- 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: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,660 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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Top Customer Reviews
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). When we over-intellectualize what it means to become a Christian, we wind up with a "bobble-head" Christianity (42). We should realize instead that it is what we desire and love that animates our passion.
Smith also pays attention to other cultural "liturgies." By taking his readers through the cultural liturgy of the shopping mall, the sports arena, the academy, etc., Smith skillfully demonstrates how immersion into these cultures forms our desires and communicates what "the good life" looks like.
"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 is what we love." (25)
Smith's proposal is very thought-provoking. But I have a few concerns.
My first concern is a personal pet peeve. I dislike seeing Christian writers refer to humans as "animals." Smith uses the description "desiring, imaginative animals" when speaking of humanity. As someone concerned about our culture's diminishing of the uniqueness of human life, I prefer that our terminology better reflect our theology about human value.
Secondly, Smith puts forth too many "either-ors" in this book. One example concerns patriotism. For Smith, there is no complexity when it comes to competing allegiances. It is so black and white that one must choose between God or country. I agree that some evangelicals overemphasize national allegiance, but this problem is not resolved by denying the place of patriotism altogether.
Another example is Smith's downplaying of the role of the intellect. It is one thing to say that worldview is not enough (point taken). But it is quite another to tip the scales in the other direction. Though his picture of "bobble-head" Christians is memorable, I don't think it is the most accurate description of contemporary evangelicals. When considering our lack of biblical knowledge, we might picture instead a bloated body with a shrunken head.
I wish Smith had addressed many of the objections that one could raise. For instance, how does he explain the fact that many people immerse themselves in Christian worship week to week and are still not formed into the image of Christ? How do we deal with this unfortunate reality? Liturgy cannot be the only (or even primary ) answer.
Likewise, in arguing that worship precedes worldview, Smith says that Christians worshipped "before they got around to abstract theologizing or formulating a Christian worldview." (139) True, but their worship was based on common beliefs. Worship eventually propelled them to "abstract theology" about Jesus Christ - his person and work.
For Smith, liturgy births doctrine, rather than doctrine birthing liturgy. I am not convinced that this is the case. The early Christians worshipped because of the truth of the resurrection of Christ. They believed; therefore, they worshipped. In turn, their worship solidifies their belief. There is a synergy between worship and worldview, not a direct cause and effect.
I love high-church liturgy. I am attracted to Smith's call to consider how our worship practices affect our discipleship and formation. I would like nothing more than to go along and say "yes" to everything in this book.
But some of Smith's dichotomies are false, and so while I greatly enjoyed this book, and found it to be one of the most thought-provoking books I read this year, I remain unconvinced that Smith's proposal offers the best answers to the problems in evangelical life.
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 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.