Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality and Mortality

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."
—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
Bethel University

"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
Rochester College

"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
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.

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,

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36 thoughts on “Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality and Mortality”

  1. Congratulations on your book! And a sincere Thank You for this blog and community. I hope you never run out things to blog about or get tired of doing this, because it's truly a life preserver for some of us here.

  2. I just ordered my copy. I look forward to reading it. But even if it were not on such an interesting topic, I would have ordered it anyway out of a deep sense of appreciation for all the other material I have read on your excellent blog.

  3. Congratulations sir! Well earned as an accomplishment and no doubt well worth the wait for all of us.

  4. Well done - you have demonstrated what a blog can be used for when discipline is applied.

  5. The guy on your book has the long-second-toe disease! You could've written a chapter about that! =oP

    i'm definitely intrigued and would like to read it.

  6. ? RICH I HAVE a lot of young people around me.
    how does the book read.
    i know, i should read the book and will.
    should i just get 6 of them or wait for them to grow up a little more.
    there all in collage although i bought 2 of Doug Campbell and 2 of rich Hayes' on substructure of gal. and there eyes just spun around and the words made them dizzy. :-).... even though i have been telling them they must elevate their norm.
    so ????? rich as a compared to what. my sons bff will go for her doct. in psy. he wants to pastor.he is 20 yrs old and they will work together. lord willing
    my daughter 22yrs old: is pastoring, young people,(crossroads church corona ca. a "mega church"she is called "the generate love bug") her husband is also, and taking online classes at hope u. in Fullerton ca.
    just a few kids

  7. It's a thinker's book, but it isn't an academic book. It reads a lot like this blog. I was trying to aim for something that could be used in graduate and undergraduate university classes, but also be a book for church leaders and anyone interested in the church or religious issues.

  8. Massive Congratulations Richard. I am very excited to read this work, it sounds magnificent.
    (Incidentally, do you know if there is any way to order from Wipf to deliver to the UK. I have tried the website, but am not having any luck with an international delivery...)

  9. Excellent. I just went and ordered my copy. I'm looking forward to reading it / passing it on, and I also wanted to make sure you had the resources you need to keep spreading your heresies :)

    Also, I have a book up for consideration with Wipf and Stock, so perhaps the Lesser Deities of Publishing will view my purchase with favor.

    Judging by my experience of this blog, I'm sure it's a wonderful read, and I hope the reading world backs you up.

  10. Congratulations on this book Dr. Beck! I just ordered my copy and I can't wait for it to arrive.

    I know I speak for a lot of folks here when I say: thank you for this blog and please keep writing. I can understand the temptation of wanting to stop. Forgive us for taking for granted the time, work and energy it must take to keep this thing going. But, please know that this blog means a great deal to me, not only for the content of the posts and discussion, but for also providing a place to find people who think like I do.

    Blessings to you and your family.


  11. Hi Drew,
    The book just came out so it is only available from the publisher. But in a week or two the book will become available through Amazon (and other online retailers). That might be the better route for international ordering. When the book is up on Amazon I'll post a note about that.

  12. Richard,

    Is the book significantly different than the blog series you wrote?


  13. Hi Richard,
    I'm not sure how, and I'm not entirely sure why, you find the time to keep blogging with such consistency and excellence, but I'm grateful. When I've read the book I may well agree with your mother, but she already speaks for me with respect to this blog.

    I know that the careful process of getting a book or journal article ready for publication is crucial for broaching an important and interesting subject to scholars. I'm glad that you find time for both that and your blog!

    Many thanks.

  14. Not significantly different. I'd say about 1/3 of the book was sketched out here.

  15. +1 on all of the other comments, Richard, including the "I just purchased my own copy" thingy.

    As to whether or not you should continue blogging, everyone else has cinched the argument already, so at risk of superfluity: your series on game theory made available to me a whole new literature from which to draw in training my doctoral students. So, as they say: QED.


  16. I should have gone with S. Mark Love. And I stayed with the word limits. What's up with these other guys? Congrats. Great, great book. Maybe you could do something on this stuff at Summit. Oh, wait...


  17. You call that long? You should see the way they grow in my family. And what do you mean "disease"? It's a sign of being very well balanced!

    Seriously Dr. Beck, I cannot imagine how you find time for all of the reading, blogging, explaining, etc...WITHOUT writing a book!

  18. Congratulations! I know writing is nothing new to you as far as publication goes, but this is an exciting work that will be a great tool for non-academics. Thank you for your refusal to stop asking questions. Thank you for digging deeper into the love of God, the need for us to love one another, and the barriers that keep us from realizing both. I hope you feel a deep sense of accomplishment with this. It will help a great many people. It has already helped me.

  19. As a regular reader now, I am delighted to learn of your book. Keep up the blogging.

  20. Who's feet are those, and why are they dirty? I know they do not belong to the artist, with whoms feet I am intimate. Would like to pick it up for my Kindle....available there yet?

  21. Congrats! Is there a chance it is an eBook too? I still remembering hearing some of your thoughts on this subject in History & Theories of Psych. It is by far the lecture I remember most and one that continues to challenge me as I live in a new country/culture and find barriers and things that disgust me that I had never realized before.

  22. Hi Aaron,
    Great to hear from you!

    I don't know about ebook formats down the road but can find out.

  23. I'll have to check about the Kindle down the line. Right now it's just available in print from the publisher. Amazon listing in a few weeks.

  24. My copy arrived yesterday. I find that I don't feel like doing anything else but read the book - though duty calls. :( Great intro!

  25. Congrats on your book, Dr. Beck. I am very blessed to have called you my professor. I will try to get my copy of your book, and I hope you can sign it.
    -Donavan "D" Green

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