Thursday, July 10, 2014

Imagining the Kingdom

James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. Baker Academic, 2013. 198 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8010-3578-4.

Imagining the Kingdom is Smith's long-awaited second volume of the "Cultural Literary series. In the first volume, Desiring the Kingdom, Smith showed the importance of desire or our loves in shaping what we do. In this volume he continues this conversation with an emphasis on the imagination and poetics. In addition, he shows how we are shaped either by secular or religious liturgies.

Smith explains how the series has changed in intention. He originally was writing to scholars and the first volume turned out to be more of a hybrid, written both to scholars and practitioners, or ordinary readers. He decided to keep this focus for the rest of the series. This volume could have been the first volume because of the emphasis on the imagination. This is thinking on a subconscious level. It is our perception on what causes human flourishing.

Smith shows how we are shaped by our worship. We are repeating the story of God in worship. He gives an example of a man who has been shaped by confession and worship in the liturgy. At a particular time his son has departed from the right path. He comes to the father asking for forgiveness. Because of the father experiencing God's forgiveness in worship many times, he forgives his son. Smith says the worship of God is an end in itself. It is also connected to mission or our being sent out to the world.

Smith does a good job in explaining the thought of Merleau-Ponty and Bourdieu. He has mentioned them in other works and I was interested in knowing more about this work. He gives an excellent commentary on their work and how it applies to the emphasis on the body, practices, imagination, and thick, particularized Christianity. They authors argue that we are more shaped by bodily actions. They also emphasize the importance of story.

Smith says that "the focus of this second volume is to home in on these themes, further exploring the shape of liturgical anthropology in order to articulate a Christian philosophy of action that (1) recognizes the nonconscious, pretheoretical 'drivers' of our action and behavior, centered in what I'll call the imagination; (2) accounts for the bodily formation of our habituated orientation to the world; and thus (3) appreciates the centrality of story as rooted in this 'bodily basis of meaning' and as a kind of pretheoretical compass that guides and generates human action. In short, the way to the heart is through the body, and the way into the body is through story" (14). This leads to his last chapter on worship. How intellect and desires are shaped by the bodily actions of worship. He provides good insights on how tradition liturgies shape us into God's image. It is important how we worship. I like this affirmation of Christian liturgy and how it tells a story. We need to be more intentional on how we worship.

The second volume is as good if not better than the first volume. Smith seems to be still working on these ideas. There is much to like about this project. I like how he corrects the over emphasis on the intellect and how we are shaped more by our desires or loves as taught by St. Augustine. I look forward for volume three.

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