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Desiring the Kingdom

Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation

series: Cultural Liturgies

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Christianity Today 2010 Book Award Winner
Word Guild 2010 Canadian Christian Writing Award

"Fresh and provocative. . . . This is an excellent book, one that holds the possibility of sparking a re-formation of Christian--or shall we say 'ecclesial'--education among all those who desire the Kingdom."--Steven M. Nolt, Christian Scholar's Review
Philosopher James K. A. Smith reshapes the very project of Christian education in Desiring the Kingdom. This text is the first of three volumes that will ultimately provide a comprehensive theology of culture. The entire set will address crucial concerns in ontology, anthropology, epistemology, and political philosophy. Desiring the Kingdom focuses education around the themes of liturgy, formation, and desire. The author contends--as did Augustine--that human beings are "desiring agents"; in other words, we are what we love. Postmodern culture, far from being "secular," is saturated with liturgy, but in places such as malls, stadiums, and universities. While these structures influence us, they do not point us to the best of ends. Smith aims to move beyond a focus on "worldview" to see Christian education as a counter-formation to these secular liturgies. His ultimate purpose is to re-vision Christian education as a formative process that redirects our desire toward God's kingdom and its vision of flourishing. In the same way, Smith re-visions Christian worship as a pedagogical practice that trains our love. Desiring the Kingdom will reach a wide audience; professors and students in courses on theology, culture, philosophy, and worldview will welcome this contribution. Pastors, ministers, worship leaders, and other church leaders will appreciate this book as well.


"This is a wise, provocative, and inspiring book. It prophetically blurs the boundaries between theory and practice, between theology and other disciplines, between descriptive analysis and constructive imagination. Anyone involved in Christian education should read this book to glimpse a holistic vision of learning and formation. Anyone involved in the worship life of Christian communities should read this book to discover again all that is at stake in the choices we make about our practices."--John D. Witvliet, director, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; professor, Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary

"Jamie Smith shows in clear, simple, and passionate prose what worship has to do with formation and what both have to do with education. He argues that the God-directed, embodied love that worship gives us is central to all three areas and that those concerned as Christians with teaching and learning need to pay attention, first and last, to the ordering of love. This is an important book and one whose audience should be much broader than the merely scholarly."--Paul J. Griffiths, Warren Chair of Catholic Theology, Duke Divinity School

"In lucid and lively prose, Jamie Smith reaches back past Calvin to Augustine, crafting a new and insightful Reformed vision for higher education that focuses on the fundamental desires of the human heart rather than on worldviews. Smith deftly describes the 'liturgies' of contemporary life that are played out in churches--but also in shopping malls, sports arenas, and the ad industry--and then re-imagines the Christian university as a place where students learn to properly love the world and not just think about it."--Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen, Messiah College; authors of Scholarship and Christian Faith

The Author

  1. James K. A. Smith
    Seth Thompson, © 2017 Green Frog Photo

    James K. A. Smith

    James K. A. Smith (PhD, Villanova University) is a popular speaker and the award-winning author of a number of influential books, including Desiring the Kingdom, How (Not) to Be Secular, You Are What You Love, On the Road with...

    Continue reading about James K. A. Smith


Christianity Today 2010 Book Award Winner
Word Guild 2010 Canadian Christian Writing Award

"The prolific Smith is a polymath who has emerged over the past decade as a force in the world of religious studies, with a reach extending well beyond. . . . From the very fountainhead of the Dutch Calvinist stream, Smith intends to disrupt what has become business as usual and push the evangelical academy hard on its fundamental sense of identity. . . . Driving the book . . . is Smith's careful, charged case for intersecting practices, liturgies, and worship in the lives of all humans, whether they realize it or not. . . . To read Smith is to get a primer on contemporary theology and philosophy, though he's not a popularizer so much as an able, agile public scholar who collects and redirects. He sees his work as 'an attempt to articulate the Reformed tradition as an Augustinian renewal movement within the church catholic,' an admirable and altogether necessary way of conceiving of ecclesial differences in our atomizing age. . . . It adds up to a compelling case. Worldview-espousing administrators and faculty--and all who find themselves captive to the wrong loves--owe it to their progeny, not to say their Lord, to give Smith's sharp critique and holy vision a careful look."--Eric Miller, Christianity Today

"One of the truly significant books of the year. . . . In this deeply philosophical study, [Smith] invites us to ask how to relate worship, life, and a radically Christian way of life. . . . Can universities help us become Godly dreamers? A huge, huge question, and this is a book worth working on for a long school year. Highly recommended."--Byron Borger,

"A lively study of how contemporary rituals, practices, and habits form character in ways that are not consistent with the things of God. . . . This is amazingly good, extraordinary stuff, a major contribution to cultural studies ([Smith's] interaction with Charles Taylor is very helpful), clarifying what we mean by worldviews, and how a Christian way of life can be sustained by our worshiping communities. A must-read for serious thinkers in our day."--Byron Borger,

"[An] extraordinary book about rituals, secularization, worship, and worldview formation. . . . I can hardly think of a more fruitful scholarly book to read and carefully ponder, raising great questions, and offering profound insights about the point of . . . church, God, and mission. . . . One of the most important books of the year!"--Byron Borger,

"A major new contribution, breaking ground that perhaps has yet to be explored, offering genuine insight in a new manner, insight that is vital and important. . . . Who knew a scholarly work of serious theology, philosophy, and cultural criticism could be so interesting and well-polished? Who knew you could expound on Dooyeweerd, Derrida, U2, or the Coen brothers all in one book on spiritual formation, worship, and adult education? . . . This is truly a major, major contribution. Anyone interested in worship, shaping lives for the reign of God, Christian education, or what we sometimes call 'worldview studies' would be wise to spend time pondering (and hopefully discussing) this vital work. . . . One of the most important books of the year."--Byron Borger,

"Chock full of pop-culture connections, Smith sees Christian worship and American culture as contesting 'liturgies' of formation. . . . The book is essential for all who plan worship, lead confirmation, teach Christians, or preach to Americans."--Brent Laytham, Christian Century

"[Smith] argues compellingly that we need to return to what Scripture and Church Fathers such as Augustine say is central--how we order our loves should be the most important focus of life and of Christian education. . . . Smith provides wonderfully textured descriptions of the liturgical nature of shopping malls, nationalism at sporting events, public schools, movies, and life at universities. . . . You can feel, taste, touch, see, and hear Smith's descriptions. . . . A compelling counter to overly cognitive approaches to Christian formation that neglect the central role that desires or the ordering of loves play in human life."--Perry L. Glanzer, Christian Scholar's Review

"Smith draws attention to the idea that all institutions of higher learning are purposefully invested in formation projects. . . . Smith presses Christian educators to redouble their efforts to avoid educational liturgies that contradict the project of Christian formation, and conversely, to pursue educational liturgies that resonate with the project of Christian formation. . . . I also appreciate Smith's analysis of the ways in which the Reformed tradition is open to distortion. . . . Smith pinpoints valid and ripe-for-discussion critique, particularly among those of Christian faith with a Reformed accent. . . . A book well worth swallowing and embracing in the interest of providing a valuable resource towards deepening our love for the One who reigns even now."--David S. Guthrie, Christian Scholar's Review

"[A] fresh and provocative book. . . . [Smith] develops a complex but understandable anthropology that takes into account our embodiment and our desire (affective, precognitive love) for something beyond ourselves. . . . This is an excellent book, one that holds the possibility of sparking a re-formation of Christian--or shall we say 'ecclesial'--education among all those who desire the Kingdom."--Steven M. Nolt, Christian Scholar's Review

"Smith's philosophical anthropology draws from the best of the Western philosophical tradition and its contemporary repetitions. . . . Smith's movement to precognitive, embodied formation engages the best thought throughout the contemporary academy. . . . Smith renders the practice of the Christian university intelligible to allow us to keep at the task even in a time when the idolatrous liturgies designed to support the state and the market are clearly insufficient to support the practice that is the contemporary university. For the gift of this book, we can give God thanks."--John W. Wright, Christian Scholar's Review

"[Smith] presents an important challenge to the dominant paradigm in Christian education. While I do not agree with all of Smith's conclusions, Desiring the Kingdom is one of the most challenging and enriching books I read in 2009, and its proposals deserve serious and substantial consideration. . . . It is carefully argued, and well researched. . . . Desiring the Kingdom really must be read to be properly appreciated. . . . I am still attempting to work through Smith's proposals, which is perhaps the highest praise I can give it. It is a challenging work that is very well-argued, and that I continue to return to it in my thoughts is a credit to the forcefulness and persuasiveness of Smith's ideas. Desiring the Kingdom is an important book, and I have no doubt evangelicals will continue to wrestle with it for many years to come."--Matthew Lee Anderson, First Things Evangel blog

"Here is a challenging look at how 'liturgies,' sacred or secular, form our desires and shape us into a people with specific loves. Smith makes a compelling case for considering the role of desire in our spiritual formation efforts."--Christianity Today Book Awards

"The mall, stadium, and academy are three examples that James K. A. Smith uses to explicate the cultural liturgies that engage humans as embodied lovers, often to idolatrous ends. With insight and clarity, Smith shows how Christians often fail to resist this idolatry because they misdiagnose what is at stake, accepting the perverse as if it were benign and relying on an over-cognitive confidence. He challenges especially those of us committed to 'worldview education' to understand that this is not simply a process of sharing information, but ought to be more properly understood as an ongoing process of character formation--something that impacts our bodies, minds, and spirits."--Ray Pennings, Comment

"Smith offers the book as a Christian 'theology of culture' that portrays human persons as 'embodied actors,' gives priority to practices rather than ideas, uses worship for a perspective on culture, and avoids being simply anticultural but retains a sense of contrast with mainstream culture. . . . It includes a number of sidebars and figures for students. . . . Recommended. Lower- and upper-level undergraduates; general readers."--P. K. Moser, Choice

"[An] important, thought provoking study. . . . Information must lead to formation and transformation and discipleship. It is this primary message that makes this book such essential reading for all those concerned with Christian education--not only in our schools and colleges, but also at home and in church."--F. G. Oosterhoff, Reformed Academic

"Those in the field of Spiritual Formation will find Smith's angle on theological anthropology, cultural theology, and worship a welcomed and fecund source. Smith's book is highly readable, offering helpful sidebars featuring illustrations from contemporary film and literature as well as a number of figures, making the text accessible to students and teachers alike. Many of Smith's themes . . . are not new to the field of Spiritual Formation. Yet Smith offers a convincing and fresh articulation of these within his uniquely Reformed anthropology, cultural theology, and view of liturgy. . . . If Smith is able to cause a reexamination of Christian education's ability to address the entire person, his work will accomplish what it sets out to do. . . . [It] will stand as a significant revision of the role desire plays in education, worldview, and culture."--Robert S. Covolo, Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care

"Smith has done a great service to those of us teaching at Christian universities with this book. . . . He has successfully compensated for what is sorely lacking in many worldview books, where the emphasis is lopsidedly placed on the intellect at the expense of the heart--on reason over the deep piety that has fashioned the Christian imagination over the course of centuries. . . . Desiring the Kingdom is billed as volume 1 in a larger series under the general title, Cultural Liturgies. Two more volumes are forthcoming. . . . Based on a reading of volume 1, there is every reason to expect that volumes 2 and 3 will be as good, and perhaps even better. Smith's fans have much to look forward to."--David T. Koyzis, First Things Evangel blog

"This book is a broadly interdisciplinary work that is perhaps best situated within (but not limited to) the contemporary discussion on theological education, giving special attention to the formative, though often neglected, practices of everyday life. . . . Smith helpfully brings our attention to the close relationship between anthropology and pedagogy. Moreover, his homo liturgicus illumines our concrete practices, bodily experienced in our everyday rhythms and routines, which form our desires and constitute our vision of the 'good life.' Smith is at his best--and this book most highly recommended--when 'exegeting' the everyday being-in-the-world that forms us into certain kinds of people. . . . It is important to . . . affirm why this book deserves a careful, thoughtful reading: Smith helpfully reasserts the importance--indeed, inevitability--of everyday, visceral, embodied practices ('liturgies') in shaping our affections, constituting our vision of the kingdom, and forming us into certain kinds of people."--Geoffrey H. Fulkerson, Trinity Journal

"Desiring the Kingdom might turn out to be [Smith's] most influential work yet--at least if we are concerned with his ideas trickling down to Christian communities. . . . [It] has the potential to make a significant positive contribution in reshaping the way Christians are being formed through education and worship. Smith's Augustinian, non-reductive materialist anthropology is a helpful place to begin in contemplating Christian formation. It is also an enjoyable read. Smith nicely adds 'sidebars' to illustrate his points, usually short ventures which utilize contemporary literature or film to add power to his prose. Altogether I highly recommend this book, especially to those in Christian education and church leadership who have been granted the authority to construct rituals and liturgies which are formative of Christian communities."--L. William Oliverio Jr., Pneuma

"Smith's insight on the formative aspects of the shopping mall, sports arena, and university are compelling and insightful. . . . [This volume] could be used as a supplemental text in a class on Christian culture or as a book in a discipleship class. While this work is useful for research since it has many footnotes which connect the reader to various scholarly works which support the discussion, it does not overwhelm the readability of the work. . . . This work has several excurses containing either an illustrative narrative or a challenge to the reader's thought, which serve to enhance the current volume for use as a textbook."--James E. Sedlacek, Stone-Campbell Journal

"Smith offers a coherent and thoughtful picture of the human being as a lover that will challenge other theological and philosophical anthropologies to offer more robust pictures. Yet Smith does not simply write with an eye to the academy. This is theology done in light of the contemporary culture. Desiring the Kingdom's style . . . is ideal because it aims to communicate to students. Throughout the text, Smith inserts short engagements with popular culture . . . which keep the text grounded. . . . Both new students and tenured faculty alike will be refreshed and encouraged to seek all that education must entail, and pastors and worship leaders will be energized to create full-bodied worship services that help the participants practice the faith that is gripping their hearts."--Aaron Perry, Wesleyan Theological Journal

"In a wide-ranging essay, Smith relentlessly pursues his case for broad notions of Christian education that are grounded in the embodied experience of worship. . . . This is an important book that deserves attention particularly from Smith's intended audience: evangelicals who may be leery of liturgical language and ritual analysis. Pastors and Christian educators alike will benefit from a careful study of this monograph and readers will look forward to [Smith's] upcoming volumes that promise to expand on this work."--Paul Galbreath, Interpretation

"Smith has Christian educators and students clearly in mind in this volume. . . . There is much about Desiring the Kingdom that is commendable. Perhaps its greatest strength is Smith's basic thesis regarding a needed paradigm shift in philosophical/theological anthropology as it relates to intentionally Christian education. . . . The book is a great place to begin conversations about education or theological or philosophical anthropology. Smith's thesis is interesting and, if as sound as it seems, could represent a significant change in the way education is pursued and received in the coming decades. . . . [The book's] content should be a topic of serious discussion, and its conclusions must be weighed carefully by both individual educators and educational institutions as both seek to better discharge the divine mandate to educate."--Kevin Dray, Midwestern Journal of Theology

"In an age when entrepreneurial management and mega church structures are being touted as the newest panacea for flagging church membership and sluggish growth, [this book] is a refreshing oasis. . . . Desiring the Kingdom paints for the reader a phenomenological portrait of what God's kingdom in fullness looks like. . . . The reflections offered by James K. A. Smith are a treasure. For anyone involved in the task of formation, that is, Christian education, this treasure must be taken to heart. . . . As a reflective theology of culture, [this book] is highly recommended."--Joseph Donnella, Doxology: A Journal of Worship

"A book well worth the reading."--William Berends, Vox Reformata

"At least three things stand out in regard to this first [Cultural Liturgies] volume: a new-old reconstruction of anthropology, the eschatological focus at the center of Smith's argument, and his creative juxtaposition of the classic elements of Christian worship to the subtle and not so subtle liturgies of mall (the consumer culture), nation (the sports/military culture), and university (a culture producing self-consistent worldviews that are nonetheless disparate). . . . Smith brings a wide range of scholarship and insight to bear in trenchant analyses of these other liturgical constructions that promise salvation in one way or another. . . . Smith draws upon a wide range of scholarship, delves deeply into the long tradition, and presents the eschatological base of worship in new and significant dimension. He writes well and is meticulous throughout in presenting the reader with succinct summaries of the argument's progress. Also provided are helpful and engaging side bars that illuminate the subject at hand with reference to telling anecdotes, apt poetry, and profound excerpts from literature."--William H. Petersen, Anglican Theological Review

"Smith's work represents an important discussion on the nature of knowledge and its relationship to the body and practice, and he plans a number of further volumes specifically on how that reciprocity translates into the Christian academy. As such, his project fits within a trajectory of scholarship that appropriates social practice as the principle location knowledge and identity formation. This promises to be a fruitful collaboration for theologians and liturgists alike."--Steven Richard Turley, Calvin Theological Journal

"[This volume] invite[s] serious reflection on what Christian churches and schools can do to help shape citizens of the kingdom of God."--Don Wacome, Perspectives

"This is an important book, especially for those of us who are convinced of the importance of 'worldview.'. . . Smith intentionally took a middle path: the most scholarly discussions are moved to the footnotes, but the overall discussion is still meant to contribute to higher-level debates. Anyone who has had a year or more of college education should be able to hang with Smith's arguments, and his writing style continually emphasizes key points. This book has been very influential for me, and it's shaping the way I view my role as a Christian, as a parent, as a church member, and as an educator. I would say this is one of the most important books I've read in a long time."--Mark Beuving, Theology for Real Life blog (Eternity Bible College faculty blog)

"[A] remarkable work. . . . This book is about high and lofty things (and is obviously written by a scholar of great depth and erudition . . .). Yet the subjects [Smith] deals with are of the utmost practicality to our Christian living, our living in society, and our ministry of building up others in the faith. And, of course, pastors and worship leaders find much to consider and evaluate relative to their methods and aims for the corporate meeting of the church. . . . [Smith] demonstrates compellingly what is at stake in 'Christian education' in its broadest understanding. Christian education of course extends far beyond the walls of the Christian college (his original audience), into the lives of individual believers and of course into the local church; hence equally far-ranging are the implications of this work for any of us involved with the work of discipling others. . . . The 'classroom' which kindles this kind of growth, Smith argues convincingly, will be within the context of the practices of Christian worship."--Ron Man, Global Forum on Arts and Christian Faith