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


Desiring the KingdomJames K. A. Smith sets out to present a vision of what a distinctively Christian education should look like. Without discarding the importance of what Christians think (worldview), he argues that authentic Christian learning ought to focus primarily on the formation of Christian desires (‘social imaginary’). In short, Smith argues that Christian education is more about formation than information, more about what one loves than what one knows. Practically speaking, distinctively Christian education should mean much more than merely teaching what is taught at any other university, but just from a Christian worldview. Rather, Christian education should be fundamentally rooted in liturgical worship as that discipline which forms students’ desires. Thus, he describes this educational ideal as ‘ecclesial,’ rooted in formative liturgical worship.

Smith’s philosophy of education is based on an understanding of worship, which is rooted in a specific anthropology. Therefore, although his main goal is to present a philosophy of education, his work has much broader implications for areas such as anthropology and corporate worship.

Smith begins his case by presenting an anthropology, because one’s view on education (and worship) is intrinsically linked to one’s understanding of the nature of man. Whereas the prevalent Christian anthropology seems to view man as primarily a thinking or believing creature, Smith argues that man is primarily a lover or desirer. Man’s decisions and behavior is primarily oriented by desire, what he loves, a vision of the ‘good life’ and a corresponding longing for it.

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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.

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Goodreads Review of The Dangerous Act of Worship by Mark Labberton

The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God's Call to JusticeThe Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice by Mark Labberton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

–Thought-provoking and interesting. Although I have qualms with a variety of things he says, his employment of various motifs, and some unnecessarily ambiguous explanations, I very much agree with his thesis: worship and social justice must be connected. This is a needed prophetic wake-up call to the evangelical church which is largely apathetic or resistant to matters of social justice. Also, he writes well and interestingly.

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Goodreads Review of Exploring the Worship Spectrum: 6 Views by Paul Basden

Exploring the Worship Spectrum: 6 ViewsExploring the Worship Spectrum: 6 Views by Paul Basden

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Typically I like books from this Counterpoint series. But typically the editor sets an agenda and framework for the subsequent discussion by presenting questions that the various authors must answer. This provides a certain amount of unity to the discussion and essays. This sense of unity is completely lacking in this book, except for the fact that they are all in some what talking about worship. The result is a collection of loosely related articles and responses that makes for a somewhat confusing and rather unhelpful read. It’s hard to compare the views because the different authors come at the discussion from very different angles and talk about very different things. In short, it’s not organized.

— Not very impressed this time.

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