In the second chapter of Awaiting the King, James K. A. Smith discusses the political nature of Christian worship, which he describes as "a public ritual centered on--yea, led by--an ascended King." As a corollary to this, "Implicit in the practices of Christian worship is an economics, a sociology, a politics."
One of the most puzzling things for many of us clergy is how we are deeply trained to understand church and worship this way--these are not new or radical ideas in theology or liturgics--but how so many congregants seem completely unformed to understand church and worship in this way. How did this disconnect arise?
Smith is also making the point that politics (and many other aspects of our culture) are also religious--they are rituals trying to form us in certain ways. So if the church cedes the political terrain, it is actually allowing forces outside the church to shape people according to narratives that are not the churches.
I like this quote from Richard Bauckham, "Worship . . . is the source of resistance to the idolatries of the public world."
What was frustrating about this (and some subsequent chapters) is that he spent much of the time simply reviewing the analysis and arguments of someone else, here Oliver O'Donovan.
A key theme of the chapter is that "The politics of worship is tied to the renewal of moral agency of the people of God, who are formed to be sent." Unlike some thinkers who focus on the church as polis, Smith reminds us that we aren't separate from the world, we are in fact sent into it to make our mark and try to influence politics and culture for God.
Smith is mainly writing to other NeoCalvinists (Reformed Evangelicals). Some of his arguments were broadly embraced by Liberal Protestants in the 19th century. For instance, there is this sentence, also a quote from O'Donovan, which sounded a lot to me like the Congregationalists of the 19th century who were abolitionists, temperance campaigners, suffragists, etc.--"Rule out the political questions and you cut short the proclamation of God's saving power; you leave people enslaved where they ought to be set free from sin--their own sin and others."
The chapter includes a surprising analysis of Cormac McCarthy's magnificent apocalyptic novel The Road. Smith asks, "Where did these characters [the father and son who are main characters] come from who shine like lights in this brutal darkness?" He doesn't read McCarthy as claiming they have a natural goodness--rather, they were formed in some way. What liturgy then shaped them? Smith cites numerous examples of sacramentality referenced in the novel.
In a side bar on the liturgical calendar he points out "The Christian year is a political rite that invites us to reinhabit the life of our King and learn what it might look like to imitate the strange politics of his kingdom here in the meantime."
He rightly points out near the end of the chapter that worship is not directed against any specific regime but against the entire notion that politics is ultimate for us as human beings.