Review: Awaiting the King

Review: Awaiting the King

Awaiting the King
Categories: ,
Published: 2017-11-07
Page Count: 256
In this culmination of his widely read and highly acclaimed Cultural Liturgies project, James K. A. Smith examines politics through the lens of liturgy. What if, he asks, citizens are not only thinkers or believers but also lovers? Smith explores how our analysis of political institutions would look different if we viewed them as incubators of love-shaping practices--not merely governing us but forming what we love. How would our political engagement change if we weren't…

The third entry in Smith’s ‘Cultural Liturgies’ series. It’s sat, unread, on my shelf for many years. Not because I didn’t want to read it. Partly because I knew it would be a very dense read (as per the previous two entries in the series) and partly because, as Smith himself acknowledges, this third entry wasn’t what he imagined at the beginning of the project. This entry was significantly focussed on exploring the political dimensions and implications of much of his work in the past two books, though more tangentially so than as a direct sequel.

This entry is largely Smith’s dialogue with Oliver O’Donovan on the place of the political in the Christian life. As well as significant discussions with Stanley Hauerwas, and of course Augustine and Charles Taylor (among many others).

It more or less lived up to my expectations. It was dense – sometimes you just keep reading to get a ‘sense’ of what he is saying, rather than try to understand every line – and, at times, deeply insightful in its critique of forms of modern political engagement.

The chief argument of the book is that there is a distinction between the ultimate reality of the Kingdom of God, and the penultimate reality of human politics. And things go wrong when the penultimate of politics is made an ultimate end in itself.

It’s not hard to imagine how this argument might be traced, but, as always, Smith provides his own unique sight-seeing journey with some profound moments of insight along the way.

Who wrote it

James K A Smith is an author and philosopher.

Why I read it

After five years of sitting on my shelf, I finally took the plunge. I loved the first two books in this series. They have been highly influential and formative in my own thinking.

What I liked

I always enjoy reading Smith, even if it, at times, takes some work. This one was more difficult than most. Using O’Donovan as your sparring partner rarely leads along an easier path!

It was his usual insightful self, if a little more narrow and skewed than much of his other writing. That in itself is not a critique. In some ways it might be considered a strength that he has been more focussed in this entry than he tends to be.

What I didn’t

It was a hard read. There is a reason I had been putting this off, even though I really did want to read it. And I’m glad I did finally get to it. But it’s density does make it more difficult to take away some clear points for reflection.

Major Takeaway

Smith’s unpacking of the ultimate/penultimate distinction between the Kingdom of God and politics was very helpful. This seed of idea will certainly stick with me, and I’ll definitely be coming back to this book should I ever speak at length on the topic of politics.

Who should read it

Not for the faint-hearted. If you’re writing, speaking or lecturing on the intersection of politics and Christianity, this is excellent. But not one I’d otherwise recommend to any but the highly academic.

4.3Overall Score

Awaiting the King

The third entry in Smith's 'Cultural Liturgies' series. It's sat, unread, on my shelf for many years. Not because I didn't want to read it. Partly because I knew it would be a very dense read (as ...

  • Difficulty to read
    Not for the faint hearted.
  • Overall Rating
    For what it is, it is very good.

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