Book Review: Imagining the Kingdom

Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works by James K.A. Smith (Baker, 2013).

Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works is the second in a series of three books on cultural liturgies. Click here for a review of the first in the series, i.e., Desiring the Kingdom.

In this volume, James K.A. Smith elaborates the ideas he developed in the first book, that we are desiring creatures and that Christian formation should take this into account through the development of “thick” Christian practices that shape our desires and perspective. In this book, he plunges deeply into the work of Pierre Bourdieu to explore the idea of (kin)aesthetics — practices engaged in bodily that shape our lives, and the narrative imagination as it is developed through story. Smith believes that liturgical practices that ground us in the kingdom story are critical to Christian formation. 

He concludes with an exploration of how this might actually work with a compelling example around the liturgies of confession and forgiveness prayed week by week, sometimes with meaning, sometimes ‘going through the motions.’ Then one day, the person’s son finds himself in custody for some unspecified act and pleads for forgiveness from his father. Having confessed his own sins hundreds of times in the liturgy and received the assurance of pardon, he can do nothing other than forgive and embrace the son.

My sense with this book is that Smith did not break new ground but went deeper with the philosophical foundations for his proposals around Christian spiritual and intellectual formation. I would strongly encourage reading Desiring the Kingdom first both to lay foundations and to decide whether one wants to plunge more deeply into Smith’s ideas. I did, and it was worth it.

Bonus added by the editor:  “Imgaging” for Practitioners and Scholars (2 min, 11 sec). For additional short interview clips of James K.A. Smith visit the Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Baker Press).

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Bob Trube

Bob Trube is Senior Area Director for InterVarsity's Graduate & Faculty Ministry team in the Ohio Valley (Ohio, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania) and leads the ministry to graduate students and faculty at The Ohio State University. He resides in Columbus, Ohio, with Marilyn and enjoys reading, gardening, choral singing, and plein air painting.

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