The particular way I’ve been attempting to address war, consumerism, and entertainment – as alternative liturgies to the liturgy of the Gospel community – owes a great deal to the writing of James K.A. Smith.
As Smith explains in this selection from Desiring the Kingdom, such cultural criticism serves as a sort of modern apocalyptic, an attempt to look anew at the empire and break through our sense of uncritical familiarity.
“One of the reasons I’m describing cultural practices and institutions as liturgies is to raise the stakes: I want to give you a heightened awareness of the religious nature of many of the cultural institutions we inhabit that you might not otherwise think of as having anything to do with Christian discipleship.
By religious I mean that they are institutions that command our allegiance, that vie for our passion, and that aim to capture our heart with a particular vision of the good life. They don’t want to just give us entertainment or an education; they want to make us into certain kinds of people.
So one of the most important aspects of this theology of culture is first a moment of recognition: recognizing cultural practices and rituals as liturgies. We need to recognize that these practices are not neutral or benign, but rather intentionally loaded to form us into certain kinds of people – to unwittingly make us disciples of rival kings and patriotic citizens of rival kingdoms.
Seeing the world and our culture in this way requires a kind of wake-up call, a strategy for jolting us out of our humdrum familiarity and comfort with these institutions in order to see them for what they are. Interestingly, Scripture has a way of doing this: it’s called apocalyptic literature.
Apocalyptic literature – the sort you find in the strange pages of Daniel and the book of Revelation – is a genre of Scripture that tries to get us to see (or see through) the empires that constitute our environment, in order to see them for what they really are.
Unfortunately, we associate apocalyptic literature with end-times literature, as if its goal were a matter of prediction. But this is a misunderstanding of the biblical genre; the point of apocalyptic is not prediction but unmasking – unveiling the realities around us for what they really are. So apocalyptic literature is a genre that tries to get us to see the world on a slant and thus see through the spin…
What we need, then, is a kind of contemporary apocalyptic – a language and a genre that sees through the spin and unveils for us the religious and idolatrous character of the contemporary institutions that constitute our own milieu.”
- from Desiring the Kingdom, pg. 90-92.