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Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Cultural Liturgies)

4.2 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801035777
ISBN-10: 0801035775
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

A Philosophical Theology of Culture

Philosopher James K. A. Smith reshapes the very project of Christian education in Desiring the Kingdom. The first of three volumes that will ultimately provide a comprehensive theology of culture, Desiring the Kingdom focuses education around the themes of liturgy, formation, and desire. Smith's ultimate purpose is to re-vision Christian education as a formative process that redirects our desire toward God's kingdom and its vision of flourishing. In the same way, he re-visions Christian worship as a pedagogical practice that trains our love.

"James Smith shows in clear, simple, and passionate prose what worship has to do with formation and what both have to do with education. He argues that the God-directed, embodied love that worship gives us is central to all three areas and that those concerned as Christians with teaching and learning need to pay attention, first and last, to the ordering of love. This is an important book and one whose audience should be much broader than the merely scholarly."--Paul J. Griffiths, Duke Divinity School

"In lucid and lively prose, Jamie Smith reaches back past Calvin to Augustine, crafting a new and insightful Reformed vision for higher education that focuses on the fundamental desires of the human heart rather than on worldviews. Smith deftly describes the 'liturgies' of contemporary life that are played out in churches--but also in shopping malls, sports arenas, and the ad industry--and then re-imagines the Christian university as a place where students learn to properly love the world and not just think about it."--Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen, Messiah College; authors of Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation

"This is a wise, provocative, and inspiring book. It prophetically blurs the boundaries between theory and practice, between theology and other disciplines, between descriptive analysis and constructive imagination. Anyone involved in Christian education should read this book to glimpse a holistic vision of learning and formation. Anyone involved in the worship life of Christian communities should read this book to discover again all that is at stake in the choices we make about our practices."--John D. Witvliet, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary

About the Author

James K. A. Smith (PhD, Villanova University) is the Gary & Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology & Worldview at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In addition, he is editor of Comment magazine and a senior fellow of the Colossian Forum. He has penned the critically acclaimed Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? and Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, and his edited books include After Modernity? and Hermeneutics at the Crossroads. Smith is the editor of the well-received Church and Postmodern Culture series (www.churchandpomo.org).

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Product Details

  • Series: Cultural Liturgies (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (August 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801035775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801035777
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Which comes first?

Belief or practice?

Christian worship or a Christian worldview?

In recent years, evangelicals have rightly discerned that many people in our churches lack even a rudimentary understanding of theology and the Bible. Too often, the people sitting in our churches on Sunday do not know what they believe or why.

In response to this problem, leaders have created a number of resources designed to help Christians develop a Christian worldview - a biblical framework for understanding life. I am encouraged by the worldview trend, as I believe it addresses a neglected aspect of evangelical church life.

But James K. A. Smith says that worldview training does not go far enough. In his new book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Baker, 2009), Smith makes the case that worldview training targets only one aspect of our humanity - the mind. The assumption is this: when we think like Christians, we will then act like Christians. Smith challenges this notion and calls evangelicals to look beyond informational understandings of discipleship to a worship-centered view of discipleship, one that demonstrates how our liturgies form us into the people of God.

The book begins with an excellent question:

"What if education wasn't first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?" (18).

Smith invites us to see Christian education as formed by worship, not just informed by teaching. Christian discipleship should not be reduced to the transmission of knowledge; true discipleship forms our desires.

Smith begins by challenging the anthropology that casts humans primarily in the role of "thinkers". Instead, Smith believes humans are primarily "lovers" (worshippers).
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I spent a fair bit of time reading, pondering, and taking notes on this book. It is well-written, insightful, and it made me think harder about some important matters.

My three star ranking is due to one fundamental issue that kept nagging me throughout the book, namely the claim that worship precedes thinking/doctrine/beliefs. There is no doubt we love things many times before we can properly explain them, but I do not find the clean progression of moving from worship to thinking about our beliefs the right alternative. It seems there is a more dynamic interplay rather than the clean progression Smith argues for.

Today (April 5, 2016) I landed upon a generally appreciative review of Smith's latest book, You are What You Love. It is by New Testament scholar, Patrick Schreiner. You are What You Love is a more accessible version of Desiring the Kingdom. Schreiner has much positive to say about Smith's work (I agree with these sentiments, especially with respect to Smith's terrific book, How (not) to be Secular). However, Schreiner voices a mild concern which is similar to the one I stated above:

"I still personally wonder if the picture he [Smith] paints is actually too neat. Maybe the process of theological anthropology is too complex to break down into humans primarily being this or that. Because isn’t the intellect a part of the body’s and heart’s process of desiring?"
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It is a ubiquitous question for thinking and engaged Christians everywhere in every age: How do we understand the tension between the influence of the culture upon the church and the influence of the church upon the culture? In much of the recent evangelical literature on this subject, the focus has been on worldview. The big ideas have been ideas, beliefs, and doctrines and how Christians ought to transform theirs or recapture a distinctly Christian set. Smith sees the project in a different light. In fact, he sees the matter of influence to be upon our ideas and not necessarily through our ideas.

In many ways, Smith reaches back through modern and enlightenment-influenced theology and philosophy to Augustine and his belief that we are primarily affective creatures before we are rational creatures: we love before we think. And if the central questions about our character and formation are about our loves, we ought to get to what forms and shapes our loves. Smith's fundamental claim and the one that drives the book is that "liturgies" form our loves, and thus, form us. Early on he notes, "The core claim of this book is that liturgies - whether `sacred' or `secular' - shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world. In short, liturgies make us certain kinds of people and what defines us in what we love." (pg. 25)

Though the primary audience of the book is Christian education, Smith is aware, and I wholeheartedly agree, that his work has far-reaching application outside of the academy. If his premise is true, then this work has implications for the form and shape of the church as much as the university.
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Why is it that the everydayness of many Western Christians' lifestyles often reflect the values of their culture instead of Christ? How do our ways of engaging and teaching discipleship often leave our actions thin but our heads heavy? What is it that our actions betray our words or beliefs so that we proclaim God as highest but pay homage to the other gods of entertainment, consumerism, or nationalism? James K.A. Smith's newest reflection on education at its core is a reflection on discipleship. In this quest, he gives a fuller and more correct understanding of humans as affective, desiring animals in able to work towards a deeper discipleship, but fails to go beyond classical liturgical practices. This book is valuable to many: students, teachers, Sunday Schools, professors, preachers, and academics.

While I'll hold off on a full review I will say that he takes off better than he lands. Part I of the book is devoted to constructing a deeper philosophical anthropology than the anthropology modernity or romanticism. The core argument of Desiring the Kingdom is that humans at their core are not thinking or even believing animals, but rather are precognitive, pre-rationalist lovers. We are what we love, we are what we worship. Furthermore, the first part of the book reflects upon the power of "secular" liturgies that form and shape human desire and love, so that our love is misdirected. Much of my aggravation from my own as well the discipleship of the Western church, is that the true formative practices of our daily lives come less from the church than the mall, White House, flag, Jerry World (the newest Mecca of entertainment and competition: the Dallas Cowboys Stadium). While these things are not evil in themselves, they should not be the focus of our desire as they tend to claim.
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