Reading The Gospels Smithly: Thinking Upon And Loving The Gospels In Dialogue With James K.A. Smith’s “Desiring The Kingdom” And “Imagining The Kingdom” -- By: Jonathan T. Pennington

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 06:1 (Summer 2015)
Article: Reading The Gospels Smithly: Thinking Upon And Loving The Gospels In Dialogue With James K.A. Smith’s “Desiring The Kingdom” And “Imagining The Kingdom”
Author: Jonathan T. Pennington


Reading The Gospels Smithly:
Thinking Upon And Loving The Gospels In
Dialogue With James K.A. Smith’s “Desiring The Kingdom” And “Imagining The Kingdom”1

Jonathan T. Pennington

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Introduction

James K. A. Smith is a remarkable scholar. From technical articles in philosophy to paradigm-shifting work on worship and Christian education, from an analysis of the massive work of Charles Taylor to spearheading editorial work for the Church and Postmodern Culture series, Smith has produced both quantity and quality. Moreover, he is a fine and creative writer, making his important ideas very accessible.

One of the projects Smith has been working on is his Cultural Liturgies series, a sequence of books in which he is unpacking his understanding of a philosophical anthropology for the purpose of helping theological educators. The first two books in this series of at least three planned are Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom.2 These two books are different in argumentation and topics covered, but with an overlap in purpose and a shared foundation of understanding. It is appropriate then, and helpful, to treat them together as the (hitherto produced) two parts of the Smith canon on this subject.

The purpose of this essay is to engage with Smith’s philosophical work in these two books from the perspective of NT studies, specifically my own area of interest in the Gospels. I will suggest that Smith’s philosophical anthropology is paradigm-shifting and of great value even though ultimately it is in need of more balance

from a biblical and theological perspective. To explore this thesis I will present my argument in three steps. First, I will give significant space to hearing Smith’s voice and seeking to understand his thoughts, loves, and concerns. Second, I will take several of the summarized points and put them in dialogue with some of my own thoughts regarding the nature and function of the Gospels. Third, I will offer some dialogical critiques about Smith’s project and raise some questions for further discussion.

Hearing Smith’s Thoughts And Loves

While Desiring the Kingdom (DTK) and Imagining the Kingdom (ITK) are not Smith’s first books nor his last, they are a significant part of his overall, developing corpus and the place where he is unpacking at the broadest level, it seems to me, his way of thinking and acting Christianly.

The first volume, DTK, has the subtitle, “Worship,...

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