“The devil has had all the best liturgies.”

Sometime in the near future, a few of my friends and I will be reviewing James K.A. Smith‘s newest book, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. (I’m rather excited about this as we are three church planters from different parts of the US – Los Angeles, Syracuse, and Burlington, Vermont – with different communities, different contexts, and different backgrounds. Through this diversity, however, we have some strong commonalities, which should make for an interesting time of review and discussion.) It is his second volume in what will eventually be a trilogy aptly named “Cultural Liturgies.” The first volume, Desiring The Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, gave feet to a lot of things I was noticing and working on at the time of its publication. I’ve been anticipating this volume, and now that I have read some of it, haven’t been disappointed in his picking up of where he left off.

Below is a short excerpt that scratches at some of the more central elements of this follow up volume. Without going into all the details, which will happen at a later time and date, may it be suffice to say that I think he is rather correct in his assessment. Having spent my entire life in the Evangelical, conservative Christian world – those who have done the same will know what I mean – his indictment of the rampant intellectualism found at the core of much Christian discipleship is spot on. To borrow from his initial volume, we have become a people with “big heads and tiny bodies” meaning we have overemphasized, in our Protestant, Enlightenment tradition, on the intellect, leaving affect, imagination, and our bodily habits/desires rather untouched. As this excerpt illuminates, the devil has not done likewise.

Having fallen prey to the intellectualism of modernity, both Christian worship and Christian pedagogy have underestimated the importance of this body/story nexus – this inextricable link between imagination, narrative, and embodiment – thereby forgetting the ancient Christian sacramental wisdom carried in the historic practices of Christian worship and the embodied legacies of spiritual and monastic disciplines. Failing to appreciate this, we have neglected formational resources that are indigenous to the Christian tradition, as it were; as a result,we have too often pursued flawed models of discipleship and Christian formation that have focused on convincing the intellect rather than recruiting the imagination. Moreover, because of this neglect and our stunted anthropology, we have failed to recognize the degree and extent to which secular liturgies do implicitly capitalize on our embodied penchant for storied formation. This becomes a way to account for Christian assimilation to consumerism, nationalism, and various stripes of egoism. These isms have had all the best embodied stories. The devil has had all the best liturgies. (p. 39-40)

I hope you’ll join my friends and I as we dive into this important work. See you then.

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