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Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation

(Cultural Liturgies #1)

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  2,771 ratings  ·  307 reviews
Malls, stadiums, and universities are actually liturgical structures that influence and shape our thoughts and affections. Humans–as Augustine noted–are "desiring agents," full of longings and passions; in brief, we are what we love.

James K. A. Smith focuses on the themes of liturgy and desire in "Desiring the Kingdom," the first book in what will be a three-volume set on
Paperback, 238 pages
Published August 1st 2009 by Baker Academic
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May 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Once in a while a book comes along that crystallizes the things you have been thinking and takes you further down the road. This was such a book. Smith contends that we are primarily "desiring animals" who think rather than "thinking things" who happen to have desires. He thinks much of Christian education has followed the latter conception and crucially fails to shape Christians who live and think Christianly. This is because their approaches failure to consider the importance of desire and the ...more
Douglas Wilson
Mar 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: theology
I rated this book at 3 stars because parts of it were a 5 and other parts a 1. He says many outstanding things, which he then negates by the context he puts them in. Unlike Paul's approach, this book is an exercise in shadow boxing -- many great moves, but nothing connects. ...more
Justin Lonas
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Quite good.

I'd been meaning to read it for years, and finally opted for an audiobook to fit it into a full slate of seminary readings.

I've interacted with Smith's work in shorter books and articles for years, and his core critique (that reducing Christianity to a set of propositional truths or a worldview fails to fully embody the messages of faith—that humans are lovers before we are thinkers and need liturgies to cement our understanding of the world in order to live in it rightly) is well lai
Jacob Aitken
Thesis: “We love in order to know” (Smith 18n). Christian education is formative as well as in-formative. It is a formation of desires. This is Augustine 101. Smith notes that the phenomenology of visiting a mall echoes that of visiting a cathedral (20ff). This shows the limit of “worldview” talk. W-V ignores the formative impact of cultural sites.

Perhaps we should clarify a term. Some of Smith's critics at the Gospel-Industrial Complex said Smith makes a false-dichotomy between head and heart.
Jun 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
The best types of books are the ones that, while you're still reading them, you're thinking, discussing, and talking about the content that they're positing. Desiring the Kingdom is that type of book. Since starting earlier this week, I found myself constantly thinking through many of the things that Smith posits and argues for.

In sum, Smith argues that contra models of philosophical anthropology that argue for humans as "thinking beings" or "believing beings," that we humans are more appropria
Peter Jones
Mar 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is one of the hardest books to give a rating to. The reason is simple: his main thesis is dead on and needs to be digested by numerous Christians and pastors. But some of his details and unanswered questions leave one queasy. I do not often write long reviews, but the book made me think. So here is my lengthy review.

Here are the points in the book I liked.

1. His main thesis, in my words, is that ritual or liturgies shape our desires and our desires cause us to do what we do. Therefore ri
Mar 07, 2021 rated it liked it
Smith's main idea here is that we are a liturgical people first (the physical things we do with our bodies and say with our mouths). Our liturgies (secular or spiritual) will form our desires. In order to re-orient our desires, we should first purposefully re-orient our liturgies, or daily practices (instead of approaching something purely from an intellectual angle).

Okay, fine. An interesting idea. I'd argue that you should approach something from both a liturgical and intellectual angle at the
Nathan White
Aug 22, 2019 rated it liked it
This is my second time through this book. I first read it in seminary (Westminster Seminary California) a number of years ago as it was assigned by Dr. Michael Horton in his class, 'Modern Mind'. I was struck by a few things the first time I read it, so I wanted to go back and give it a much more thorough reading (assigned reading in seminary does not leave much time for reflection).

Is it possible to love certain aspects of this book, such as his central thesis that humans are essentially 'love
Eric M
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
I tried to give this book a chance. Page after page I thought that James Smith would transition to a deeper and more applicable explanation of desiring the kingdom. 70% of the book was spent explaining the philosophical background of humans as lovers, and therefore we desire what we love. What we love shapes us as human beings. I struggled to read page by page because in my head all I could think was "get to the point." I applaud Smith for his extensive work and explanation and I know that other ...more
Mary Beth
Feb 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: worldview
Excellent prose highlights Smith's well-formed theses. There were, however, quite a few aspects of his methods and conclusions with which I would contend, one being: though we are primarily "loving" beings we are not utterly/entirely so. Cognitive aspects are still significant and impactful in liturgies. In his effort to highlight a holistic, whole-man approach, Smith places an over-emphasis on certain aspects and neglects others.

Chapter 5, concerning ecclesiological liturgies is exceptionally o
Mar 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Superb. Can't recommend highly enough. ...more
Logan Vlandis
Smith has changed how I understand humanity and our actions. In this first volume of the trilogy, he presents an understanding of humans as fundamentally desiring creature, ones who yearn for a particular “good life.” He builds on that, discussing how we are unknowingly hoodwinked into longing for lives that are antithetical to the coming Christian kingdom. He offers ancient suggestions on how to reorient our desires to want the things of God and this appear a peculiar people in a secular age.

This is a book that has potential to really soar (and often does), but falls flat on its face in numerous places. See here ("My central complaint against Christians who want to accomodate postmodernist insights is that, however astute their critiques, they wind up doing nothing of the kind, and the whole project is just modernity trying to lose a few pounds."), and then check out Father Hunger (pp. 127-31 and 230n13), which addresses Smith's whiffs on women pastors and cultural transformation. ...more
Nov 23, 2015 rated it it was ok
A difficult book to read, and, if it were not required reading for the Academy, I doubt that I would have finished it. Smith makes his point and then continues to repeat it. He makes simple things complicated by using religious terms that are not familiar to the layperson. I found that I had to refer to my unabridged dictionary often, and, while I enjoy learning new words, the ones I learned are so religiously technical, I doubt I'll use them. Not recommended. ...more
Jun 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom lays siege to the church’s current approach to worldview training. He says our current fascination with worldview is dominated by a philosophical emphasis that tends to overlook the body and the imagination. Man is treated like “a brain in a vat” rather than as the embodied lover God made him. This leads to an impoverishment of the church and the Christian life and surrender to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Smith seeks to redirect his readers into ...more
Alex Etheridge
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
You are formed more by you habits than your thoughts; you are driven more by your heart than your head, at least, that is James K.A. Smith's theory.

In much less accessibility than his more recent "You Are What You Love", JKAS writes of cultural formation and the actions that form our worldviews, of which, he says is often mistakenly reversed. I appreciate his voice and have been formed in refreshing ways by his teachings, something he admits is still unavoidable and needed. If you are wanting t
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I've also read Smith's other version, You Are What You Love, and found this to be better. His focus on the desires forming and shaping us is important. While most of the book (nearly all of it) focuses on how to reform these desires through the worship gathering, I was happy to hear him suggest some way we could do that in the everyday. Would have loved to hear more of that. Great book and worth your time! ...more
Nathan Suire
Jul 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book seems like one big apologetic for Anglicanism as Jamie Smith has stated before. As a former evangelical Protestant and Catholic convert, I found little in this book that I disagree with. Most informed Catholics already know, believe, practice what Smith finds novel for evangelicals in the broadly reformed tradition. I am glad Smith is introducing evangelical Protestants to the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Catholic tradition that has preceded them and made them possible.
Will Barbour
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Paradigm shifting for how I view the human person in the act of worship
Wagner Floriani
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent through and through.
Every chapter deserves an in depth review in its own right,
I found ch. 5 in particular to be exhilarating as an ecclesiology tour the force.
Jeremy Fritz
Oct 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a really good book. Smith is primarily speaking to those in Christian education and is challenging the focus on information over formation. He bases his argument in a philosophical anthropology that sees humanity as primarily desiring or loving animals. The formational implications of that anthropology are that our desires are shaped by practices or liturgy. Because of this he finds the focus of Christian formation in worship. I thought that there was a lot that would be helpful for any ...more
May 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Excellent book. Honestly it made me very glad for my education at Baptist Bible college.
Ian Caveny
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes - at least, if you're the academic type - you stumble upon a book that makes you feel extraordinarily anxious, not because it's pressing your buttons or because it's making you uncomfortable, but because it brings together all the streams of your thought and communicates far more eloquently a thesis you'd like to advance. Desiring the Kingdom is that book for me.

Emerging from my MA course at the University of Chicago, with my hermeneutical belt full of all the best tools the humanities
Kwan Qi Xiang
Apr 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Good book for someone who is going to go into education. Challenges our mode of education by re-examining how people learn and form. As long suspected, people do not learn best through books. They learn when their desires are transformed, such that their reformed desires drive their curiosity and efforts in particular areas of practice and scholarship. How do we shape those desires? Smith suggests that it is done through "liturgies", and by "liturgies", he means any practice that is aimed at sha ...more
Nathan Sexten
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
Obviously, I couldn't recommend this book more. It is a great hybrid as Smith says between popular level and academic level work, so in that way sufficiently challenging but not overwhelming. Smith is shaping so much of what I believe and think about the Christian life and how the Gospel interacts with culture. Spoiler: it often doesn't look like the contemporary church and the "Christianized" version of the world's cultural goods. He also breaks down the idea of worldviews and goes deeper to th ...more
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is an important read for those in church or full-time pastoral/church ministry leadership or Christian education (and also those who seek to better understand how to shape discipleship in ways you make not generally consider).

The profound concept of this book - that we are at our core, primarily desiring beings and not just thinking beings - is so freshly expressed and explored as it relates to Christian discipleship and formation. Smith shows how the icons, and everyday items of our c
Feb 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: educators, pastors, worship ministers, parents, theologians
Recommended to Lori by: Aaron Fortune
One of my former students who is now a philosophy major at Covenant College suggested that I read this book -- no, he *urged* me to read it. And I'm so thankful.

Dr Smith serves on the philosophy faculty at Calvin College and has published several papers and books on the topic of postmodernism and the modern church. This book draws heavily on that background but launches into a totally different direction: the connection between worship and education.

In brief: Smith argues that more than "knowers
Alex Stroshine
Jan 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology
James K.A. Smith's "Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation" will prove to be one of the most important and enduring works of Christian thought in the early 21st century. Superior reviews will be found elsewhere by people more qualified than I, but here are some of my thoughts.

I think Smith is right to emphasize practices and rituals and how they play a role in our formation. Coming from an evangelical background, there are few practices embedded in Sunday morning servic
Jan 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Whether when I was in seminary or now in campus ministry, there is a lot of talk among Christians in such circles about worldview. The way it goes is that the university, for example, has a view of the world which is being taught to students in the classroom. Our responsibility as Christians is to teach Christian students a Christian worldview. Usually the emphasis is on the intellect and on belief. Your university professor will teach you to believe one thing but you need to critique that belie ...more
Kirk Miller
Mar 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Smith argues that man is primarily a lover or desirer, in contrast to being primarily a thinker or believer. From this anthropology, he argues that our loves-desires are formed by habits, rituals, or what we might call liturgies if we want to show the high stakes involved in this practices and institutions. Our culture has its liturgies that strive to shape our desires. The church through its worship-liturgy offers a counter-formative liturgy. Similarly, the Christian school, which is to
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  In most romances, a romp in the hay comes after many chapters of meeting cute, silent pining, and steamy banter. Not so for books that...
18 likes · 2 comments
“Discipleship and spiritual formation are less about erecting an edifice of knowledge than they are a matter of developing a Christian know-how that intuitively understands the world in light of the Gospel.” 14 likes
“[E]ducation is a holistic endeavor that involves the whole person, including our bodies, in a process of formation that aims our desires, primes our imagination, and orients us to the world -- all before we ever start thinking about it.” 11 likes
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