Goodreads Review of Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural FormationDesiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Smith argues that man is primarily a lover or desirer, in contrast to being primarily a thinker or believer. From this anthropology, he argues that our loves-desires are formed by habits, rituals, or what we might call liturgies if we want to show the high stakes involved in this practices and institutions. Our culture has its liturgies that strive to shape our desires. The church through its worship-liturgy offers a counter-formative liturgy. Similarly, the Christian school, which is to be an extension of the church, should be primarily about formation through such liturgical practices.

Part of Smith’s thesis is that other competing anthropologies (e.g., the person as primarily a thinker or believer) are reductionistic. I would argue that his approach (i.e., person as a lover-desiring) is likely equally reductionistic. I think he overestimates how much the pre-assumptions in liturgy actually form the worshiper. And I think he under estimates the effect that thoughts and beliefs (“worldview”) have on our behavior.

Also, I would want to recognize variation from person to person. For some people, thoughts and beliefs may be more influential, for others emotions, for others loves-desires, etc.

Maybe we should think less in terms of a hierarchy (e.g., “we are PRIMARILY loving people”) and more so in terms of these things (i.e., love, desire, emotion, thought, belief) as being interconnected and mutually influencing. I’d probably suggest something like Grant Osborne’s “hermeneutical spiral” to explain this mutually-influencing relationship.

But despite this critique, I really liked this book and found it to be very thought-provoking and challenging. Like I said, I think he may fall into the trap of reductionism. But even in that reductionism, what he’s saying seems to be right (even if other things are also true–hence my accusation of reductionism). “Worldview” is not the only thing that informs our behavior. Rituals, practice, habits, etc. form our behaviors, desires, beliefs and thoughts. These things need to be considered as we critique culture (i.e., not just critiquing its message or worldview, but its rituals). These things need to be considered in our worship (How is our worship counter-formative to the liturgies of our culture? Does our worship aim at the entire person or just one part, e.g., their head?) And as Smith would argue, this should inform our process and view of education.

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