Five years ago I was talking to Al, a friend and colleague in the English Department, about some book ideas that were rolling around in my head. Al is a published poet and novelist, so I was interested on his take about what I might do to get started on writing a book. Al's recommendation was that I start a blog. There I could collect and work on my ideas and, perhaps, attract the attention of a book publisher. And even if I never wrote a book, at least I could share my thoughts with others. And so, in 2006, Experimental Theology was born.
As regular readers know, I followed Al's advice. This blog is really just a series of books. If you look down the sidebar, you'll see them. Book after book. Sketchy and unedited books, more like drafts of books, but books nonetheless.
Then, about a year and a half ago, I got an email from Charlie Collier asking if I'd like to do a book for Wipf & Stock. After kicking around some ideas we decided I'd do a book building off a published paper of mine entitled Spiritual Pollution: The Dilemma of Sociomoral Disgust and the Ethic of Love. In that paper I used the empirical psychological literature on disgust and contamination to think through why churches so often fail in their stated goal of "loving the sinner but hating the sin." Basically, I wanted to think about the psychology of missional failure. And a whole lot more. And some of the early chapter drafts appeared as posts on this blog.
Well, that book is finished and is now available to be purchased at the Wipf & Stock website. The book is entitled Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality. The book description from the website:
"I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Echoing Hosea, Jesus defends his embrace of the "unclean" in the Gospel of Matthew, seeming to privilege the prophetic call to justice over the Levitical pursuit of purity. And yet, as missional faith communities are well aware, the tensions and conflicts between holiness and mercy are not so easily resolved. At every turn, it seems that the psychological pull of purity and holiness tempts the church into practices of social exclusion and a Gnostic flight from "the world" into a "too spiritual" spirituality. Moreover, the psychology of purity often lures the church into what psychologists call "The Macbeth Effect," the psychological trap that tempts us into believing that ritual acts of cleansing can replace moral and missional engagement. Finally, time after time, wherever we see churches regulating their common life with the idiom of dirt, disgust, and defilement, we find a predictable wake of dysfunction: ruined self-images, social stigma, and communal conflict. In an unprecedented fusion of psychological science and theological scholarship, Richard Beck describes the pernicious (and largely unnoticed) effects of the psychology of purity upon the life and mission of the church.I was honored to get book endorsements from five people whose work I greatly admire. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the book I was excited to get endorsements to highlight the various threads--theology, psychology, and the missional church--I tried to weave together in the book:
"Theologians write endlessly about how Christian faith should affect our morality, our philosophy, and our spirituality. Richard Beck is the only one I know who asks what it has to do with what turns our stomachs. He writes bluntly and stunningly about the engagement of grace with our visceral dynamics of disgust and avoidance. Our complex, precognitive repulsions toward groups, behaviors, and persons stem from deep patterns in our nature. But, unredeemed, those patterns also block us from the gospel path. Beck combines biblical interpretation, theological wisdom, and dramatic psychological insights to give an earthy and exciting take on the Christian life."That last endorsement isn't actually on the Wipf & Stock webpage, but it is what my mother texted me when I told her the book was out. Still, I think it's a good endorsement.—S. Mark Heim
Samuel Abbot Professor of Christian Theology
Andover Newton Theological School
"In his thoughtful, engaging, and even sometimes humorous style, Richard Beck tells the church that it is time to get dirty. With one leg hip-deep in theology and the other in psychological science, Beck persuasively argues that the church's obsession with purity is a costly pursuit, one fraught with serious psychological and sociological consequences. You may not always agree, but you will be challenged in new ways to think about the church's mission."—Peter C. Hill
Editor, Journal of Psychology and Christianity
"Richard Beck has my vote as the liveliest voice in the contemporary integration of psychology and theology. In Unclean, he weaves together his sophisticated grasp of psychological research and theological reflection in a manner that is both prophetic and inviting. This is one of those rare books that can be helpful to those who love the church and also to those who have been hurt by churches. Beck writes with an integrative and formative rhythm that kept stimulating my mind and pulling at my heart. These ancient Biblical concepts of mercy, holiness, and hospitality have been implanted anew with deeper meaning for me."—Steven J. Sandage
Professor of Marriage and Family Studies
"I am thankful that this insightful and important work has come to print. Richard Beck has woven together important themes from various critical conversations—psychology, theology, biblical studies, and missional ecclesiology—with exceptional artistry. He has ventured across the purity boundaries of academic disciplines for the sake of a large picture of the hospitality of God. His readers will be well rewarded for welcoming this ambitious and immensely practical book."— Mark Love
Director, Resource Center for Missional Leadership
"Richard Beck's insightful book is a must-read for those who want to embody Christ's love in the world. Moving beyond mere sentimentality, this book exposes why we are so prone to alienate "the other" and how we may pursue a way of hospitality and love. This is a deeply human, and humanizing, book."—Mark Van Steenwyk, founder of the Missio Dei community in Minneapolis and a general editor of JesusRadicals.com
"The whole world should read this book."—Paula Beck, Richard's Mother
I'd like to publicly thank everyone I've worked with at Wipf & Stock: Charlie Collier and Halden Doerge for editorial help, Kristen Bareman for typesetting, Amelia Reising for the very cool cover, and Raydeen Cuffe for help with the endorsements.
And speaking of the good people at Wipf & Stock, for a limited time they are giving the readers of this blog a web coupon for an additional 20% off the webprice, which ends up being 40% off. When you place the book in the Wipf & Stock shopping cart you'll see a place for a web coupon code. Use the code UNCLEAN for the additional discount. This discount, I believe, is only going to be active for a month (perhaps two). Again, thank you to Wipf & Stock for the discount for the readers here.
And speaking of the readers here, let me conclude with a final Thank You to everyone who has come to this place to read, think, share, discuss, argue, comment, critique, and encourage me. There are days when I wonder if I want to keep on blogging. And on days like that it never fails that you send me a personal note thanking me for something I've written or you leave a comment telling me how much you appreciate a post. So thank you so very much. I hope you feel the same way about the book.
Grace and peace,