2011 Year in Review

Dear Friends,
As the year comes to a close it's my tradition to do an end of the year wrap up for the blog. It helps new readers catch up and regular readers find posts they might have missed...and to reminisce a bit. For my part, I like to gather my favorite posts in one location.

Welcome to all of you who've joined us this last year. You can find past reviews here: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010.

Experimental Theology 2011 Year in Review

1. Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality and Mortality
This year saw the publication of my first book. Thanks to all of you who have read the book and to those of you who have posted reviews on your blog or at Amazon. Though the book isn't perfect, I'm proud of it. I don't think there is anything quite like it in the theological world. I've had people like Walter Brueggemann and Stanley Hauerwas say they learned a lot from the book and many people have told me that the book was "life changing." This summer I'll be speaking on the book at Streaming and the Theology and Peace Conference.

2. Universal Reconciliation
This was the year of Rob Bell's Love Wins so I wrote some more about universal reconciliation this year. The most trafficked post I wrote about universalism this year was Universalism and the Open Wound of Life, where I again point out that universalism, for me, has more to do with theodicy (the problem of suffering) than soteriology (the problem of salvation).

This year I also wrote a series of posts working through various objections to universalism. I pulled those posts together into Universal Reconciliation: Some Questions and Answers. Finally, this year over at Two Friars and a Fool I had a exchange with Daniel Kirk from Fuller Theological on the topic of universal reconciliation as the "best ending to the Christian story."

3. Stories from the Prison Bible Study
Throughout the year I've shared stories from the Monday evening bible study I help with at a local prison. The most popular stories where On Fear and Following: Reading the Beatitudes in Prison and John 13: A Story from the Prison Study. The former essay will appear in 2012 as a chapter in a book edited by my friend Richard Goode concerning the work and influence of Will Campbell. Look for And the Criminals With Him from Wipf & Stock this spring. The latter essay, on John 13, may be one of the most powerful things I've shared on this blog. Many readers have let me know that they've used that story in worship services, sermons, or church publications.

4. The Gospel According to Lady Gaga
Statistics-wise, the most popular post I wrote this year was The Gospel According to Lady Gaga. The post begins with some humorous autobiography but slowly morphs into a prophetic cry.

5. The Bible
I write a lot about the bible on this blog, sharing insights about biblical texts and reflecting on biblical hermeneutics. Interesting posts about biblical texts from the past year included The Exclusion and Inclusion of Eunuchs, Cheap Praise and Costly Praise, "My Heart is Overwhelmed": Universalism and the Prophetic Imagination, Easter Shouldn't Be Good News, The Deeper Magic: A Good Friday Meditation, and "Jesus Stopped."

Posts about hermeneutical issues that got a lot of attention were "Biblical" as a Sociological Stress Test and On Christian Communion: Why is Killing Okay But Not Sexuality?

6. Jesus Would be a Hufflepuff
Go figure, but the second most popular post I wrote this year, in response to the last Harry Potter movie coming out, was Jesus Would be a Hufflepuff. The post is silly but it does highlight a lot of what I do here: The quirky theological connection. (See also: On the Moral Example of Jack Sparrow.)

7. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: On Disenchantment and the Demonic
Speaking of quirky theological connections, my favorite post of the year was this analysis of the demonic in Scooby-Doo. I continue to think a lot about the Powers and the demonic. Another popular post on this topic from this year was Tales of the Demonic.

8. Autobiography
From time to time I like to write autobiographical posts. I think it helps readers get to know me better. Four of the better ones from last year were Adventures in Looking Like Jesus (Or a Crazy Person), Get On a Bike...And Go Slow, What I Learned on Palm Sunday With the Greek Orthodox and Growing Up Catholic: A Lenten Meditation.

This year readers also got to put a face with a name by watching my conversation with Rachel Held Evans on blogging.

9. Are Christians Hate-Filled Hypocrites?
Last year I was startled to find myself quoted in Bradley Wright's book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...And Other Lies You've Been Told. In the book I'm quoted as saying:
"Christianity" has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed "spiritual" substitute.
Was I wrong in saying that? Read the post to find out.

10. Provocations
From time to time I write posts geared to provoke (the most famous example being my The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity which blew up again in the final weeks of this year). Some provocations from this year: Marriage as a Spiritual Failure, Your God is Too Big, The Satanic Church, and The Poetry of a Murderer.

11. Ghostbusting
This year my ghostbusting adventures continued. The story of my students and I "busting" the Anson Light made it into local, regional and national news outlets. (I even did a local radio show about our adventures.)

12 Poems
I continue to post poems from time to time. Here were my favorites from this past year: Seeing Like My Dog, Dharma, Amnesia, Morning Office, Incarnation, and The Territory of Our Bleeding.

13. The Slavery of Death
Finally, I like to do original work on this blog. I like to actually do theology on this blog as well as write about theology. Actually, I don't do proper theology but work at my particular theology/psychology mash up.

This year the best of this sort of work was found in my The Slavery of Death series (which is still ongoing though nearing its end). The series is, at root, a psychological meditation on Christus Victor, about what it might mean to be freed from the slavery to the fear of death (Heb. 2.14-15). When the series is over I'll gather it into a Table of Contents, but if you'd like to catch up these posts, if read in order, will allow you to trace the main moves of the argument:

Christus Victor: "To break the power of him who holds the power of death"
"He who does not fear death is outside the tyranny of the devil." (Part 1)
Christus Victor (Part 2)
On Sarx and Soma (Part 4)
The Dynamics of Sin and Death (Part 5)
Ancestral Sin (Part 6)
"In this world we are like Jesus" (Part 7)

Death & Resurrection: "To free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death"
The Pornography of Death (Part 11)
The American Culture of Death Avoidance (Part 12)
The Children of God and the Children of the Devil (Part 13)
Eccentric Identity (Part 14)
To Live as Death Where Not (Part 15)


Thanks to all of you who came here to read in 2011 and to those of you who regularly share your own thoughts and insights with all of us. I've been blessed by your online friendship and conversation.

Finally, one thing to look forward to in the coming weeks is the publication of my second book The Authenticity of Faith: The Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience. (A preview can be found here on page 19 of the online ACU Press catalog). In the Acknowledgements of the book I've written the following:
I would also like to thank the readers of my blog Experimental Theology where early drafts of this material first appeared. I’m blessed to have one of the most intelligent and thoughtful readerships on the Internet. A warm thank-you to my readers for your many helpful comments, feedback, and encouragement. You were the first to let me know that this material deserved a wide audience.
See you in 2012!

Grace and peace,

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

17 thoughts on “2011 Year in Review”

  1. THANK YOU Richard,

    As a fairly late arrival to Experimental Theology this has been my first year end on the blog and what a year it has been. Plenty of moments of high joy and surprising connections, a few too of heart-wrenching poignancy. The blog led me to the book, and what a moment that was in this year's reading, a book that truly delivered much more than one could expect - in a changed perspective on so many things, especially areas not covered in the book, but brought to mind in the slow digestion of its ideas.

    You have also brought together a community here - a pretty odd one I think we'll all admit, but a bunch of folk who look out for what's coming next on your page and enjoy the discussion around your table.

     If I could add a 14th highlight to your list it would be the filmed conversations with Rachael Held Evans - its always an odd process to turn the imagined authorial voice of a favourite writer into an experience of that person in film, but for me that was a really good moment.

    Looking forward to the end of Slavery of Death - my Stringfellow has just arrived ahead of my Becker, so that determines the reading order. Looking forward too to the conversations on here in 2012.

    Many thanks!

  2. This is also my first year-end, but I've done a bit of back-reading thanks to the side-bar archives.  One question I do have, though:

    I loved Unclean, so, naturally, I am interested in a new book by you.  However, I had ready the online book on here about the Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience, so I'm wondering how much "original" material will be in it.  While I enjoyed the online book, having already read the source books, I felt like there wasn't too much added.  On top of that, since I've read the one on here, I'm wondering if you rehash a lot of the same ground or if you've considerably expanded it.
    In short, how much of The Authenticity of Faith is "new" or "original" material?  Thanks!

  3. That's a good question. It's hard to say. If someone was a very close reader of the series (and all my other posts about my research) they will be familiar with the main moves of the book. What the book does is deepen and synthesize. I'd say the experience would be akin to Unclean.

  4. I'm happy to have found your blog, Richard.

    Have you thought about making your series on Slavery of Death into a book?  I think it would be very valuable.


  5. Richard, thank you for all you do, and for what you've created here. You're kinda the C.S. Lewis of our time, getting people beyond the university setting to think, and discuss, and hopefully to understand God, life, and one another a little better.

  6. Thank you, Dr. Beck, for this blog.  I think it is my all-time favorite blog site.  I am very grateful for the quality and depth of your posts.  I am looking forward to reading 'Unclean.'  Wow, congratulations on the release of your second book!  If I had to pick my favorite posts from 2011 (and it is hard to choose, I thought they were all pretty great), it would be the series on Universal Reconciliation, Stories from the Prison Bible Study, and Autobiography.

  7. Greetings, Dr. Beck. I think I started reading soon after you started; I remember much, not all, of 2006. I am very thankful for your voice especially since you and I have the same religious heritage. You have left a mark on me which you may never understand. Thank you, again.


  8. Dear Dr. Beck,
    I am a relatively new reader, but just wanted to wish you a very joyful 2012 and thank you for your wonderful blog. Thank you especially for the posts about universalism, and in particular the Open Wound of Life. I have also found myself questioning many of my traditional beliefs as a result of seeing unresolved long-term suffering. Your post expresses it perfectly. Thank you!

  9. Wonderful stuff, all. Many thanks! But what about the ACU Freedom Riders? I thought that would be a highlight of just about anyone's year!

    And just so you know, in this discerning reader's opinion, nothing else will ever compare to the "Uncle Richard" post from 2010...  

  10. "Uncle Richard" is one of my favorites as well.

    Yes, the Freedom Ride was a personal highlight. The best posts about
    that journey, I think, are the ones from my family's journey two
    summers ago. But if I had to pick one from the trip with the students
    it would be this:

  11. Thank you for your blog.  I started reading it a few months ago.  You have helped me think about reasonable answers as I question my traditional beliefs.  I am a former missionary to tribal people.  One of the sayings of my former mission organization is, "When people choose to reject God that's their business, when people have no choice it's our business."  Meaning that people who have never heard the "gospel" in their own language have no choice but to face eternal damnation unless we get the "gospel" to them before they die.  I am questioning this belief now and I appreciate the perspective you have given.  Sadly, it has been recently revealed that there are many cases of abuse of the missionary kids who were forced to board at schools away from their parents, so that the children would not hinder their parents work.  Do you think there could be a connection between the traditionalist view of eternal hell and the way MKs were treated and the subsequent cover up?

    Thank you again for the time and effort you put into this blog.  I look forward to reading it every day. 

  12. It's coming out as a book so I've pulled the posts out of deference to the publisher.

  13. Which means we should all get really excited!

    Any projected release date you could let us know about at this point?

  14. I hope so. :-) The final manuscript is due Dec. 1. So I'd expect late winter, early spring.

  15. Bummer!!!  I was really wanting to share this with a friend.  Any news on the release date?

Leave a Reply