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Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  371 Ratings  ·  69 Reviews
How does worship work? How exactly does liturgical formation shape us? What are the dynamics of such transformation? In the second of James K. A. Smith's three-volume theology of culture, the author expands and deepens the analysis of cultural liturgies and Christian worship he developed in his well-received Desiring the Kingdom. He helps us understand and appreciate the b ...more
Paperback, 195 pages
Published February 15th 2013 by Baker Academic (first published February 1st 2013)
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The Open Secret by Lesslie NewbiginGilead by Marilynne RobinsonImagining the Kingdom by James K.A. SmithDesiring the Kingdom by James K.A. SmithWorship and Mission After Christendom by Alan Kreider
Practicing Church
3rd out of 33 books — 5 voters
Mere Christianity by C.S. LewisThe Screwtape Letters by C.S. LewisThe Reason for God by Timothy J. KellerThe Great Divorce by C.S. LewisConfessions by Augustine of Hippo
The Christian Intellect
470th out of 627 books — 558 voters

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Community Reviews

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Feb 01, 2013 J rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
Imagining the Kingdom is the second part of James K.A. Smith's Cultural Liturgies project. Originally, Smith wrote the first volume Desiring the Kingdom as a popular introduction with some philosophical heft, but it turned out to be a bit difficult for popular consumption and not philosophically rigorous enough for philosophers and theologians. Smith has decided to continue the middle-level discourse in this work, including tons of sidebars and digressions to illustrate the arguments made in the ...more
David Goetz
Mar 04, 2016 David Goetz rated it really liked it
There are already quite a few excellent reviews of this book, so I'll be brief.

Smith is quite good here, if a bit repetitive. As one other reviewer suggested, some of the repetitiveness might be due to Smith's attempt to walk the genre-line between popular and academic.

In Desiring the Kingdom, Smith argued that the human person is a "liturgical animal"-- homo adorans, a worshiping being. I agree wholeheartedly. Scripture teaches pretty clearly that we become what we worship, which implies th
Jul 24, 2013 Tim rated it liked it
I read and enjoyed Desiring the Kingdom, even though it disappointed me in the end. I had lower expectations for Imagining the Kingdom and unfortunately I think Smith missed even those again. Not because his ideas are poor or unimportant. No, I think they are vital and necessary for the church today. Instead this hybrid book, somewhere between the academic and the popular, promised so much more than was delivered. What was delivered would probably make one good and thoughtful article. Our ...more
Jacob Aitken
We all know that worldviews (hereafter w-v) are inescapable. Worldviews rarely move beyond the intellectual dimension. Smith doesn’t want to do away with w-v talk, but to place it within a larger whole. We are not simply isolated intellects, but situated intellects--situated and embodied. We are always embodied individuals and we experience the world as being-in-the-world (per Heidegger).

And we are not Gnostics. Rather, “The Spirit marshals our embodiment in order to rehabituate us into the kin
Jul 26, 2015 Joshua rated it really liked it
A more philosophical treatment of the liturgical anthropology introduced in Desiring the Kingdom. A bit repetitive at points, but a solid follow-up to DTK and quite good on its own.

Overall I'm quite sympathetic to Smith's project, but have a couple criticisms:

-Smith is focused on habituation, formation, and the like, and ITK is not presented as an exhaustive treatise on anthropology and ethics. But I would like to see more discussion of how mortification plays into formation. Smith speaks much
Feb 01, 2015 Mathew rated it it was amazing
“When we worship on Sunday, it spills over into our cultural labor on Monday” (3).

Imaging the Kingdom is volume two of James K. A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies series. I previously reviewed volume one Desiring the Kingdom. At the core, Smith argues, “[W]e are, primarily and at root, affective animals whose worlds are made more by the imagination than by the intellect—that humans are those desiring creatures who live off stories, narratives, images, and the stuff of poises” (xii). Smith’s stated go
Adam Shields
May 09, 2013 Adam Shields rated it really liked it
It has been about six weeks since I have finished this book and I am still not sure how to write about it.

The general thrust of the book, that discipleship must be rooted in practice (liturgy) not just knowledge, I think is helpful and hard to counter. And I think it is important for Christians to really interact with the philosophical work at the beginning (even if it is a bit rough going at times.)

The second half is oriented not in the theory, but in the working out of the theory (although I
Apr 01, 2013 Jason rated it liked it
Shelves: az, 2013
I think I was at a bit of a disadvantage in reading ItK because I had not read its precursor DtK. But, my book club chose it so I read it anyway.

Smith presents some well thought out ideas about culture, liturgy, habitus, anthroplogy, philosophy, theology, worship, and more. Frankly, much more. It was like drinking from a fire hose in parts. I appreciated that Smith comes at worship from a completely different angle than I would ever think to take, but for a guy wired as I am it was hard to real
Oct 24, 2016 Alex rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-read
Great read. Very dense. I wish I had followed this message better years ago. It seems like the kind of person you become largely depends on the the habits you form in all details ranging from big to small. Basically, this books makes me wish I'd developed more disciplined habits younger. And it makes me want that for my kids.
Mary Cornelius
Jan 12, 2015 Mary Cornelius rated it it was amazing
If this is the best book I read all year, it's kind of sad to be done right at the beginning. Here's hoping volume three comes out in 2015.
Nov 20, 2016 Laura rated it it was ok
If you want to understand the essential heart of James K.A. Smith's fascinating thesis on the liturgies of modern life that are transforming us at the gut-level, watch him speak to the students of Biola University on Youtube. Just don't bother with this book.

It is far too academic for a lay reader. I should have known from the massive footnotes, or even just the massive quantity of quotations from French guys I've never heard of before. If you don't already buy into his thesis, perhaps this book
Michael Stanfield
Nov 21, 2016 Michael Stanfield rated it it was amazing
This book is for every Christian who ever wanted to worship better. For every worship leader who ever wanted to make worship work. And for every Christian educator who wanted to form the minds of their charges. In short, for every Christian serious about their faith. It's an academic, slightly difficult read, but well worth it in the end. Start with the first book though, Desiring the Kingdom.
Feb 25, 2014 Steve rated it really liked it
Imagining the kingdom is the second part of a proposed trilogy exploring "cultural liturgies". In the first volume, Desiring the Kingdom (Baker Academic, 2009), Smith posed an exciting and outrageous question: "What if education wasn't first and foremost what we know, but about what we love?" In this second volume he follows this up by suggesting that "our actions emerge from how we imagine the world: "What if we are actors before we are thinkers?" (p 32). Smith's thesis is that we are defined ...more
Bryan Kibbe
Jul 18, 2013 Bryan Kibbe rated it it was amazing
This is the second book in a series, it follows Smith's excellent book, Desiring the Kingdom. I highly recommend reading the books in order so as to get the full scope of Smith's argument and illustrations. In Imagining the Kingdom, Smith endeavors to show how we are not only fundamentally desiring creatures but that our desires are shaped by a still more basic imaginative comportment towards the world that is felt and carried in our bodies and which shapes our perception of the world and our ...more
Mar 16, 2014 Scott rated it it was amazing
The follow up to Desiring the Kingdom, and volume two in his "Cultural Liturgies" project, James K.A. Smith has written another excellent book on the importance and intersection of liturgical practice to Christian understanding and discipleship.

Chapter 1 explores Maurice Merleau-Ponty's "Phenomenology of Perception" for the sake of establishing the ground for knowledge that's not merely "intellectualist," but embraces other ways in which the body "knows." Chapter 2 takes Pierre Bourdieu to chur
Feb 27, 2014 Sagely rated it it was amazing
An excellent continuation of the discussion Jamie Smith started in Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation! Well worth the read!

I finished DtK hoping for more detailed attention to and development of the "How" of the way worship forms our desires, our visions of the kingdom. This second volume, ItK, provides just that.

Smith utilizes what Maurice Merleau-Ponty calls praktognosia to identify the kind of knowing, the kind of imagining, that constitutes our worlds on a most
Bob Price
Aug 20, 2013 Bob Price rated it really liked it
Imagining the Kingdom is the second part of a three part exercise describing James Smith's theory on 'cultural liturgies.' I will admit that I did not read the first volume, Desiring the Kingdom but will go back and read it.

The idea of cultural liturgies is an intriguing one. Essentially, we are all deeply liturgical. I can already see some furrowed brows on the heads of some fundamentalists. We have a liturgy for everything and we need to understand our basic liturgy so that we can change and b
Aug 19, 2013 Ryan rated it liked it
While I'm sympathetic to Smith's overall project, I felt like the argument of this second book of his trilogy was a bit overstated. While I think he's right that "there is nothing in the mind that isn't first in the senses", and that the metaphors which spring from sensuous experience and form narratives are foundational to human thought and action, I'm hesitant to buy into his phenomenology wholesale. While our phenomenological, "incarnate" knowing, habituated by worship, ought to inform our ...more
Noel Walker
Nov 12, 2015 Noel Walker rated it really liked it
Imagining the Kingdom is Smith's second volume in the Cultural Liturgies series. It follows on the tails of Desiring the Kingdom and further develops a couple of themes from it's predecessor.

Worship is not just something we do but it is a practice through which God does something to us. Worship is formative and it changes what we love; through it we become like what we worship. Worship shapes our imagination and works on our desires.

Through worship, God trains his people to take the right things
Jun 12, 2014 Aeisele rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
This is the second volume in James KA Smith's "Cultural Liturgies" project. The first was "Desiring the Kingdom," and the third will be "Embodying the Kingdom." This is sort of the link between the two.

Smith's argument is basically this (see 166):
1. “The end of worship is mission.” Thus the point of our Christian institutions, including churches and schools is to form actors who act according to the mission.
2. Our action is determined by our habits and dispositions. This is the point of his disc
Jul 13, 2013 Bob rated it really liked it
Imagining the Kingdom is the second of three books, the first of which, Desiring the Kingdom I reviewed earlier this year. In this volume, 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 en ...more
Jun 09, 2014 Lori rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who read and really enjoyed Desiring the Kingdom
I like James K. A. Smith's writing a lot, so I was predisposed to like ITK, which serves as a followup to his introductory volume, Desiring the Kingdom. You can find plenty of reviews which summarize both, so I won't take that tack here.

Overall, I found Imagining to be a harder read than Desiring, perhaps because it was harder for me to stay focused in the long philosophy section in the middle where Smith sets up his defense for the imagination as pre-cognitive. I don't have the philosophical, s
David Holford
Mar 29, 2014 David Holford rated it liked it
I really like James K. A. Smith's work generally. I find his arguments quite convincing. This is probably because I read Alexander Schmemann's For the Life of the World 25 years ago and I have been steeped in a sacramental worldview ever since.

So why the 3 stars? This book was much harder slogging than Desiring the Kingdom. Far too much of the book was spent laying groundwork through explicating the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Pierre Bourdieu and their theoretical models of habituation an
Dwight Davis
Jun 06, 2013 Dwight Davis rated it really liked it
First off, this is a great book. That being said, I wasn't as huge of a fan of Imagining the Kingdom as I was Desiring the Kingdom. While this volume is billed as a liturgical theology of culture while Desiring the Kingdom is billed as a philosophical theology of culture. I actually think this is reversed, as this volume was much more densely philosophical while volume one was much more liturgical. We really don't get to the liturgical aspect of this work until around page 100, while the ...more
Nov 28, 2014 William rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faith
This was a good inteiduction to the language of embodiment and generally of phenomenology -- a field I've formally known from afar. Our knowledge is deeply mediated by our body, the actual as well asthe metaphorical. We are not allowed an escape into the mental construct. Propositionalism is dead. Instead there is an aesthetic way of knowing, of Eros.

This leads in turn to the nature of liturgy, enacting, patterning, acting upon our religious imagination, our seeing.

While at first a bit daunting
May 25, 2016 Scott rated it liked it
Smith continues his cultural liturgies project by exploring how worship works. First, he develops a view of the body based upon Maurice Merleau-Ponty in order to emphasize that worship must work upon the body (a kinaesthetics) and by working upon the body it shapes the imagination (a poetics). In other words, aesthetics is essential for the character-formation that occurs in worship. But aesthetics directed toward action. Secular and sacred liturgies both work this way and so the book ends with ...more
Austin Gannett
Feb 19, 2014 Austin Gannett rated it really liked it
4/5 Stars:

I would commend Smith's 2nd volume just as much as the 1st. It is a fantastic follow-up to Desiring the Kingdom, and he goes into further depth about his thesis that we are liturgical, embodied animals. Though, this volume was a bit more difficult to wade through - I am not a philosopher. So,the heavy emphasis on Bordieu and Merleau-Ponty's ideas were helpful, but took a bit more time to read through and digest.

However, they were intriguing and helpful to the entire project. Plus, it'
Jonathan Hiskes
Jul 04, 2013 Jonathan Hiskes rated it liked it
Like Smith's previous book Desiring the Kingdom, this is curious beast -- an abstract philosophical argument about the importance of story and imagination. Smith owns up to this contradiction but struggles to manage it. He's at his best when exegeting artworks and secular practices such as Facebooking, and it's curious he doesn't do more of it. He has seriously important arguments to make about how we are formed by our habits more than by our beliefs and how every practice. How every practice, f ...more
Catherine Gillespie
Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works is a fascinating exploration of how our character and actions are formed by the stories, manners, and surroundings we unconsciously absorb, and the impact this has on how we worship, educate, and live in families and communities. Smith, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College, ties the topic together with the concept of liturgy. We are formed, Smith describes, by the cultural liturgies–both secular and religious–that we habitually follow, even when we ...more
Jeff Price
Sep 08, 2013 Jeff Price rated it liked it
As with the first installment, this book is a mixture of convincing well articulated whole life gospel living coupled with an attempt to philosophically explain how imagination, thinking and desire works. When attempting to explain how our hearts and minds work, this book falls short. But if you are looking to be inspired to pursue daily worship and experience the beauty of this habit forming liturgy - you won't be disappointed.

In fact, the question left hanging on my heart after reading this,
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“So it is precisely our allergy to repetition in worship that has undercut the counterformative power of Christian worship—because all kinds of secular liturgies shamelessly affirm the good of repetition.” 5 likes
“analysis of the story will sometimes undercut our antepredicative grasp of it).” 1 likes
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