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Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works

(Cultural Liturgies #2)

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  670 ratings  ·  104 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, 198 pages
Published February 15th 2013 by Baker Academic (first published February 1st 2013)
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Jan 29, 2013 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
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christian, philosophy
Worthwhile exploration into the structures and methods by which our hearts come to love and our minds come to know. Ironically, or perhaps not, it is through our hands, Smith presents, our bodies and physical presence that knowledge enters the soul. Precisely in this truth do we find his suggestion that worship is formed through the habits, the liturgies, which infect the mind through the body by grabbing us through story and imagination. Ultimately, Smith hits us hard again with a world-reshapi ...more
Amanda McClendon
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I mostly enjoyed this because Smith taps into a lifelong interest of mine--namely, how we as humans live inside of stories, and how we use ritual and liturgy and habit to tell those stories and get them into our lives. Dr. Smith pointed me in the direction of some philosophers and stories that I need to check out in pursuit of that interest. It's quite dense and I think people who aren't used to heavily academic language would be better served by checking out his other book You Are What You Love ...more
David Goetz
Apr 01, 2015 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 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 forma ...more
Ian Caveny
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: masterworks, theology
It is hard to sum up all that I'm thinking after reading Imagining the Kingdom. To tell the truth, Desiring the Kingdom was a light taste on my palate of something I longed to read - a story that I knew needed to be told, and, yet, I couldn't find it anywhere - and yet it did not fully satisfy. But, wow, did Imagining the Kingdom come through on its promise! James K.A. Smith wisely suggests that the philosophy readers focus on the footnotes (that made me happy).

Far more importantly than making p
Logan Vlandis
Sep 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bros-books-brews
I *erotically comprehended* this book to a moderate degree.
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
May 30, 2015 added 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
Jul 16, 2014 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.
Ned Bustard
Jan 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Read this. It changed my thinking and impacted my imagination. My only complaint was some unusual typographic choices. I understand why the publisher designed the book this way but I found it worked against the flow of the book.
Dustin Turner
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Another excellent addition to James K. A. Smith's Cultural Liturgies. It's a bit dense in the beginning, covering some philosophical ground, but the book does an excellent job of unpacking exactly what the subtitle says: How worship works. The focus is on whole-body engagement as well as imagination and the form of worship. All leading to how God shapes us in worship.
Stephen Case
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
[I]f the gospel is going to capture imaginations and sanctify perception we need painters and novelists and dancers and songwriters and sculptors and poets and designers whose creative work shows the world otherwise, enabling us to imagine differently—and hence perceive differently and so act differently. (163)

Growing up I was often confused and conflicted about worship, and I was very nearly an early casualty of the “church music wars.” Choruses came into my life in a big way when I was young,
Aaron Wine
Feb 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 01, 2015 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
Feb 03, 2013 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
Mar 04, 2013 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
Alex Stroshine
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology
"Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works", builds off of the inaugural book in James K.A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies trilogy. Two of the main themes of "Imagining the Kingdom" are our imaginations and our habits. According to Smith, much of Christianity, particularly some streams of evangelicalism, have prioritized an intellectualist approach to faith – the best faith is one that upholds correct, orthodox doctrine. Yet Smith contends that all human beings – Christian and non-Christian alike – a ...more
Justin Woodall
Jan 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
I probably would have given this book more stars if I were smarter. It was more academic than the first volume of the series, and in several places, as a pastor i felt well above my depth. I think I am fully on board with what James is saying, but I may need some one to translate it down for me. Perhaps the third book will capture some more of the popular audience.
Albert Hong
Oct 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
Wow, this was a labor to get through. Really provocative and inspiring premise, that we are formed more by environment and actions than our intellect (or at least as much as our intellect). I kept waiting for the application and was ultimately disappointed.

The large bulk of the book was completely inscrutable to me.

Read the 1st and last chapter and skip all the rest.
Adam Tomlinson
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology, church
Smith's premise is that a purely intellectualist approach to discipleship (formation) will not (and has not) be enough to combat the world around us, primarily because we do not relate to the world around us through a primarily intellectual approach. Rather, our "thinking" often comes 2nd if not 3rd to other forms of being in the world.

However, the approach of most churches and Christian institutes of education is focused primarily if not solely on the mind. We believe that if we can simply ins
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I didn't pick up this book expecting it to be a really fascinating treatise on storytelling and why it's important. But that ended up being what this book is about. It's about the way that stories shape us and the importance of telling true stories and how we all view ourselves as part of a narrative. And so while I came to this book more for its theology, I ended up gleaning a lot from it that I want to apply to myself as a fiction writer.

The book is difficult to get through at points. There's
Dec 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
I like Smith’s argument, but I don’t like his writing. I think that in an attempt to make his ideas more “accessible” he wound up repeating himself over and over again, hoping that the ideas would stick.

Chapters 1 and 2 are functionally TLDR’s for two French philosophers: Merleau-Ponty and Bordieu. Smith explains how the ideas of both philosophers undergird his arguments for habitual liturgy.

Chapter 3 posits the narrative nature of people.

Chapter 4 explains how worship practices need to be rest
Aaron Morris
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aaron-s-books
Loved the first (Desiring the Kingdom), but the second (Imagining) far surpasses

Excellent invitation (& examination) into reflective practice. Smith lays new track well, working to recover formative habituation and practice, while answering critiques and misappropriations of his previous work, Desiring the Kingdom. This work clarified misunderstandings without taking an argumentative tone or monopolizing the current project. Smith’s use of narrative sources and call to recover an aesthetic theol
Ben Smitthimedhin
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I imagine this could've been shorter; he repeats himself in many parts, but the book contains essential information in understanding how worship forms and sanctifies the believer nonetheless. If you've read Smith's You Are What You Love, I would not recommend reading this since it's mostly a more philosophical rehash (he actually pulls and summarizes Bordieu's and Merleau-Ponty's work, which are grounded in philosophical anthropology) of YAWYL. Still, I found his pop-culture examples useful in d ...more
Thomas Christianson
Feb 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Early in this book, Smith explains that he was surprised by the reception of Desiring the Kingdom - that it wasn’t quite as approachable for anyone as he had intended. He then indicates a desire to remain in the middle way between an academic treatise and a book for casual readers. He does not fulfill this intention in the first half of the book, instead veering strongly toward a much more academic approach. During this section, I wanted to shout out loud to the book, “I don’t care about Marleau ...more
Nathan Sexten
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
The first two chapters of this volume are fairly challenging despite still being written at a "popular level," meaning that he explains the philosophical concepts utilized in his argument instead of assuming knowledge of the terms - but the concepts are still dense. But, I will emphasize that they are absolutely worth striving to understand, because the implications of phenomenology and imagination on worship are incredible - we can't simply be convinced by the Gospel, he argues; we must be capt ...more
Tyler Hurst
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I found this much more accessible than Desiring the Kingdom and I appreciate how the argument is progressing. The last few pages left me with questions about the mission of the church and how Smith's stuff might play clash with some things like DeYoung and Gilbert's What is the Mission of the Church? book, which I have found very helpful. That being said, I have found both books to be pretty helpful in thinking about formation and education. As a Christian educator and pastor I am trying to thin ...more
John Kreis
Sep 10, 2020 rated it liked it
I thoroughly agree with the central points- that our imagination is cultivated primarily through kinesthetic and aesthetic means, that we understand story at a sub-rational level, that our knowledge of abstract concepts is necessarily rooted in our bodily awareness of space/physicality, and that our imagination gives us a specific comportment to the world or a lens through which we construe reality. All of this is fascinating but I found the first part of the book, in which Smith is providing a ...more
Clayton Keenon
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm a huge fan of Smith's overall project, but this book is going to be a hard one to recommend. The point Smith is making is fantastic, but the first two thirds of the book is a slog. It gets pretty technical and even a bit repetitive for a book that wants to live in the space between "popular" and "academic" (p. xi). The conclusions in the final two chapters are worth it, but if you can get someone to summarize Part 1, you won't be missing much.
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Other books in the series

Cultural Liturgies (3 books)
  • Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation
  • Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology

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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.” 6 likes
“analysis of the story will sometimes undercut our antepredicative grasp of it).” 1 likes
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