1 Response to Long | CTRF @ AAR | 30 October 2010 James K.A.

Smith I’m grateful to Bernie and CTRF for hosting this conversation about Desiring the Kingdom, and am especially grateful to Steve for taking the book seriously in his response. This is especially helpful as I’m working on subsequent volumes in the trilogy. In the interests of opening up the conversation, let me respond to a few of Steve’s points, which are all very helpful, even when they might put me back on my heels a bit. 1. Intentionality: Steve is right to note a certain tension or equivocation on the notion of “intentionality” in this discussion. On the one hand there is the specifically phenomenological sense of intentionality—that we are aimed at something, that we are ek-static creatures who are always projected toward some telos. On the other hand, we tend to use the word “intentional” to mean volitional, voluntary, a matter of conscious choice. My argument, which owes something to both phenomenology and cognitive science, is that we are ineluctably intentional in the first sense but that we often overestimate the extent to which we are intentional in the second sense. “Automaticities” are acquired habits of intentionality and orientation that operate under the radar of “intentional” deliberative choice. This is why I think at the heart of DTK is actually a philosophy of action, and that will be a significant focus of volume 2. More on this in a moment. 2. Evaluation and Discernment: Steve rightly picks up on an important issue: if, on the one hand, I affirm a participatory ontology such that all that is participates in the Creator in some sense, then how can one recognize and evaluate disorder? Here I think Augustine provides further resources. Consider, for instance, his evaluation of the devil: on the one hand, the devil, insofar as he exists, exists in virtue of God’s good act of creation and sustaining; on the other hand, the devil represents something like the pinnacle of disordering in his orientation, his aim. So the mode of affirmation is ontology; the mode of evaluation is intentional or ontological. Or consider a more germane example: in City of God Augustine gives us a remarkably ambivalent evaluation of the so-called “peace of Rome” and the so-called “virtues” that are part of that. On the

2 one hand, he’ll say that such peace doesn’t even deserve to be called peace; on the other hand, he can still say that the peace of Rome of less disordered than the viciousness of the barbarians (we can debate the specifics). For Augustine, the evaluation is teleological, and it is conducted with a protractor. 3. Resisting Paganism: I hope I don’t give a free pass to paganism, but I take Steve’s point. Here let me just say that I think we need to recognize the contextual nature of our theological claims, which then lead us to certain emphases. The fact of the matter is, I’m usually spending time contesting evangelical dualism (Gnosticism), and thus tend to emphasize an affirmation of materiality that slides toward something like the pagan end of the scale. In other words, I’m willing to risk the pagan over-corrective as a corrective to Gnosticism (cp. Greene’s priest at the end of The End of the Affair: a little superstition might be the beginning of faith). And we may be reaching a kind of tipping point on this such that context requires us to begin correcting in the other direction and avoid naturalism (which I take to be part of Hans Boersma’s project in his forthcoming book). 4. Doctrine: I especially appreciate Steve’s invitation to consider doctrine with more nuance. It is certainly the case that DTK lumps “doctrine” with beliefs, ideas, propostions and the ideational spectrum. In this sense, I read the doctrine/worship distinction as akin to Taylor’s theory/imaginary distinction. I do affirm a place for doctrine, but admit that the burden of the argument actually relativizes doctrine. Let me explain why that is and then suggest a slight revision. Again, I think it’s important to see that in some fundamental way, DTK is about a philosophy of action, an account of how we are moved to act and orient ourselves in the world. Following Charles Taylor (and to some extent Bourdieu), one could say that I am countering “intellectualist” philosophies of action which tend to overestimate the causal role of deliberative thought and choice in our action. In a similar way, I think I’m countering a simplistic philosophy of action that is often assumed in notions of Christian formation which prioritize right thinking as the antidote to disordered desire. And thus these models look to doctrine as that set of right thoughts that will causally entail sanctification. I argue that doctrine doesn’t have this causal impact, not because doctrine is wrong or unimportant, but simply because we are not those sorts of actors.

3 That said, I think Steve is right that I could have accorded more importance to a constructive role for doctrine, and not just the sort of corrective role he seems to suggest. Indeed, I would envision a kind of feedback loop where theological reflection and doctrinal formulation helps to aim and direct the practices of Christian worship and formation. So one of the things I wished I emphasized more in DTK was the importance of “liturgical catechesis”1—helping practitioners understand what they’re doing (and why) when they’re engaged in worship. 5. Pneumatology: Finally, Steve wonders whether my model is sufficiently Augustinian since it seems to exhibit an overconfidence in the power of formative practices, and thus fails to recognize “the limits of virtue,” as Wetzel puts it. This is a really helpful pushback that I need to consider as I continue to work out these themes. I’ll say only two things at this point: (a) I don’t take these formative practices to be merely natural; following Craig Dykstra, I understand them to be “habitations of the Spirit,” so their formative power is sort of supercharged. (b) This points to what’s also indispensible in Augustine’s sacramental theology, namely the centrality of the Spirit.2 In other words, my account of practices assumes a robust pneumatology. However, that said, I do also need to own up to an account of why these practices don’t always seem to “work.” That will be a significant focus of volume 3.

1 2

REF Witvliet. [See my forthcoming critique of Eric Gregory on this point in JRE.]

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