Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works by James KA Smith

Takeaway: Worship, Spiritual Development, Discipleship, all are based on what we do, not just what we think.  Plans for growth and worship based primarily on knowledge break down and leave Christians ill prepared for actual life as a Christian.

It has been six weeks since I have finished Imagining the Kingdom and I am still not sure how to write the review.  But I finally decided that the review is not going to get better the longer I think about it, it is going to get worse.  So I need to just write and apologize for not having fully processed this book.

Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works has a deceptively simple premise.  Growth is based on practice.

Early in the book is a memorable illustration.  Smith, having being influenced by his his wife to read more about eating healthy looks around for a pen to highlight a passage from one of Michael Polen’s books.  As he is looking around he realizes that he is sitting (and eating) in a Costco food court.

He has understood, and in some ways believes, what Polen and others are saying about the importance of good food and eating right.  But it has not soaked down into practice.  Smith says this is essentially the problem with much of Christian discipleship.  We spread knowledge but do not focus on the practice that leads toward understanding.

This is not an easy book to read, and it is the second book in a trilogy.  So I spent several weeks trying to make my way through the first half of the book.  Part one is the theoretical background.  And it is a bit of a slog.  The second half, the more practical reflections on creating a liturgical understanding of life, is easier going.

My problem is not so much that I have issues with the book, but that it is theoretical and that theory does not match that well with my real life.  I go to a mega-church.  One that I think really wants to work on the spiritual development of our members, but in a system that does not match well within Smith theoretical world of discipleship.  At the same time I would like to move toward a more sacramental Church life, in spite of the fact that my extended family loves our church and so I continue at the place where I do not feel I have been called away from (and that I really do love and support.)

So where, and how, can I put Imagining the Kingdom into practice?  Smith, if I had to complain about one of his issues, focuses on a Reformed world view that is coherent and whole.  But my world is neither coherent nor whole and does not fit into a Reformed worldview as I understand it.

Still at the end I feel that the general thrust of the book, that discipleship must be rooted in liturgical practice that values the whole of life, is essential.  So I am left with going back to read Desiring the Kingdom (book one) for the first time and a re-reading of Imagining the Kingdom (book two) and waiting for book three to see if I can figure out where to go from here.

Imagining the Kingdom Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition (This book is lendable on kindle.  If you would like to borrow it leave a comment below.)


Baker Press, through Netgalley gave me a copy of the PDf to read for purposes of review.  I was so frustrated with the extensive footnotes that did not work in the PDF that I bought my own copy of the Kindle book.  And then I was so frustrated by the book itself that I bought a second copy for a friend to see if he could help me work through it.  I was simply asked to give an honest review, which I have attempted to do.

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