Thumbnail Sketch of James K. A. Smith’s “Desiring the Kingdom”

Finished James K. A. Smith’s “Desiring the Kingdom; Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.” There are some quality ideas in the book about the way pagan culture works in us to shape us via its liturgies. I was glad for this reminder of the necessity to be epistemologically self conscious about what is seeking to form me. There are also some excellent reflections on what happens in our Church liturgies from the opening of God’s Greeting to the closing of the Benediction.  So good are these insights that I can recommend this book just for that chapter.

However, having said that Smith’s idea that the social imaginary has priority over a Christian worldview is not convincing. In this argumentation Smith is tipping his postmodern hand over and over again as seen in the advocacy of narrative over discourse, and the use of a host of what might be characterized as false dichotomies; orthopraxy precedes orthodoxy, instinct trumps rationality, animal desire precedes human reflection, heart informs mind, liturgy shapes worldveiw, habit creates thinking about habit, social imaginary over worldview thinking, and pre-cognitive over cognitive.

The idea that a sanctified imagination is to be prioritized and preferred above sanctified rational thought begs any number of questions. For example, Smith insists that liturgy trumps worldview and yet our Churches are Liturgy thick with little to show in terms of Christ formation. Smith might well counter that we have to re-think our Liturgy and that might well be true but how do we re-think our liturgy without using a worldview to correct a weak liturgy?

Smith’s insistence that the heart (desire) takes precedence over the mind (rational) is thin at best and dangerous at worst. The very idea that the heart and mind are to be dichotomized like this is the work of some kind of dualistic fever. When it comes to the use of the word “heart” in Scripture a survey reveals, when taken in context, that approximately 8 out of 10 verses in Scripture that what is being spoken of is a person’s mind. 1 out of 10 verses relate the heart to volition. Another 1 of 10 verses have the heart standing for the emotions. This indicates that in its overwhelming usage in Scripture heart and mind are synonymous. Smith makes too much capital out of the difference between head and heart. 

Having said that Smith does lay his finger on the pulse of a real problem in the Church in the West today and that is the fact that so many of our children in both our Churches and our Church colleges end up having a Christianity that is only marginally different then the paganism all around them. Somewhere, Christian worldview training isn’t enough. Now, for my money I would say that is due to the fact that we are allowing the culture to interpret us as opposed to or interpreting the culture. Our Christian worldview training is failing because, at the end of the day it is not getting to the essence of thinking God’s thoughts after him. Smith realizes this and is to be lauded for that realization however, I am not convinced that his solution of a consecrated imagination as shaped and formed by worship habits is the answer. In fact, I’m convinced it is not the answer. Indeed, the answer that Smith offers up sounds to much like the idea that the Worship service is to be used as a vehicle of manipulation to form people quite without their being aware of how they are being formed. I fear there is more of Edward Bernays in Smith’s theories then there are Jesus Christ.

At the end of the book Smith changes focus to the Christian University and as he explains his vision I think what Smith wants to build is a Christian commune as a University. He prescribes potentials courses which would reduce the amount of academic work in favor of “learning to read a stranger in a coffee shop,” or to be involved in matters that are directly related to “issues of poverty.” Given the disappearance of the Christian mind in the West today this idea strikes me as potentially disastrous if it was to be followed.

Smith’s book has much to recommend it and I think it is well worth a read but at the end of the day his worldview about social imaginary is not a worldview that I can regard as wholesome.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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