As last year rolled to an end, I kept seeing one book pop up on the best of 2010 lists of people I respect: Desiring the Kingdom, by James KA Smith. It had been on my should read list for a while, and with each end of the year mention, it bumped up higher. But I held off for a while out of protest that it used to be available on the Kindle and no longer was.
What can I say? I’m petty like that.
James Smith is one of the those scholars who can write deeper levels of thought into a popular level book, a trait that I appreciate. This book almost fits that bill, written primarily as a book for lower level undergraduate classes. But of course, writing at the popular level also fools me into thinking I can move more quickly through material that requires me to stop, chew and reflect on what is being said. Throughout this book, I found myself having to jump back and re-read a section, realizing a significant turn had just been made that I needed to back up and move through with him.
The ultimate aim of the book is to state that Christian education, whether in an educational institution or a church is a “formative rather than an informative project.” (page 18) The goal is not that we would increase knowledge of the Kingdom of God, but desire for the Kingdom of God. I love that he chose the word desire as the ultimate goal of formation. Last night, I twice caught myself in our church gathering about to say the word ‘learning’ as the goal of our time together, and replacing it with the word ‘desiring’. It is a significant shift.
Smith states that we are a people formed by liturgies, whether they are sacred or secular. These liturgies “shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world.” (page 25) As he points out, these liturgies are found in practices at the shopping mall, sporting events or high education facilities, and the ultimate goal of our Christian liturgies, our Christian practices, is to continue to shape a narrative of desire for the Kingdom of God rather than the stories being told by these other liturgies.
This is only book 1 of a series Smith has titled Cultural Liturgies, and I’m looking forward to what is next, even if it isn’t made available for the Kindle. (Though, just to be clear, I’m looking more forward to it if it is available for the Kindle.)
Here are a few more of my underlinings for those who might be interested in getting a better feel for the book:
- Our worldview is more a matter of the imagination than the intellect, and the imagination runs off the fuel of images that are channeled by the senses. (57)
- My goal in providing these brief liturgical analyses of cultural institutions like the mall, the stadium, and the university has been to suggest that implicit in their liturgies are visions of the kingdom — visions of human fluorishing — that are antithetcial to the bibilical vision of shalom. (121)
- The people of God called out to be the church were worshiping long before they got all their doctrines in order or articulated the elements of a Christian worldview; and they were engaged in and developing worship practices long before what we now call our Bible emerged and was solidified. (135)
- We may have construed worship as a primarily didactic, cognitive affair and thus organized it around a message that fails to reach our embodied hearts, and thus fails to touch our desire. (153)
- Recognizing cultural practices and institutions as liturgies somewhat undercuts their formative force. (208)