In the first half of the book, Smith develops his claim that “human persons are not primarily thinking things, or even believing things, but rather imaginative, desiring animals who are defined fundamentally by love” (133). In other words, we are embodied beings whose imaginations and desires are shaped by the things that we do with our bodies, and the most formative of these bodily practices are our cultural liturgies. With that claim in mind, Smith is ready to move into the second half of the book and develop his argument that Christian worship is a powerful liturgy, and consequently, we must attend to the ways in which the bodily practices of worship shape our imaginations and desires.
Smith begins chapter four by arguing that worship comes before doctrine. He contends that this is at least true historically – i.e. the church’s official theology often came as an articulation of the theology embedded in its worship practices. But, more importantly, he sees worship as a process that “educates our hearts through our bodies” (137). Thus, worship does not simply express previously held beliefs, but it serves to shape those beliefs. (He unpacks this claim more in the next chapter.)
The real focus of the chapter, though, is on developing the idea that worship should be viewed as a “sacramental” practice. He points out that human worship is an embodied, and therefore, a material practice: “The rhythms and rituals of Christian worship invoke and feed off of our embodiment and traffic in the stuff of a material world” (139). Thus, we should reject any implicit Gnosticism which sees worship as an essentially “spiritual” practice, and instead see it as a material practice in which God manifests his presence in and through material things – a sacramental practice.
He concludes by warning against two mistakes that we could make by viewing worship as a sacramental practice. First, he wants to make sure that understanding the sacramentality of physical things doesn’t lead to marginalizing the church. Although he wants us to see that the entire physical universe can and should be viewed in sacramental terms (i.e. God can and does manifest his presence through all of it), that does not preclude us from affirming a higher degree of sacramental presence in the material practices of the worshipping community.
Similarly, his second concern is that we would come to see worship as just another embodied practice, akin to all other formative practices. Instead, he argues, “Wile worship is entirely embodied, it is not only material; and though worship is wholly natural, it is never only natural. Thus, unlike the embodied practice of going to the mall that we discussed in the last post, worship is a practice that involves the presence and activity of the triune God.