon strike today’s students as outmoded. In an era when shopping malls are closing and youth assumptions about commerce—and every other relationship—is “virtual,” perhaps we should focus a critical eye on, say, the practice of texting or the liturgy of mediating oneself and manipulating others online .Indeed, the culture of today’s eighteen-year-olds raises the stakes even higher for the sort of worship that Smith espouses, since such worship demands a coincidence of time and place—a coincidence that today’s technology seeks to obliterate.
But it was as a Mennonite educator that I responded most warmly and longingly to the book’s argument, despite the fact that its audience and argument had a clearly Reformed cast. In part, the book seemed to bless Mennonite dispositions that rarely receive recognition from others. The worldview paradigm never connected well with my tradition, which was skeptical of thinking of education only in informational ways. As one of my colleagues at Goshen once told the historian Richard Hughes, while many other Christian schools hope to transform living by thinking, Mennonites have long assumed that education “transforms thinking by living.”16 And so for decades, for example, our curriculum has expected students to live with host families in third world settings for a semester, and we have rewarded such living with academic credit (even though registrars at other schools often did not know what to do with such credit if a student transferred!). I resonated with the notion that “what Christians think and believe … grows out of what Christians do” (210) and appreciated the philosophical, theological, and psychological sophistication Smith brought to the argument.
But Smith also pushed me toward a somewhat different—or rather somewhat fuller—idea of practice by emphasizing the cultivation of Christian worship. Again, perhaps I am just unusually sympathetic to the argument (my own congregation is uncommon among Mennonites in its attention to the elements of worship that Smith discusses at length in chapter 5), but I must say that Mennonite colleges have not been very creative in understanding corporate worship or recognizing how it sustains us.
Which brings me back to the national anthem. What counter-formative rituals might we establish that invite others to direct their desire toward a Kingdom not marked by bombs bursting in air? Presently our school’s rejection of the anthem “liturgy” is not unambiguously linked to an active, alternative practice of allegiance-forming worship. This omission makes it harder to explain our stance—not that a clearer link to worship would suddenly make everyone agree with us, but at the least our witness would be clearer and more inviting. The weak link to worship also makes it more difficult to keep our practice from devolving into a particular partisan political activity. Our stance clearly has political implications—as it must—but in the absence of worship, political content is easily co-opted. Not all of our students are Christians, which may complicate our task, but it certainly should not relieve us of it.
While Smith challenges my tradition to re-discover and embrace the essential, formative power of worship in our resistance to various “secular” liturgies that press upon us, Mennonites might encourage Smith to develop more fully his critique of those “secular” liturgies. Is it enough to recognize and unmask them, and then go on living with and through them Monday-to-Saturday, as though sophistication provides inoculation? I am not sure that is sufficient. At places Smith’s otherwise articulate argument seems to flounder on what to do with practices that disorder desire. Perhaps it would be worth exploring the possibility of redeeming the concept of separation, which has been tarred too often as a synonym for “withdrawal.” Of course that equation need not be the case; the monastic tradition has long shown that separation can be a form of engagement. At one point a friend of Smith’s suggests as much (106).
More importantly, my tradition would counsel giving more attention to the “practices beyond Sunday” that Smith deals with rather briefly at the end of chapter 5. It seems to me that any effective counter-formation project on our campuses will have to deal more extensively with developing a community repertoire that goes beyond Sunday morning, critical and overlooked as that piece is. Our educational endeavors need a wide set of collective practices to displace those that misdirect our desires. The book begins to get at some of these connections in its brief, final chapter where the argument comes back to the campus context, and I eagerly await the pedagogies of practice anticipated by Smith’s related project on education and formation (211, n.3).
I end where I began, with the affirmation that this is an excellent book, one that holds the possibility of sparking a reformation of Christian—or shall we say “ecclesial”—education among all those who desire the Kingdom. May it be so.
“Christian Education and the Tacit Desire for God” by John W. Wright
State governments have recently supported research universities in the United States for the faculty to produce and students to master “facts” for the state’s economic development; civil societies sponsor liberal arts universities for faculty to project and students to express “values” for the student’s assimilation into an interest group’s identity. Christian universities have sustained and expanded their market niche by their ability to compete in initiating students into secular professionalization through our concern for the “whole person.” Students are then to choose voluntarily a Christian worldview for their own personal values; the university advocates for this “perspective” in hopes of furthering Christian interest group-identity formation. This agenda represents an updating of the already failed mainline Protestant approach, a failure well analyzed and documented by Douglas Sloan (Faith and Knowledge) and Jim Burtchaell (The Dying of the Light).
For James K. A. Smith, education forms human desires that attune human beings to the world. Liturgies, the precognitive formation of human orientations in the world, play a fundamental role in such a formation. Smith shifts the educational formation of desire that takes place in the university from the idolatry of false liturgies designed to exalt the state and market to that of the church catholic as found in historic Christian worship. From within a Reformed perspective, Smith answers many Wesleyan-holiness concerns about Reformed “worldview” language for Christian education by embedding it in its formative (“sanctifying”) context. Smith’s philosophical anthropology draws from the best of the Western philosophical tradition and its contemporary repetitions. Scientific positivism and now, rational choice theories in the social sciences, have become increasingly problematic. Years ago Michael Polanyi reminded us that even in the “natural sciences,” all knowledge is embodied “personal knowledge.”17 In economics, “animal spirits”rather than the rationality of the “invisible hand” receives intellectual attention;18 contingency rather than rational law-like Gaussian curves seem more determinative in understanding history.19 Psychology has shown us the significance of touch for the development of human cognition20 and that without the affections, rational cognition becomes impossible.21 Accreditation associations demand “cultures of evidence” to assess empirical “outcomes” of an education. Smith’s movement to precognitive, embodied formation engages the best thought throughout the contemporary academy. Christian academics, more than our secular colleagues, can render such data intelligible about why we would engage in a practice as a university.
If Smith’s proposal seems foreign to us, it shows how deeply the liturgies of the Wissenschaften university, with its active subordination of the church to the modern nation-state, has co-opted our imagination. Our situation repeats a similar situation that called forth the university in its origin: engagement in the life of the church provided the context for the rise of the University of Paris to save higher education from fragmentation and its faculties from mindless competition. Smith retrieves this monastic tradition of the university, a non-nostalgic repetition to its originary site for its re-founding.
We can see the fruitfulness of Smith’s proposal in its implications for biblical scholarship, a discipline deeply under siege in the contemporary academy. The nineteenth-century Protestant concern for moral philosophy morphed into “Introduction to Bible” classes. Such classes are about informing students about the “meaning” of the biblical text(s) for their personal beliefs and life. Depending upon the professor ’s academic training and theological position, rationalistic logics bifurcate the field: classes either initiate students into a secularizing discourse inherent within the history of biblical scholarship22 or provide apologetic, historical defenses against this scholarship. By placing Christian worship central, the study of Scripture within the academy becomes intellectually intelligible. In analyzing why these texts, not others, are used in worship, we discover why it is that, as Smith states, Scripture “functions as something like the constitution of the baptismal city”(191). Worship provides the historical matrix in which various Jewish ancestral scrolls and Christian codices were formed into the Holy Scriptures, the Christian Book. Scholars may investigate with rigorous historical reasoning how these texts were produced, taken up and combined into a book that in its very form encodes the narrative of the rule of faith presupposed in baptism. In the Scriptures God speaks so that believers in Christ respond when they hear them read in worship, “Thanks be to God!” The Scriptures become what they are: texts for instruction required by baptism to prepare for participation in the Lord’s Supper to be made the body of Christ before being sent into the world in witness. The flux that is contemporary biblical scholarship finds a center in its effective history for Christian formation for and in Christian worship and the up-building of the church.23
One point of dissent. Smith writes, “in some ways, the description of education that follows describes a university that doesn’t exist” (211). Smith’s proposal, however, is as descriptive as it is prescriptive. Precognitive formation has and does take place, arising out of the worship of the church that attunes humans to the world that is from God, through God, and for God. Many of the administrators, faculty, and staff of Christian and non-Christian universities have experienced exactly such formation. However imperfect, God has used similar social imaginaries that Smith describes to call us to our task. We also see the consequences of such formation in our best students, alumni, and constituency. Often, however, such formation has taken place despite, rather than because of, our language, patterns, and practices. Smith describes a Christian university that would empower us to do our best, and do it more effectively. He describes what Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) institutions already do best. Smith renders the practice of the Christian university intelligible to allow us to keep at the task even in a time when the idolatrous liturgies designed to support the state and the market are clearly insufficient to support the practice that is the contemporary university. For the gift of this book, we can give God thanks.
“From Christian Scholarship to Christian Education” by James K. A. Smith
Strangely enough, when I emerged from graduate school, teaching was the last thing on my mind. And I do not think I am alone in that experience: graduate formation is largely bent on making us researchers. And while research universities are very happy to utilize the relatively cheap labor of graduate students in the classroom, our deeper induction into the disciplines in doctoral programs rarely grapples with teaching as a vocation. The system of rewards and recognition built into graduate education prizes novelty and publication; our advisors and mentors try to teach as little as possible (in order to publish as much as possible), and we land in our first tenure-track appointments eager to publish and “work the system” in order to reduce our teaching load—since the classroom is seen largely as an obstacle to “our work.”
Desiring the Kingdom is the fruit of the slow erosion of these habits of mind in my own life. In other words, it is my attempt to embrace—and think through—the vocation of Christian education, rather than just a vision of Christian scholarship. The laudable and growing conversation about the importance of Christian scholarship over the past couple of decades has been important and fruitful. But in some ways this emphasis reflects the research university’s emphasis on scholarship. And thus when we think through what makes a college or university “Christian,” we tend to focus on the content of what is taught in our classrooms. On that model, “Christian education” is just the dissemination of “Christian scholarship.” Desiring the Kingdom aims to articulate a more radical understanding of the project of Christian education in terms of formation.
I am grateful for, and humbled by, the thoughtful responses to Desiring the Kingdom from this array of scholars from different traditions and different sorts of institutions, all engaged in the mission and task of Christian education. I am honored to count them as co-conspirators in thinking (and re-thinking) our task as Christian educators. I am particularly encouraged to find that my core thesis and argument seems to resonate with them, particularly since I was concerned that this vision be viable beyond the ken of Reformed institutions.24
I am afraid I cannot do justice to all the rich commentary in these pieces, so in this brief space I want to just pick up on several themes that emerge in these responses as a way of continuing the conversation.
Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back?
At the heart of Desiring the Kingdom is a critique of a “rationalist” picture of the human person—or what Charles Taylor would call an “intellectualism”25—that overemphasizes the role of the intellect or cognition. I see something of this in many (though not all) “worldview” models of Christian education. Instead, I argue for a more affective picture of the human person that situates and relativizes the importance of the intellect and instead places a (renewed) emphasis on the “heart” as the affective, embodied, pre-conscious core of the human person that drives and shapes our action and behavior. And thus I tend to de-emphasize the intellectual (information) and emphasize the affective (formation).
Of course, despite this critique, I have absolutely no interest in returning to some anti-intellectual naiveté. Indeed, I have no brief against rigorous, theoretical inquiry. I even think analytic philosophy has value! My concern is to situate theoretical reflection within the wider purview of our fundamental pre-theoretical orientation to the world.26 Most importantly, I think education operates on this pre-theoretical register (whether we recognize it or not). Thus if a Christian education is going to be holistic and formative, it needs to attend to much more than the intellect.
But I can see, as Glanzer and Guthrie rightly note, that the argument of Desiring the Kingdom could “fall into the wrong hands,” so to speak. That is, a superficial reading of the project might misunderstand it as giving comfort to just the sort of anti-intellectualism that evangelical scholars have been working to undo. While I do not think a close reading of the argument bears this out, I think I understand how this happens: I inhabit a stream of the Christian tradition where devotion to the life of the mind has deep roots—and that, I suspect, was so assumed in my argument that I could criticize a certain “rationalist” overemphasis without ever worrying that this would give license to abandoning critical thinking.27 I hope evangelical colleagues who might otherwise find the book helpful will be able to direct students to the important qualifiers and provisos in this respect.
Pietism and a Public Heart
A few words about a couple of terms are in order. First, about “pietism,” a term with a wide lexical range: with apologies to my Anabaptist colleagues, my use of this term is generally in accordance with some insider Reformed jargon. In that context, “pietism” is a shorthand term for naming a tendency to treat Christianity as private, personal, and apolitical. I do not mean to make any particular historical claims in this regard, and would happily concede that some historic capital-P Pietists (such as the Blumhardts) would resonate deeply with the core themes of Desiring the Kingdom. On the other hand, there continue to be wide swaths of North American Christianity that evince the characteristics I mean to describe by the term.
Second, with respect to “the heart”: This is a dangerous term to use in our Oprah-fied era. It can easily be confused with a Hallmark-ish emotionalism. The argument of Desiring the Kingdom has no interest in abandoning intellectual rigor for emotional fervor (though I think the emotions are integral to being human). Rather, I return to the biblical (and Augustinian) language of “the heart” as a way of trying to name the affective seat of human identity and action.28 This is not a private heart into which we “ask Jesus.” The heart is political: it is the dynamic center of our being as members of a peculiar polis. I hope that Desiring the Kingdom might rescue “heart” language from its pietist captivity.
Next Steps: Getting Concrete
I am sympathetic with my interlocutors who were eager to hear more about the curricular and pedagogical implications of my argument. So am I! Without being coy, I had hoped that chapter 5’s explication of Christian worship would help us to see how those practices are pedagogical and thus integral to the curriculum of a Christian education. And I thought that chapter 6 sketched some of the implications for a wider curricular (and co-curricular) context. But space did not permit a more detailed exploration. And this is just the beginning of a conversation: more concrete work remains to be done. As Guthrie notes, I do hope that the research initiative I am co-directing with David Smith will yield fruit in this regard.29 More importantly, I hope Desiring the Kingdom might be a catalyst spurring institutions within different traditions to imagine particular possibilities as they drink from their own wells.
Finally, I have an appreciation for how much this model will be resisted even in Christian colleges and universities. Having drunk deeply from the wells of hands-off liberalism at the research universities that “produced” us, we still default to that sort of hands-off notion of our role at a Christian college. As John Wright would put it, I think, our Christian colleges have imbibed all sorts of liberal habits. Thus we spend our time emphasizing that the Christian college is not “the church,” and that our job as Christian professors is to foster “critical thinking” rather than formation.30 In this respect, the argument of Desiring the Kingdom runs counter, not only to the official orthodoxy of secular universities, but also the functional orthodoxy of some Christian colleges.
Cite this article
- “Yale Report of 1828,” in American Higher Education: A Documentary History, Volume I, eds.Richard Hofstadter and Wilson Smith (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1970),278.
- Perry L. Glanzer, The Quest for Russia’s Soul: Evangelicals and Moral Education in Post-Communist Russia (Baylor University Press: Waco, TX, 2002), 153.
- I am reminded of Robert Hutchins’ intentionally disparaging quote that obtaining a collegeeducation only “seem[ed] to certify that the student ha[d] passed an uneventful period with-out violating any local, state, or federal law.” Robert Hutchins, The Higher Learning in America(New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1999/1936), 2.
- A chilling quote in this regard comes from Arthur Chickering and Associates over 25 yearsago: “The question is not whether higher education should be in the business of humanengineering and social control. It already is in that business … Every college and university,public and private, church-related and not, is in the business of shaping human lives.” ArthurChickering and Associates, The Modern American College: Responding to the New Realities ofDiverse Students and a Changing Society (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1981), 9-10.
- Stanley Hauerwas, John Wright and Michael Budde, among others, have offered similar,convincing critiques in previous works, and Smith cites them with some regularity and sig-nificant agreement. In fact, Smith comments that “Most of the time [he] find[s] [him]selfagreeing with Hauerwas” (216).
- I think my favorite quote of all time in this same vein is that, in college, “Students learn to begood, to enjoy a pocket God, to earn high GPAs, to avoid controversy, to vote Republican, tohave fun, to take few risks and, above all, to get ahead … Among a typical graduating class,precious few will be energized by Kingdom ideals or a holy discontent over things as theyare. The vast majority will reach commencement as Protestants with nothing to protest, hav-ing failed to break through the pale security offered by a cultural Christianity identified with‘the American way of life.’” Richard Slimbach, “Re-Imagining a Distinctly Christian LiberalArts Education,” in The Liberal Arts in Higher Education: Challenging Assumptions, ExploringPossibilities, eds. Diana Glyer and David Weeks (Lanham, MD: University Press of America,1998), 64.
- Smith suggests that Christian collegiate education should perhaps be construed properly asan “exilic” effort (168) that is characterized by a “counterpedagogy” (86) in an effort to dis-tinguish itself from educational formation projects that neither begin nor end with the gospelof Jesus Christ. I would only add that such an effort may require a counter-curriculum aswell.
- According to Smith, reformed worship practices are likewise not immune to this tendencyin that they often and strongly privilege “texts, doctrines, and the theoretical articulations oftheologians” which seems “akin to thinking one can understand Hamlet just by reading thescript” (130).
- Smith seems to support Stanley Hauerwas’ view that “Becoming a disciple is not a matterof a new or changed self-understanding but of becoming part of a different community witha different set of practices” (214). Need it be either/or? My sense is that historic Christianfaith affirms simultaneously both metanoia and metapraxis.
- 0I am speaking here of the last chapter, but readily acknowledge that Smith has Christiancolleges in general view elsewhere, too. However, with particular respect to imagining “em-bodied” correctives to address “the problem,” they are minimal in Desiring. I sincerely hopethat the “From Christian practices to Christian pedagogy” initiative that Smith is currentlyco-directing with David Smith will be fruitful in this regard.
- This despite the rhetoric already mentioned in footnote 5—with which I heartily agree—that “a distinctly Christian education constitutes a counterpedagogy” to counter “…themisformation of secular liturgies” (86).
Smith contends that “The point of worship is not formation; formation is an overflow effectof our encounter with the Redeemer in praise and prayer, adoration and communion” (145).This was confusing to me. Elsewhere, it seemed as though formation was concerned prima-rily with what might be called “inputs.” Here, however, formation is characterized as havingto do with what might be called “outputs” (in other words, “effects”). In any case, it is clearthat, for Smith, Christian worship is essential, fundamental to all else Christian, includingChristian education; fully one-fourth of the book (56 pages) is devoted to Christian worshipexplicitly as a result. Smith notes: “…Christian education [must] find its font and foundationin the practices of Christian worship” (18). No pressure, eh? But what if Christian churchesare no less seduced by secular liturgies? What if Christian churches are as taken by a disem-bodied, head-only anthropology? What if Christian churches have a weak if not altogetherabsent theology of culture? What if Christian churches are complicit with the market in theirmission and pedagogy? What if one “might find that [his/her] own experience of Christianworship doesn’t exactly track with what [Smith] describe[s in Chapters 4 and 5]” (146)? Or inthe words of Hauerwas, “The question for me is not whether the university can be Christian,but whether a church exists sufficient to sustain a Christian university” (as quoted in foot-note 14 in Chapter 6 of Desiring). I agree that Christian worship is critically foundational innurturing a desire for the kingdom and, in league with other Christian entities that exist, toforming faithfulness in believers. But unless the liturgies of Christian worship—and thosewho lead them and participate in them—are continually and deeply transformed by thespirit of a living Lord, relying on Christian worship to anchor and animate all else—includ-ing Christian colleges—will be a disillusioning weekly undertaking.
- Words elude me here. My interest is certainly not to be modernistic. Rather, I am simplyraising a question regarding the appropriate similarities and differences of particular Chris-tian formation projects.
- Last fall, one used a New York radio call-in program to initiate a barrage of protests frompeople who did not know our school existed until the host told them to call us with com-plaints.
- A minor point: As a historian I was also puzzled by Smith’s odd employment of the termpietism, which seemed simply to be a pejorative caricature for the worst of American Chris-tianity and bore no connection to historical pietism (save perhaps a negative reading of Jung-Stillung).
- Richard T. Hughes, How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI:Eerdmans, 2001), 76-77 (and 78-85 more generally).
- Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: The Uni-versity of Chicago Press, 1958).
- See George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller, Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drivesthe Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press,2009).
- See Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (New York:Random House, 2007).
- See Tiffany Field, Touch (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001).
- 1See Antonio R. Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York:G. P. Putnam & Sons, 1994).
- See Banton Ward, Displacing Christian Origins: Philosophy, Secularity, and the New Testament(Religion and Postmodernism; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
- See the analysis and proposals of Markus Bockmuehl, Seeing the World: Refocusing NewTestament Study (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006).
- It is a special treat, for instance, when Steven Nolt finds that Desiring the Kingdom “seemedto bless Mennonite dispositions that rarely receive recognition from others.” In fact, the bookowes more to John Howard Yoder than the footnotes might indicate. In this respect, I also seemyself as continuing conversations that were begun by Richard Mouw when he was at CalvinCollege. As Mouw suggests in He Shines In All That’s Fair, there is a sense in which theAnabaptists “out-Calvinisted” the Calvinists (He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Com-mon Grace [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001], 21). More immediately, I was also influenced byMouw’s suggestion that Klaas Schilder—who Mouw portrays as something like the DutchReformed equivalent of Stanley Hauerwas—needed a “North American translator.” See Richard Mouw, “Klaas Schilder as Public Theologian,” Calvin Theological Journal 38 (2003): 281-298. Thus I see Desiring the Kingdom as finally making good on some promises I made inIntroducing Radical Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 256nn. 78-79.
- See Charles Taylor, “To Follow a Rule…,” in Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives, eds. Craig Calhoun,Edward LiPuma and Moishe Postone (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 45-60,esp. 45-49.
- In this respect, my argument is very much indebted to Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacInytre’s Dependent, Rational Animals.
- As I note in the Preface, I sort of imagined Desiring the Kingdom (Chicago: Open Court,1999) as a companion volume to books like Cornelius Plantinga’s Engaging God’s World whichclearly articulates the importance for Christian academic reflection on God’s world.
- 28My thinking about the heart owes much to the Reformational philosophical tradition. Forexpositions of the heart in this regard, see James H. Olthuis, “Dooyeweerd on Religion andFaith,” in The Legacy of Herman Dooyeweerd, ed. C.T. McIntire (Lanham, MD: University Pressof America, 1985), 22-26; and Roy A. Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality (Notre Dame:University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), 161-163.
- We hosted a conference on these themes in October 2009. A book from this research initia-tive is forthcoming.
- 0I should also note that some Christian colleges (and the co-curricular, Student Life divi-sions of others) will eagerly embrace the notion of “formation”—but understand that to befostering private, personal piety (such as a “personal relationship with Jesus”). In this re-spect, I am a bit worried about those who might appear to be friends of Desiring the Kingdombut nevertheless fail to appreciate its critical edge: the Christian formation envisioned inDesiring the Kingdom is nothing short of political.