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Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Cultural Liturgies) Paperback – February 15, 2013

4.3 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
Book 2 of 2 in the Cultural Liturgies Series

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

A Liturgical Theology of Culture

"Imagining the Kingdom is a fit successor to Jamie Smith's remarkable Desiring the Kingdom. The new book is, like its predecessor, learned but lively, provocative but warmhearted, a manifesto and a guide. Smith takes Christians deeper into the artistic, imaginative, and practical resources on which we must draw if we wish to renew not only our minds but also our whole beings in Christ."
--Alan Jacobs, Honors College of Baylor University

"In this wonderfully rich and engagingly readable book of 'liturgical anthropology,' Smith makes a persuasive case for the thesis that human beings are best understood as worshiping animals. It has important implications at once for practical theology's reflection on religious formation, liturgy, and pedagogy and for philosophical theorizing about just what religion is. And it develops as an engaging and lively conversation among an astonishing mix of people: imagine Calvin, Proust, Merleau-Ponty, Augustine, Wendell Berry, Bourdieu, and David Foster Wallace all in the same room really talking to each other about being human and how to think about it!"
--David Kelsey, Yale Divinity School

"Jamie Smith shows us that the gospel does not primarily happen between our ears but in all the movements of the body by which we are formed and in turn form the world. I know of no more thorough and sophisticated account of how secular liturgies form and deform us and how Christian liturgies can help. Though sophisticated, Smith's book is also a delight. Its pages are filled with great poetry and insights from films, novels, and everyday life."
--William T. Cavanaugh, DePaul University

"A thought-provoking, generative reflection on the imagination-shaping power of Christian worship practices. What an ideal book for crossing boundaries among academic disciplines and between the academy and the church."
--John D. Witvliet, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College, and Calvin Theological Seminary

"It is heartening to set one's eyes on Jamie Smith's bold and creative endeavor to awaken Christians, Protestants in particular, to the centrality of worship in even, nay especially, our moral lives. This thoughtful book is rightly concerned with a restoration of the Christian imagination rooted in habits of virtue."
--Vigen Guroian, University of Virginia

About the Author

James K. A. Smith (PhD, Villanova University) is professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he also holds the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview. He is the editor of Comment magazine.

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Product Details

  • Series: Cultural Liturgies (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (February 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801035783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801035784
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Brian M. Howell on July 15, 2013
Format: Paperback
Let me start with as clear an admonition as I can: This is a book that every Christian should read. That is, everyone would benefit from the argument here, and find something to encourage his or her Christian walk. It's not a simple read - I'm not sure everyone would love it, or understand it - but this, like the first volume, Desiring the Kingdom, covers critical ground of what it means to worship, why we do what we do, or should do what we should do.

Smith's underlying argument is that human beings are feeling, emotional, affective beings, shaped and molded by our actions and arts. He pushes against the dominant intellectualist, "world view" approach to the Christian life that says our doctrines and knowledge are the bedrock on which faithful Christian life exists or from which action inevitably flows. In this second volume of a planned three volume set, Smith focuses on the practices of worship, and how worship serves (or should serve) as a set of, context for, and arrangement of practices that orient us as individuals and communities towards loving, serving and knowing God.

As a cultural anthropologist teaching at a Christian college, these have been the waters in which I have been swimming for a long time, and I am profoundly grateful for a text that makes this point so wonderfully. I am particularly appreciative of Smith's extensive use of the work of Pierre Bourdieu, an anthropologist and social theorist I have also found enormously helpful in my own research and teaching on Christian life.
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Format: Paperback
Imagining the Kingdom is the second volume of a projected trilogy by James K.A. Smith called Cultural Liturgies. In the first book, Desiring the Kingdom (which I have not read, but Smith gets the reader up to speed in the early parts of this book), Smith argued that humans are primarily shaped more by the imagination than the intellect. It is the stories we inhabit, and not the arguments we believe, that give our lives purpose. In other words, "we don't think our way through to action; much of our action is not the outcome of rational deliberation and conscious choice. Much of our action is not `pushed' by ideas or conclusions; rather, it grows out of our character and is in a sense `pulled' out of us by our attraction to a telos." We are shaped by the liturgies that tell attractive (not attractive in the sense of "pleasant," but rather "resonant") stories and fuel our imaginations, whether those liturgies are secular or religious: "Through a vast repertoire of secular liturgies we are quietly assimilated to the earthly city of disordered loves.... So we toddle off to church or Bible study week after week ... without realizing that we spend the rest of the week making bread for idols (Jer. 7:18)."

In this book, Smith looks specifically at what that insight means for the practices of worship and Christian education. The book comes in two parts. In part 1, the theoretical part of the book, Smith walks the reader through expositions of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Pierre Bourdieu, asking what their theoretical models of how we are formed might mean for how we worship. In part 2, the practical part, Smith talks explicitly about how the theory discussed in part 1 reframes Christian formation and gives a fresh understanding of how worship works.
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I really like James K. A. Smith's work generally. I find his arguments quite convincing. This is probably because I read Alexander Schmemann's "For the Life of the World" 25 years ago and I have been steeped in an sacramental worldview ever since.

If I could give it 3.5 stars, that's about where I'd put it. This book was much harder slogging than "Desiring the Kingdom". Far too much of the book was spent laying groundwork through explicating the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Pierre Bourdieu and their theoretical models of habituation and formation. In the preface, Smith notes that he had intended volumes 2 and 3 of this Cultural Liturgies series to be scholarly monographs, but due to the cross-over popularity of the first volume with pastors and educators, he had decided to broaden this appeal of this volume as well. Sadly, I don't think that he accomplished that.

The last part of this book is certainly brilliant and ties in well with the first book. Individuals not well versed in Merleau-Ponty, Bourdieu, and modern French philosophy may have a hard time getting to the last part of the book. I know I did.

I had hoped to find more material that I could translate pastorally and practically. I will certainly draw upon ideas in part 2 for inspiration in that regard.
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What a wonderful exploration into the mystery of the human. Smith's "liturgical anthropology" avoids the often reductionist approaches to anthropology, taking seriously the depth and differentiation of what constitutes humanity. Smith's anthropology integrates the whole person into his analysis, including in it the body, the imagination, the narrative aspect of experience, story, emotion and consciousness. I particularly appreciate his appreciation for the pre-cognitive, pre-conscious dimension of knowing - and the realization that that is the world in which we "live and move and have our being". It is being in touch with this deeper world rather than the more ephemeral "worldview" that is the key to transformation and discipleship. Bravo.
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