Some years ago I was invited to participate in a public debate to defend my position on an issue I’d written about. Hard to say what they expected. I made my case, and the organizers seemed almost offended I actually could do so. Perhaps we all tend to listen to the people who reinforce our own biases, convinced our ideological adversaries just haven’t thought things through.
For years, mainline churches tended to “group-up” that way. Simply put, they were divided over an emphasis on either heads or hands. The good life meant thinking the right thoughts or doing the right deeds–one or the other. This trend grew out of what historians call the Fundamentalist-modernist debate. (The Scopes Monkey Trial became the lightening rod for the conflict.)
After that period, Christians on the left tended towards social justice to keep their churches unified and culturally relevant. Churches on the right put their weight behind ideals and structures (i.e. parochial schools). They pulled away from the culture.
In more recent years, churches have had their heads and hands back together. Christians on the left have come to articulate not only their social agenda but also to declare their theology. Churches on the right have come to engage social justice in ways which elevate impoverished communities rather than projecting top-down fixes.
What about hearts?
Meanwhile, the powerful influence of desire continues to be ignored. What we love shapes us. We are not just heads on sticks in need of better ideas. Nor are we mainly doers in need of a cause. We are primarily lovers in need of ordered love.
In his book Desiring the Kingdom, James Smith comments that, “Disordered love brings a disordered life.” The priorities and rituals of daily living feed our souls. We become shaped by the order of our loves.
Some years ago, the president of MTV put it this way, “We don’t influence teenagers. We own them.” He understood that what we love has a hold on us. Ultimate desire drives worship. As we build our world around this focal point, we come to live for and reference and worship it.
The pursuit of God must center upon desire. Not a list of ideals or best practices. The early church in Ephesus had plenty of those when John wrote: “Yet I have this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (Rev. 2:4)
What daily practice shapes your desire?
Cliff Foreman says
You are the right reader for Smith’s book. The problem I have with his thinking, though, is that he addresses his books to Christian colleges, not to the church. I agree with him that learning is multi-dimensional, but he equates the Christian college and the church and, therefore, confuses what he calls rituals with sacraments. He throws education off balance by valuing the emotional and aesthetic so much more than the analytical. His solution for non-christian stories is Christian stories, a counter-offensive. But he runs the danger of simply adding another god to our culture’s pantheon. We also need tools to disassemble the weapons forged against us and to be able to understand our own weapons better. So as you say, it’s hands, hearts, and heads combined.
Warren Sinor says
I think part of the point being made is without loving God with all our hearts the church is just another humanitarian group. What I am confused about is how to order the hands, head, and heart. It would seem that Lewis is saying that hand, head, will lead to heart. The heart is the product.
Tim Filston says
Agreed Professor. Still, I love the realization that our spiritual growth is a bit out of our hands (and heads).
Tim Filston says
Warren, great question.
All analogies break down at some point (head, heart, hands). What I’m doing with this one is simply correcting the emphasis on thinking or doing. We’re prone to getting doctrine right and rushing to apply it (head and hands). We are not as comfortable with how things like ritual or meditation shapes our desires. As Lewis said, “We read too much and reflect too little.”
Routines and consumption don’t just lead to bad habits or bad consequences–the rhythm of life we choose shapes our wants and our loves. It affects the way human will is guided–even whether it is guided.
Kathy Morgan says
Tim, After reading Kyle Idleman’s book, “gods at war”, I’m more convinced than ever that if our heart’s desire is not for the LORD, nothing we do in the ‘name’ of Christianity, humanity, you name it…has lasting effects in the Kingdom of God. It may be good, but if it is not glorifying God, it’s draining and doesn’t quench that God given desire that He placed inside of us.