“Embodied creatures” more than “thinking things”

One of the books some faculty, staff, and students are reading together this Fall at Indiana Wesleyan University is James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.  Several professors read the Introduction for a lunch meeting today.  Let me just note how compelling Smith’s fundamental thesis is, how well it coheres with the Wesleyan tradition, and how well the design of the new seminary embodies its insights.

Smith teaches at Calvin College and is thoroughly surrounded by the rhetoric of worldview that permeates some Christian circles, particularly Reformed circles.  He rightly observes that such rhetoric is highly unbalanced in its focus on the “cognitive,” on ideas.  Smith does not dismiss the importance of ideas.  And we would agree with those who would say that ideas do matter.  Ideas do have consequences.  In theory, right ideas would lead to right action.

But the reality is quite different from the theory.  Preaching or lecturing are not very effective tools of change–either of lives or ideas.  Youth pastors spouting what youth should or should not do cannot hope to compete with basal urges and socially reinforced “liturgies.”  “Ritual” has always been more powerful than word, and narrative is more likely to convince than propositions.  We cannot protest that it should not be this way because reality often does not care how things should be.

These are my descriptions of a reality that can hardly be denied with a straight face.  Into this imbalanced situation, Smith rightly points out that “education is not primarily a heady project concerned with providing information; rather, education is most fundamentally a matter of formation, a task of shaping and creating a certain kind of people” (26).  How well this perspective on education fits with the Wesleyan tradition!  For us Christianity has always been more about life change than a tidy system of faith affirmations.  We are not ashamed when others might criticize Wesley for producing a set of sermons rather than a systematic theology.  Exactly!

It is thus with delight that I look at the curriculum God has helped us design and what I see is an embodied curriculum, a curriculum that requires a person to be in ministry in order to complete the assignments.  And as the skeletal curriculum continues to take on flesh, we will be more intentional about incorporating acts of worship into acts of thinking.