Imagining the Kingdom
How Worship Works
series: Cultural Liturgies
Where to Purchase
How does worship work? How exactly does liturgical formation shape people? And how does the Spirit marshal the dynamics of such transformation? In the second of James K. A. Smith's three-volume theology of culture, the author expands and deepens the analysis of cultural liturgies and Christian worship he developed in his acclaimed Desiring the Kingdom. Drawing on the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Pierre Bourdieu, this book helps readers understand and appreciate the bodily basis of habit formation and how liturgical formation--both "secular" and Christian--affects one's fundamental orientation to the world. Worship "works" by leveraging one's body to transform his or her imagination, and it does this through stories understood on a register that is closer to body than mind. This has critical implications for thinking about the nature of Christian formation and the role of the arts in Christian mission.
"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, Clyde S. Kilby Chair Professor of English, Wheaton College
"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, Luther A. Weigle Professor of Theology Emeritus, Yale Divinity School
"This book is a thought-provoking, generative reflection on the imagination-shaping power of Christian worship practices. Smith describes and demonstrates how practices, perceptions, emotions, and thought interact and how together they can be shaped in cruciform ways. 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
"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. Smith shows how we encounter God with our whole selves and how God carries us even when we don't know what is going on."
William T. Cavanaugh, senior research professor, DePaul University
"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. Smith's acute insight into the false and lying stories and liturgies generated by the dominant powers of our economy makes his case for a reclamation of worship within the churches compelling; for this thoughtful book is rightly concerned with a restoration of the Christian imagination rooted in habits of virtue."
Vigen Guroian, professor of religious studies, University of Virginia; author of The Melody of Faith
"Arguing that we are guided primarily by imagination, which is primed through the conduit of the body, Smith maintains that the structure of church liturgies matter deeply in providing a counterweight to the liturgies of self-centeredness promoted in the larger culture. . . . Smith uses literature, poetry, philosophy, and film to make a compelling case that it would behoove churches and seminaries to attend more closely to imagination and aesthetics rather than doctrine as central to developing an other-oriented Christian desire."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"The second volume of this three-part series of 'cultural liturgies' has been highly anticipated. . . . Smith's opportunities of imaginative musings give readers the chance to study in such a way that it is more in line with the topic of study, so that reading itself becomes a type of practice. . . . Smith forces non-specialized readers to read slowly and carefully, dwelling in their expositions, drawing on repeated themes from volume one in order to make even the reading of his book more like a practice: drawing us into the argument by appealing to the imagination more than the intellect. . . . Readers who enjoyed Desiring the Kingdom will appreciate hearing more of Smith's insights. It is possible to read volume two without having read the first volume, but I would guess reading them in order would situate the reader better."
Englewood Review of Books
"I don't know if I've ever left a book more dog-eared and battered in less time than James K. A. Smith's Imagining the Kingdom. Like his previous work, Desiring the Kingdom, Smith covers an immense amount of territory in an economy of well-written pages. Phenomenology, anthropology, theology, culture, art, poetry, liturgy, literature, Downton Abbey, and David Foster Wallace are all discussed with coherence. . . . As a pastor of worship and one who enjoys reading philosophy, I absolutely loved this book. Smith profoundly underlines the importance of the practices of the gathered church, while offering salient critiques of much of the contemporization of those practices. . . . Smith challenges, entertains, and worships in his writing. He leaves the reader with a vision for humanity and worship that is at once humbling and wondrous."--Mike Cosper, The Gospel Coalition
The Gospel Coalition
"Imagining the Kingdom will be familiar to those of us who have followed Smith's important arguments. He has a lot of proverbial irons in the fire--speaking and teaching and writing on all manner of things--they are of a piece, for those with Biblical ears to hear. . . . Smith covers a lot of ground. . . . Not too many serious philosophers are as familiar with early church sources as well as contemporary Pentecostal thinkers, are conversant with Reformed theologians (older and newer, stricter and looser) and are in ecumenical discussions with, say, Church of England leaders and Orthodox theologians--and have such interests in civic life and public justice. . . . This is one heckuva book. Praise God for such a serious scholar doing this caliber of work, with such a vast horizon of interest."
Hearts & Minds BookNotes blog
"Both Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom offer a helpful critique of the intellectualist model of Christian discipleship. . . . Smith rightfully points to the way human beings work, mostly on an intuitive level, and guides the reader to the conclusion that this area of human knowledge, the imagination, must be cultivated and shaped along with the intellect in order to form the entire person for Christ. . . . Smith's work is one with which all theologians and pastors ought to wrestle. On an academic level, Smith's articulation of how knowledge and formation work is convincing, and should shape conversations about epistemology, discipleship, and worship practices. On a pastoral level, Smith's case is seemingly airtight for reflecting on worship practices. . . . Smith's work provides insightful critiques of modern culture and the implicit liturgies in them. . . . I could not recommend Smith's book more highly to both theologians and pastors. He is a phenomenal writer and a careful thinker, and his argument is one that must be dealt with by those seeking to understand 'How Worship Works.'"
Matthew Y. Emerson,
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