I’ve been looking forward to reading, finishing and reviewing this book for a while, and now that I am in a position to do the latter, I can confidently say my expectation was not misplaced. I’ve enjoyed the work of Smith for a little while, and this particular book (the first in a series of ‘Cultural Liturgies’) touched on so many of my favourite topics that it has proved invaluable.
Before I get onto the review proper, here are some brief snapshots of areas that Smith has helpfully spoken into – at least for my own formation and reflection – in this book;
Image of God
Regular readers will know that each of these topics, to a greater or lesser extent, shape and challenge my thinking and personal life. It was good – and excites me for volume 2 – that this book helped to tie them altogether, even as it was about all and none of the above. Which is why I should get on to the review…
First, a brief introduction, both to Smith and this project. You can read a little about Smith on his own website, but essentially he is a Reformed Augustinian, currently a Professor of Philosophy holding a Chair in the brilliantly named ‘Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview’. It is this approach that happens so well in this book, and what attracted me to Smith (having enjoyed and appreciated his ‘Letters to A Young Calvinist‘ and ‘Introducing Radical Orthodoxy’).
Smith gives us a very readable book, though it is academic. The subtitle gives away much of the topic – ‘Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation’ – but this subtitle alone does not really draw one in as much as (having read it) the title should! Simply put, this book is about what humans do and like and love, and why that is important, should be looked at, and matters. This is essentially a theological approach to Christian education – but because of the approach taken, both in breadth and depth, it is more than that. This is a book about desire and the meeting place of many things, as people are formed and disciples made. It is also the first in a trilogy, the second of which (Imagining the Kingdom) is currently at the top of my ‘to read’ pile…), and so is not a complete work, even though it is coherent and complete within itself (if that makes sense to you, you will probably love what Smith is doing in his ‘Cultural Liturgies’ project!)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, not least because it gave form and depth to many ideas – and fragments of ideas – that I have dared to think, or otherwise come across, over the last few years. Smith is both imaginative and traditional, and the starting idea of ‘Homo Liturgicus‘ is a wonderful example of this, and every part of the book interacts with the world around us, which is helpful (even as it is rare in books of this type!). Smith is right, I think, to shift the focus from humans as lovers to being lovers of the kingdom, which helpfully moves us out of ourselves and into a bigger reality. This gives a solid base on which to talk ‘liturgically’, by which Smith refers to the ideas, practices, and words we use to work out the process of knowledge and education.
Having set up what is both totally and more than a proposal of theological anthropology, Smith moves on to talk about how this theory applies to Christianity. Given my own work/thoughts on the Lords Supper in a Vineyard context, I was excited to read how he works through what he calls ‘The Sacramental Imagination’, and indeed the different ways he views various elements of Christian worship as being formative to the construction of the Christian life. His description, and unpacking of The Lord’s Supper; ‘Eucharist: Supper with the King”, was particularly interesting.
I think Smith is very successful in the headway he makes towards the broad goal of a theological understanding of formation and education, and I have been encouraging people involved in such things to read this book. His vision of the Christian University in the final chapter is particularly interesting, and is something I will be reflecting on for a while. As hinted at above, I am looking forward to getting stuck into the second volume of this project.
It is probably clear from this review that I enjoyed this book! It both stretched and fed my brain, as well as resonating in deeper places. This was one of those rare books, for me, that impacts equally and genuinely both heart and mind. A powerful example of Spirit-Filled Scholarship. I would thoroughly recommend it to both pastors and students, and people involved in education as Christians, especially those in Christian institutions. I think, too, that Smith deserves readership beyond just Reformed and evangelical circles, and am grateful for the way in which my Charismatic tribe has embraced some of the ideas in his work here. You can now read my review of Volume 2, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works.