Tuesday, February 25, 2014

DTK - End of Chapter 3

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club

We are continuing on in Desiring the Kingdom and discussing it with other mom's at Simply Convivial.  As we end this chapter and section of the book James gives us a glimmer of hope and then once again chastises us for our grave misunderstandings.

The Hope

James focuses on the fact that "these secular liturgies with their misdirected desires, are a witness to the desire for God."   We have a desire to love and worship and all attempts to fulfill that desire that aren't pointed towards God expose our brokenness and need.  I am trying to think of who it was that said that every man who walks into a bar is looking for Jesus, for this same reason.  I thought it might be Booth or Lewis but can't find confirmation of that.  This is the general idea of what James is saying - our misguided loves point to something that is essential in who we are.  We all desire a love that will not let us go and never fail us.  
Calvin seems to suggest that, in a strange way, such idolatries give us something to work with, something to build on, a point of contact for articulating the gospel.  
I think this might be the most helpful portion of the book so far.  As I read this section I realized that it highlights another difficulty with his tone.  For this one part he gets rid of the "us and them" feeling that runs throughout this book.  He finally discusses the fact that we are all searching and some of us have found it in Christ and some are still searching.  I realize that the premise of the book is that we need to create a culture that is more attractive than secular culture  However, seeing the rest of culture as our enemy makes it difficult to love them.  I think it is more helpful to see us all as broken and in need of a savior.

Another Approach to Culture Development

I have also been reading Michael Frost, a missions guy from Australia (not your typical reformed fare but though provoking).  Honestly he answers the questions I still have about creating a compelling culture better than I think James will be able to do so (although he does have a few chapters left and maybe 2 more books).  Mystie posted a link to this idea of focusing on process instead of goals and that is what Frost's BELLS idea does.  He encourages creating a culture that announces the rule and reign of Christ (his definition of missions) and engages the world around us by practicing the following behaviors weekly and being held accountable by others who are trying to do the same.

Key word - virtue it develops - activity to engage in

Bless - generosity - bless three people this week (words of encouragement, service, gifts), including one person who is not a part of your church/ Christian friends
Eat - hospitality - eat with three people this week, one person not a part of your church/ Christian friends
Listen - Spirit Led - spend time reading God's word and listen for how he is speaking to you through it.
Learn - Christlike - study the Gospels and "learn Jesus" - apparently this is a phrase from the early church, much like put on Christ
Sent - missionary - see yourself as one sent into your community to proclaim the universal reign of God through Christ - keep a journal of the times you have done that this week (could include acts above)

Basically, he is of the same mind as James about habits creating who we are and changing our thinking.  He is encouraging the development of these habits that may start thin but become thick.  The free ebook expands the ideas and gives scriptures and examples, but the audio covers much of the same territory.  He discusses how the culture of early Christianity was outdoing Roman culture in love and care and the Emperors got mad.  Now that is a counter culture that is making a difference.  Frost calls it living "questionable lives"; lives that make people ask why are you so different? - in a way that is attractive and inviting.  Remember the verse about being prepared in season and out of season to give an answer for the hope that you have - that's what Frost is encouraging.  Maybe, James will touch on this - but I am not convinced.

Okay, back to James.

The Chastisement

The pull out section on Orwell's 1984 starts by reminding us, again, that we are misguided in our attempts to fight the culture wars.  Either Christian's don't see the threat or they respond incorrectly to it - focusing on the mind, instead of the heart.  I hope he stops beating this drum soon. I am not sure how this introduction connects with the rest of the section either.  He uses an illustration from 1984, which I vaguely remember reading.  James discusses how the main character tries to unsuccessfully create an interior space of worship separate from the world around him.  Eventually, as pressure is applied, he does convert and his interior worship is unable to withstand the exterior pressure and he falls in love with "big brother".

I am not sure what he wants us to take away from this discussion.  From this ending it almost makes it seem that resistance is futile.  However, that's for men who live by the flesh; what about those who live by the Spirit?.  So, I think he is trying to say that in our own strength we can't separate ourselves from the overwhelming influence of the world around us. No matter how many notebooks, relationships or other interior methods we design.  This might be the set up for the amazing strength required to create something that overcomes this wave of culture.  

I guess we will learn about that overcoming approach in the next chapter.  Although I have already started adopting some of Michael Frost and it is changing the way I think and relate to others.


  1. I think you're right that Smith isn't going to get to anything like your BELLS acrostic, or anything substantial on culture building, at least not in the general sense. If I remember right, his purpose is really to analyze the University, and so I hope that he might at least provide a counter to this particular section -- what does a University culture look like with GOOD liturgies?

    I went to a very solid Christian university. I actually think we had a lot of good liturgies. But where my school was lacking, in my opinion, is the one place that Smith isn't going to touch on, which is the idea that the purpose of the classroom -- of education -- is to cultivate and order loves. There was a lot of information. Excited passionate professors were contagious. But there were also a lot of boring classes, a sort of love-killing environment. Smith isn't going to go there, I don't think, but I still come back to the need for living books, etc.

    1. I do realize that James is not going to outline anything practical and for the home. After reading his argument I really wanted something that could give me some direction about thoughtful habits so I think that's one reason why BELLS struck me. I am looking forward to a discussion about good liturgy and it will be interesting to see how he thinks this should apply to the university - not just the church setting. We shall see. The more I read aloud to my kids and hear their responses and understanding the more I do believe in the power of story to cultivate love and right story to help order and inspire that love.

  2. "Frost calls it living "questionable lives"; lives that make people ask why are you so different? - in a way that is attractive and inviting"

    I was almost going to write about this very idea this week. I was thinking about the university "party" culture and how it is such a stark contrast to the Christian concept of fasting. Fasting is about learning to say no to one's self in order to be able to say yes to God, and that kind of self-denial is virtually unheard of these days - even among Christians sometimes.

  3. I think one of the takeaways he wants us to see is that even seemingly insignificant practices shape how we see and relate to the world. Practices shape worldview more than worldview shapes practice (thus, we shapers of practice need to be intentional in what we establish!)