Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works

“What we do is driven by who we are, by the kind of person we have become. And that shaping of our character is, to a great extent, the effect of stories that have captivated us, that have sunk into our bones—stories that picture what we think life is about, what constitutes “the good life.” We live into the stories we’ve absorbed; we become characters in the drama that has captivated us. Thus, much of our action is acting out a kind of script that has unconsciously captured our imaginations.”

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 don’t recognize them as such.  This has serious and compelling implications for how we structure our thinking on all sorts of fronts, from how we educate to how we worship, from how we write to how we structure our days.

The book effectively bridges the ground between scholarship and practical application, and I think Smith did an excellent job making his ideas accessible.  I won’t lie to you, it’s a deep book and requires careful reading.  However, it’s well written and balanced between examples from philosophy and from popular culture.  I got so much out of this book and found the ideas so compelling that I’m certain it will be in my top ten for this year.

It turns out that I’ve read the series a bit backwards, because Smith began his argument in a previous book,Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, which I plan to read as soon as possible.  Smith references his earlier points in the second book, but I thought I’d mention the first one in case you’re a stickler for reading things in order.

If you read, write, watch television, or attend church, and/or if you are a parent, are involved in education, or have an interest in philosophy or cultural anthropology, I can’t recommend Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works highly enough.


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