John's Reviews > Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation

Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith
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Apr 27, 12

Read from April 19 to 27, 2012

Smith's book is worth reading because it mounts a strong challenge against one of the fundamental ideas informing our approach to (Christian) education: that human beings are essentially containers for ideas, making education primarily about information rather than formation. Smith argues, instead, that human beings are primarily affective creatures, "feeling" our way through the world rather than thinking our way through it. By feeling, Smith does not mean the reductionistic idea that we are being batted here and there by our emotions, but rather that we make choices and operate as embodied creatures living in the world--a full-orbed, sensory experience.

For Smith, this conception of humanity has important implications for education. Drawing on the liturgical practices of Christians through history (i.e. how we worship), Smith illustrates the ways in which we learn and even proclaim through largely non-cognitive means in worship. From simply gathering together, to taking the Eucharist, to singing together, Smith shows that these weekly (and sometimes more often) actions on the part of Christians make an enormous impact, whether processed cognitively or not. This is not to say Smith is down on the use of our minds: he understands that by thinking about these matters we will deepen the richness of the experience. But the experiences we have in worship still have value as experiences. In the end, Smith applies these insights about worship onto the practice of Christian education, drawing some preliminary conclusions about what he hopes would be a more ecclesial approach to teaching.

Smith is a great writer, presenting his points clearly and with regular reference to outside literary works that deepen and expand his presentation beyond the cognitive realm. The chapter on worship practices is really the heart of the book and especially good. He is planning another two volumes in this series that promise to expand some of the points he has made in this book. One of them will cover in more detail and with more nuance his approach to anthropology, which I think will be especially helpful.
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