Desiring the Kingdom image

Desiring the Kingdom

James K. A. Smith is one of the most important thinkers in contemporary evangelicalism - how often do you come across a Calvinist Pentecostal philosopher who has written books on both Derrida and Christian formation, and who gets quoted by Tom Wright and David Bentley Hart? - and his book Desiring the Kingdom may be his most important book. There's an immensely helpful summary of it here from Justin Holcomb, and although I know it means clicking a button and going to another website, I really urge you to read it if you come from a church that (a) sees education as entirely cognitive, or (b) doesn't really like or even think about liturgy. Here's an excerpt:

Two assumptions shape the book and guide the discussion. First, in part one, Smith contests one common understanding of human beings (anthropology) which sees them primarily as “knowing” individuals. Instead Smith asks, “What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love? That is actually the wager of this book: It is an invitation to re-vision Christian education as formative rather than just an informative project.” (pp.17-18). Second, in part two, Smith challenges the idea that education or any other practice can be religiously “neutral,” and argues for an expansive understanding of “liturgy” as love shaping habits: “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” (p.25) ...

In chapter three, Smith models what he refers to as a “cultural exegesis” of our secular rituals and practices. This cultural exegesis involves asking “What vision of human flourishing is implicit in this or that practice? What does the good life look like as embedded in cultural rituals? What sort of person will I become after being immersed in this or that cultural liturgy?” (p.89). Therefore, cultural exegesis, much like biblical apocalyptic literature, is a mode of “unmasking” or “unveiling the realities around us for what they really are” (p.92). Smith’s hope is that “the shift of focus from ideas to practices, from beliefs to liturgy, will function as a methodological jolt that gets us into a position to see cultural practices and institutions in ways we’ve never seen them before” (pp.92-93).  By way of example, he offers three liturgical analyses of cultural institutions by examining the mall, the stadium, and the modern university demonstrating that “implicit in their liturgies are visions of the kingdom—visions of human flourishing—that are antithetical to the biblical vision of shalom” (p.121). However, even these secular liturgies point to the fact that we are liturgical animals. “Secular liturgies don’t create our desire; they point it, aim it, direct it to certain ends” (p.122). Here Smith appeals to Calvin’s sensus divinitatis, which he suggests—differing from the popular interpretation—speaks of our proclivity towards worship (as opposed to theistic belief/knowledge).

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