Friday 22 September 2017

James K.A. Smith on Awaiting the King

It will come as no surprise to some visitors to this blog that I have greatly appreciated the work of James K.A. Smith over the years (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), nor that I am looking forward to the imminent release of the third volume in his ‘Cultural Liturgies’ project – Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017) – looking at how worship shapes us as citizens of the King.

There’s more information about the book here, and a series of 10 short videos here in which he talks about the book, its emphases, and its relationship with other parts of his work.

He describes the book as a remix of Augustine and Oliver O’Donovan, nourished by his location in the Reformed (especially Kuyperian) tradition, but also pushing back on that tradition by making the church more central in how we think about our political witness.

In line with the earlier volumes in this series, and with Smith’s work elsewhere, he describes citizens as ‘lovers’, not just rational information processors. Our public and political life is caught up in dynamics of desire and formation. If we want to judge the character of a people, we have to discern what they love. The book is a liturgical analysis of what we worship politically, and what we are being trained to love when we step into those places as Christians.

We are, he says, to be a people whose political vision is animated by a vision of the King who is coming. For Smith, this means learning to walk a line between quietism and activism. We’re not just sitting around, not caring our shared public life; we’re waiting for the King. But nor are we activists in the sense that we think we’re going to bring the end about. We wait actively. We are caught up in what God is doing in the world, and the formative practices of the church shape us as a people who then shape the world.

In this sense, Smith hopes the book will recalibrate our posture towards public life, and he makes some helpful comments in this respect on steering between what he sees as the dangers of the ‘court evangelicals’ (those cosying up to power) and the Benedict Option.

No comments: