Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works by James K. A. Smith

imaginingA few years ago I read the first volume of Jamie Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project entitled Desiring the Kingdom and I really enjoyed it. His basic thesis was that we are all basically creatures of desire (an Augustinian anthropology) and that our liturgies (sacred or secular) are enormously important in shaping our desires (‘pedagogies of desire’). He got a fair bit of criticism for the book (some of it unfair in my view), but I think he’s offering a helpful critique of the traditional Protestant intellectual obsession.

And so for a while I’ve looked forward to finally getting round to reading volume 2 – Imagining the Kingdom. Building on the first volume, Smith argues that our bodies and our imaginations play a huge role in how liturgies shape us. That liturgy shapes us is argued for in his first volume; how liturgy shapes us is the subject of volume 2. To use Smith’s own summary, ‘liturgical anthropology is rooted in both kinaesthetics and poetics’ (101).

On narrative he states, ‘Our hearts traffic in stories . . . We’re less convinced by arguments than moved by stories . . . they [stories] mean on a register that eludes articulation and analysis’ (108-09).

On practise he observes that the church must be not only centrifugal, but also centripetal, gathering saints for ‘dispositional reformation’ (157).

He has a fascinating little aside on Facebook as follows:

‘While it purports to be simply a “medium,” it comes loaded with a story about what matters, and who matters. And as we inhabit these virtual worlds – clicking our way around the environment, constantly updating our ‘status’ and checking on others, fixated on our feed, documenting our ‘likes’ for others to see – we are slowly and covertly incorporated into a body politic with its own vision of human flourishing . . . and all of this happens precisely because we don’t think about it.’

Now I’m a fan of social media, a user, and an apologist for it’s good uses, but his example I think is a powerful illustration of how the nexus of kinaesthetics and poetics serve to subconsciously shape us.

In his conclusion Smith has further helpful and stimulating things to say about how Christian worship should then function to form disciples. In short, form matters, and we should be more thoughtful and intentional.

You don’t have to agree with everything in a book to find it incredibly helpful and stimulating. In fact, some of my favourite writers would be in different theological camps to myself. A good writer makes you think and wrestle with ideas in the light of Scripture – to challenge existing ideas and assumptions. And for me Jamie Smith certainly does that.

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