Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (James K. A. Smith)

I've just read through the first 182 pages of the 230 pages in James K. A. Smith's 2009 Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. This pages are well worth the read, and I'm looking forward to finishing the last chapter and a half over the weekend. Very well done.

In Desiring the Kingdom Smith (who also coordinates the Church and Pomo blog) puts the Body back into the Church, or, perhaps better put, put the Church back into embodied experience. The years following the Reformation and the Enlightenment witnessed a seismic fracture in the life and practice of Christians. Somewhere (Scholasticism? Protestant Orthodoxy? Pietism?) the Church entered in on a long out-of-body experience; faith became about the mind's beliefs rather than a full-bodied discipleship after Jesus. Desiring the Kingdom first problematizes this breakage and then proposes practices that can re-anchor faith in the body.

Toward the end of the Introduction, Smith briefly summarizes the project of Desiring the Kingdom:
Being a disciple of Jesus is not primarily a matter of getting the right ideas and doctrines and beliefs into your head in order to guarantee proper behavior; rather it's a matter of being the kind of person who loves rightly--who loves God and neighbor and is oriented to the world by the primacy of that love. We are to be such people by our immersion in the material practices of Christian worship--through affective impact, over time, of sights and smell in water and wine. (32-33)
I like reading Smith. Desiring the Kingdom is approachable; it's funny. Smith sneaks in jabs and oneliners--referencing Old Navy fashion faux-pas and R.E.M. lyrics. Excurses on 1990s films (Moulin Rouge being the best) and the Catholic modern novel (I'm convince to pick up a copy of Walker Percy's Love In the Ruins) give the book a pleasant topography.

Perhaps more importantly than style, Smith parallels the way embodied liturgy ("faith as a form of life," 134) shapes Christian desire within the church with the way embodied practices without the church (what we might call secular liturgies) shape desire. The mall, the cinema, the university--what is the vision of the kingdom (the good life) that these want us to want?

Smith maintains that Desiring the Kingdom can be understood as a "theology of culture" (ecclesial and otherwise) that
-Understands human persons as embodied actors rather than merely thinking things
-Prioritizes practices rather than ideas as the site of challenge and resistance.
-Looks at cultural practices and institutions through the lens of worship or liturgy.
-Retains a robust sense of antithesis without being simply "anti-cultural." (35)
In short, the last time I was this excited about a book was when I read Nathan Kerr's Christ, History, and Apocalyptic (with Charles Taylor's A Secular Age previous to that, itself preceded by Graham Ward's Cities of God). Desiring the Kingdom is a book I plan read and re-read. Very well done.

1 comment:

  1. Yay! Thanks for sharing this review! Another friend recently recommended this book so now its on my list. And I haven't read Love in the Ruins, but I LOVED Percy's The Moviegoer, and you remind me that I need to read more of his stuff, too. I miss you guys!


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