- Series: Cultural Liturgies (Book 1)
- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Baker Academic; unknown edition (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: 80 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Cultural Liturgies) unknown Edition
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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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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?"
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. I will briefly summarize the two sections of the book with some of his major points, and then offer some questions and analysis.
The first of two sections is devoted to an expression of anthropology, focusing on humans as loving/affective creatures and how those loves are formed. Cultural liturgies are examined and exposited as Smith makes the case for loving as the fundamental act of the human being in place of reasoning. Most worldview thinking, he argues, has the human creature exactly upside down as it emphasizes rationalistic behavior over affective influences.
For someone familiar with some of the basics of virtue theory, it will not come as a surprise that Smith argues that habits and practices play a large, if not primary, role in the forming of loves and the human character. He also employs the structure of "social imaginary" to describe how the practices of our lives and our worship form us as "noncognitive" directors of our actions and dispositions toward the world.
In the second section, Smith moves from anthropology to the more constructive task of dealing with the actual ins and outs of Christian worship. In the first section he argues that we need to form a new way of imagining and seeing the Kingdom of God, and in the second part he goes about dealing with how that happens. He asks, "In other words, what does worship say about Christian faith?" (pg. 134) It is a good question, and it deserves to be dealt with. What do our actual practices as Christians tell us about the shape of our faith in Christ? The term "practical atheist" may be overused in some contexts, but its point fits just fine with Smith's larger idea. Are we as Christ followers worshiping (acting) in such a way as to make good sense of our faith?
While some reviewers have noted that the first part of the book may be stronger than the second, I think a degree of charity needs to be applied to this second part. I must admit that I lost some steam reading through to the end as Smith listed the various "practical" applications of his theory, but I still found them instructive and at times provocative.
I found a lot of Smith's argument to be the kind of thing we ought to be talking about in our churches and universities. Are we guilty of a kind of Gnosticism in which we have disconnected what we believe from how we behave and what we do when we gather together? Have we lost a sense of being deeply affective creatures who are often moved by our experiences more than the latest lecture we heard? We need to wrestle with the implications of these issues. Given that, there are some assertions and arguments in the book to push against.
I'll get a rather small thing out of the way first. From time to time Smith seems to erect scarecrows to knock down. One particular instance happens in his sidebar on The Moulin Rouge. His argument is that there is something valuable in the way love is portrayed (at least in its force in the human being) there, and he notes, "And so one could suggest that the kingdom looks more like Montmarte than Colorado Springs!" (pg. 72) The play, of course, is on a stereotype of Colorado Springs as a kind of evangelical Mecca where nearly everyone is blindly evangelical and in lock-step with the Republican party. I was disappointed in that kind of broad-stroke ad hominem, but it isn't the only place where part of his argument relies on pigeon-holing a set of evangelicals in a cubicle and knocking the whole thing down.
Then there are times where it seems Smith is too heavy-handed with other points of view in order to make his argument. The result of this tact is that he portrays an apparent disregard for and a simple denial of different points of view. Smith clearly argues that we are primarily affective/loving beings, but at times he appears to say we are exclusively affective/loving beings, showing a disregard for what seems to me to be the truth of the influence of ideas and reason. Instead of a both/and or primary/secondary approach Smith seems to want to have an either/or approach, which doesn't help his overall case.
Early on Smith characterizes his foil as "rationalistic," "a talking-head version of Christianity," and provocatively enough a "'bobble head' Christianity" where what goes on in the head far outweighs what goes on in the body (pg. 42). While this can be true of some forms of Christian theology heavily influenced by the enlightenment, is it true of all forms of theology concerned with true doctrine and the content of the propositional messages we proclaim? As seems to be the case with theologians and Christians influenced by a postmodern philosophy, there might be a temptation to make a category mistake here: all who disagree with us are disjointed enlightenment thinkers.
Another example of this kind of reasoning appears in the second half of the book on page 163, "The `image of God' (imago Dei) is not some de facto property of Homo sapiens (whether will or reason or language or what have you); rather, the image of God is a task, a mission" (emphasis his). This is the kind of thing that shoots the argument he wants to make in the foot. We are put off by the unnecessary bifurcation of the two - property vs. mission - and we are on guard from then on. I find it obvious in both the Scripture and in the theology on the subject that the image of God is at least a set of properties endowed to us by God that make us, not worms, uniquely human. It is then be constructive to note that the image of God is a "task, a mission" that we have as creatures living under God.
I simply do not see a logical contradiction in his argument if he took love to be primary to reason, and then argued for the proper places of each in the liturgies of the believer.
There is a lot to be gained through Smith's book, and he raises arguments we need to wrestle with that we don't often think through. And for that, I think this book is very useful for Christian educators and pastors. But I hope that as he fills out this project he will avoid some of the unnecessary rhetorical and argumentative devices that hurt the overall argument.
In this book, Dr. Smith argued that to make disciples of Jesus Christ, we have to recognize that humans are not thinkers who think to understand, or believers who believe to understand, but lovers who desire or love to understand. And “our loves and desires are aimed and directed by habits that dispose us to be the kind of people aimed at certain visions of the good life.” (pp. 215) This “love to understand” understanding is contrary to the “know to understand” or “believe to understand” understandings. He criticized the current practice of Christian schools that much information was taught, but spiritual formation (by cultivating our spiritual desire) is lacking. What he stated is in contrary to some theologians and Christians who believe that the normative creeds and doctrines are fundamental.
Dr. Smith first argued that humans are lovers that desire an “ultimate visions of good life.” (pp. 55) To cultivate the desires and the worldview of people, he described the importance of liturgies that people practice regularly. He used secular practices or habits as examples of “liturgies.” The “liturgies” that he described include religious liturgies, but he further said that a lot of secular practices, such as mall shopping, are virtually “liturgies.” He then turned back to Christian worship (on Sunday), which he argued to be fundamental to shaping the worldview of the disciples. He then went by each step in a formal Christian worship, and explained how they shape our desires and worldview. Finally, with everything built up, Dr. Smith explained “new monasticism,” and outlined his vision of what an ideal Christian college, or an ecclesial college, is like.
Dr. Smith made a point that religious practices and liturgies are important in forming our worldviews. In the Old Testament, there is no lack of description of various rituals, sacrifices, and festivals practiced by the ancient Israelites. All these rituals have meanings. For example, the fifth of the Ten Commandments commanded us to “remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy,” (Exodus 20:8) because God rested after the work of the six-day creation. (Exodus 20:11) By practicing this, we remember God’s creative work, and His identity of the Creator. If the Jewish people worshipped other gods by practicing other liturgies that were likely to be immoral, they would be punished. (Deuteronomy 28:15-68) In the New Testament, we read in the Book of Acts that believers worshipped together. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, believers are commanded not to “neglect to meet together,” (Hebrews 10:25) for “stirring up one another to love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24) In short, the Scripture asserts the importance of liturgies, and the importance of practicing it.
Despite his sound arguments, I think “liturgies” are not sufficient in spite of its necessity. Although Dr. Smith made a point that humans are primarily lovers but not thinkers, he did not boldly claim that humans do not think. Instead, we do think a lot. Besides rituals and sacrifices, the Scripture teaches a lot about making disciples through teaching the Words directly. Moses wrote in the Book of Deuteronomy that we should teach our sons the Words, and discuss and think about it at all times. (Deuteronomy 11:19-21) Jesus spent time teaching to the crowd. (Matthew 5-7) He argued with the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes about the biblical teaching. He also criticized the vanity of these religious peoples. (Luke 20-21) Apostles Paul, Peter, John, and Jude regard teaching as important: they constantly battled with false teachers. (2 Corinthians 11:4-5; Galatians 3:1-5:12; 2 Peter 2; 2 John 1:7-11; Jude 1:5-19) Directly teaching the Words and thinking about it are as important as “liturgies.” In fact, a lot of cults such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have pretty decent Christian practices, but it is their distorted teachings that are spiritually lethal. Hence, while Dr. Smith rightly acclaimed that humans are primarily lovers, not thinkers, we should not neglect teaching the normative Christian knowledge.
Dr. Smith outlined his ideal ecclesial college at the last chapter of his book. He criticized the intellectualization of Christianity in current Christian colleges. His vision is that such a school does not only provide a “Christian perspective” (pp. 218) to students’ skills, but also to make them radical disciples of Jesus Christ. To do this, he summarized in the form of a school motto: “I worship in order to understand.” (pp. 223) He coined the term “new monasticism” (pp. 222) for these schools that embraced a “liturgically informed pedagogy.” (pp. 228) Dr. Smith has conducted a lot of studies about postmodernism. I think this book is a response to current Christian education in the postmodern age, in which people focused on their own feeling. However, for the schools to have the appropriate resources to immerse the students in a liturgically charged environment, they have to be in a Christian society like the Middle Age. Therefore, I doubt if this ideal is practical at all.
This book is very academic, in which a lot of fresh new ideas are raised. A lot of terms are used interchangeably. For example, Dr. Smith made secular practices and liturgies in the same footing. Sometimes he proposed new terms like ecclesial colleges so that the readers do not confuse with the Christian colleges in the usual sense. The use of terminologies can be confusing sometimes, but I think it is unavoidable in discussing unfamiliar ideas.
In conclusion, through developing the thesis that humans are lovers, Dr. Smith outlined his ideal Christian education in the postmodern era. Although I doubt the feasibility of such an ideal at the present time, I think he made a good point that current Christian education focused too much on intellectualism, and thus a “liturgically informed pedagogy” is needed. However, I think humans learn through both “liturgies” and receiving information. I believe the current intellectualism should not be abandoned, but I am convinced by Dr. Smith that the Christian education has to be more down-to- earth.