Thursday, September 05, 2013

"We Believe in Institutions": The Fall Issue of Comment

I'm very excited for people to read the Fall issue of Comment magazine, devoted to the decidedly un-hip theme, "We Believe in Institutions."  If you subscribe by Monday, September 9, you'll be assured that your subscription will begin with this issue.

And, lo and behold, we're also having a summer subscription sale! So seriously, what are you waiting for?

The issue is rich and diverse: a feature interview with James Davison Hunter, articles on the institutional imagination, the role of the institutional church in cultural renewal, reviews of two important books (Thinking Institutionally and The Institutional Revolution), and more.  We're also debuting our new format that includes brand new features like "World View," an annotated take on the contemporary scene.

You can check out the Table of Contents and read some samples from this issue, including my editorial.    Here's a snippet from that:

For a boy growing up in Ontario, it was never a question: you're going to play hockey. Though Embro was a village of only 600 people at the time, we had a new arena, a robust minor hockey system, and a long legacy of the sport encoded in our civic DNA. So at four years old, we all moved from the pond to the ice pad, donning the purple hockey sweaters that many of us wore until we were twenty. 
This was also part of something bigger. You could count on neighbouring villages like Drumbo and Plattesville and St. George having minor hockey systems, all webbed together by the OMHA. 
When you're ten years old, you think this is just part of the furniture of the cosmos; something given, natural, and taken for granted—that Saturday morning clinics and Tuesday night practices are just part of the rhythm of the universe, as if when God said, "Let there be light," the big klieg lights in the rafters of the arena also came on. You never really think about what sustains all this, and if you do, you just imagine some anonymous "them" holds it all together, a vague, distant "they" who are responsible for all of this. 
But when you're an adult you realize: this doesn't just happen. That something as mundane and yet enduring as Embro minor hockey is not a given; it is an institution. It is only because it is sustained by communities. It is bigger than the people who inhabit it, but it also depends on the people who embody it. The "they" you never saw in your youth turn out to just be people like you who have taken the reins and taken ownership. We could only take minor hockey for granted because, in fact, each generation received it anew, owning it, tending it, reforming it, and passing it on to the next generation. 
In this issue of Comment we proudly profess that we believe in institutions. It is part of our creed. The lilt of this profession carries echoes of The Creed in which we profess, "I believe in the holy, catholic church." But that's not theonly institution we believe in. We also believe in institutions like Embro minor hockey, the Hamilton Public Library, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Surrey Christian School, the Calgary Planning Commission, the United States Congress, and that quiet but powerful culture-making institution that is the family.

Read the rest, then subscribe to the magazine.  This is the conversation you've been looking for.

Monday, September 02, 2013

New Book: "Discipleship in the Present Tense"

Cover image by Madison Smith
I'm happy to share the news that my new book, Discipleship in the Present Tense: Reflections on Faith and Culture is now available from Calvin College Press, Amazon, and hopefully your local bookseller. (A Kindle version is also available for just $7.99, and an Apple iBook version will be available soon.)

Think of this book as "James K.A. Smith, without all the footnotes."  Well, there are a few footnotes.  But this book is really a collection of my more popular articles, essays, reviews, interviews, and op-eds from the last few years (sort of a sequel to The Devil Reads Derrida, without the daunting, off-putting title).  My hope is that the book is an accessible read for those who might find Desiring the Kingdom or Imagining the Kingdom still a tad intimidating.  

The book includes reflections on theology, church, worship, and Christian education but also poetry, parenting, politics, and the prosperity gospel.  It also includes some of my reviews of authors like James Davison Hunter, D.A. Carson, and my saucy review of Brent McCracken's Hipster Christianity (the chapter is called "Poser Christianity").  Check out the Table of Contents [pdf].

Here are a few of the endorsements, for which I'm grateful:

Few people are as qualified as James K. A. Smith to write a book on the intersection of faith and culture. Whenever he speaks, I listen. In this book, you’ll find winsome but profound essays on following Jesus in the 21st century. Read it and be challenged.
— Jonathan Merritt
faith and culture writer; author of A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars

Delivering profound insight in stunningly lucid prose, Smith focuses on the importance of both imagination and embodiment, not only in worship and education, but also through the arts. Drawing attention to beauty in architecture, poetry, and music, as well as through sacramental practices, Smith celebrates "creational abundance," which he beautifully presents as our "culture-making mandate."
— Crystal Downing
Distinguished Professor of English and
Film Studies, Messiah College

Anything by James K.A. Smith is required reading for Christians wanting to winsomely engage culture.  He brings philosophy to the street--putting it to work on the great questions of our time.
— Gabe Lyons
Founder, Q Ideas; author of The Next Christians

Discipleship in the Present Tense reflects on the intersections of faith and culture in our contemporary world. "Intersections" may bring to mind two roads meeting at right angles, with stop signs. The intersections in this book are more like freeway cloverleafs: the traffic keeps moving. Suggestion: start at the end, with two interviews that are real conversations, not perfunctory Q&As. Then pick and choose, tapas-style, from the tasty selection of essays.
— John Wilson
editor, Books & Culture