Experimental Theology 2013 Year in Review

Happy New Year!

Per tradition on New Year's Day I like to take a look back over the previous year, gathering popular posts and personal highlights.

Before we do that I want to thank all of you for reading, many of you daily and weekly.  You've made this blog what it is.

Thanks to all of you who take the time and the risk to comment on the blog. For some reason, we tend to have pretty civil and helpful conversations around here. Thank you for making that happen.

Also, thank you to all of you who took the time to Tweet or link to this blog on Facebook or on your own blog. It's an honor that you'd find any given post worth sharing. And your kindness in sharing has helped this blog grow every year.

So thank you. I'm so glad you are here. I'm looking forward to 2014.

But before we do that, a look back at the year that was 2013 here at Experimental Theology:

1. The Slavery of Death
My book The Slavery of Death has finally been printed (a box is waiting for me when I get home from the holidays). Many of you have been waiting for the book to come out. I'll let you know in the coming weeks when the book is available from the publisher and in stock at Amazon. You can see the cover here (many thanks to Matthew Stock for the design).

In the Acknowledgements of the book you will read the following:
I would like to extend my deep gratitude to the readers of my blog Experimental Theology. My daily interactions with each of you have been a source of deep spiritual encouragement and constant intellectual stimulation. You were the ones who encouraged me to pull this material into book form and your comments helped shape and direct the final product. I hope the book blesses you and that you feel a sense of ownership as you hold it.
2. The William Stringfellow Project
In the summer of 2012 I started The William Stringfellow Project where I read all of William Stringfellow's books in chronological order and in their first editions. I've loved collecting the first editions of Stringfellow's books. AbeBooks has become quite a friend of mine. Through AbeBooks I have also been able to locate two first editions that have been autographed by Stringfellow. These are prized possessions. In 2012 I blogged through the books A Private and Public Faith, Instead of Death, My People is the Enemy, Free in Obedience, and Dissenter in a Great Society.

In 2013 we worked through Count It All Joy, Imposters of God, A Second Birthday, and A Suspect Tenderness. You'll recall that the obscure little book Imposters of God was a real discovery for me, containing some of the most succinct summarizes of Stringfellow's theology that I've read. Plus, the troll doll cover is priceless.

We'll finish up these series in the coming year. Get ready for the next book An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens Living in a Strange Land. This is considered to be Stringfellow's best book and I'll be blogging through it chapter by chapter starting January 20th.

3. On Warfare and Weakness
The most theologically creative thing I tried to do on this blog in 2013 was to bring into conversation two very different theological perspectives. This was Greg Boyd's book God at War and John Caputo's book The Weakness of God. This fusion is strange in that Boyd has a very metaphysically robust view of spiritual warfare (e.g., a belief in literal demons) where Caputo doesn't believe in metaphysics at all (or, at least, he doesn't believe in the traditional ontotheology of Christian metaphysics).

Why did I attempt this odd union?

My interest was to articulate a progressive theological vision that was biblically grounded and infused with spiritual pathos.

The point I took from Boyd's book is that the biblical worldview--and Jesus's own worldview--was grounded in a warfare metaphor. But this is a metaphor that has been eschewed by progressives because of the historical and theological abuses associated with "spiritual warfare." But this, I argued, effectively cut progressive theology off from both the bible and Jesus. More, it robbed progressive theology of any sort of vision regarding spiritual struggle and resistance. The ethical vision of progressive theology has been reduced to "tolerance." And while tolerance is an amazing and wonderful thing, you don't need to pray, read your bible, worship, or go to church if that's all it means to be a Christian. Hardly an exciting spiritual vision.

But if we take a cue from John Caputo and come to see the power of God as the weak force of love in the world then we realize that the Kingdom of God is always fragile and vulnerable. Love is always the underdog, swimming upstream against the forces of violence, indifference, and dehumanization. Which means that if love is to exist at all in the world it has to be, intrinsically, an act of resistance. Love has to be an intentional, ongoing, willful struggle and fight. Otherwise, love gets washed away. In short, as I argued it, weakness implies warfare. In this world, love is struggle, defiance and resistance.

Love is warfare, but it's the subversive, guerrilla warfare of the weak and powerless.

Love is the cruciform warfare of Jesus Christ and the cross-shaped lovers who follow him. As I described it this year at a church retreat for the Missiongathering church family, spiritual warfare is the subversion of doing beautiful things.

Borrowing a book title, I'd say the motto of spiritual warfare is this: beautiful trouble.

Right now, if I was going to write a fourth book that is the book I would write: The Subversion of Doing Beautiful Things: A Progressive Theology of Spiritual Warfare.

You can find the links to the whole On Weakness and Warfare: A Vision for Progressive Theology series on the sidebar. Or you can start here with the first post: Part 1: A Real Right. At the end of each post a link takes you to the next post through the whole series.

3. The Prison Bible Study
I continue to share stories from the prison. Every Monday night Herb Patterson and I teach a bible study at the maximum-security French Roberston prison for a group of 30-40 inmates. Herb starts with a reflection. I then lead some singing and finish with my part of the study.

These posts are some of the most powerful and emotionally evocative stories that I share. They have become favorite posts, and the blog is getting to be known because of them. I think these stories also have the potential to be a book someday.

Some highlights from the last year:
Piss Christ in Prison: An Unlikely Advent Meditation
Advent: A Prison Story
Those Old Time Gospel Songs
Faithful In Little Things: A Prison Story
The Prayer of Willy Brown
The Prayer of Jabez
4. Friendships at the Margins
Beyond the prison I've also written a a great deal this year about my small attempts to give and receive friendship "at the margins." Much of this began early in the year when I started driving the van for our local church plant that reaches out to the poor and homeless in our town (Van Ministry and Wednesday Night Church). In driving the van I've gotten to be friends with Kristi and I've written about our growing friendship (Hot Chocolate and The Great Soda Caper).

Beyond these autobiographical posts I've also shared a few general reflections about friendships at the margins. Some of the more popular posts from the year:
The Beautiful
The Sensory Boundary
The Poor and the Fundamental Attribution Error
The Higher Hedonism
Not Getting How Horrible the Bible Is 
5. Reflections on Faith
As a person who struggles with doubts and as a "Winter Christian" (for more about "summer" and "winter" Christians see my book The Authenticity of Faith) I continue to write about my experiences in making sense of my faith.

In this regard, I've been thinking a lot about how faith "re-enchants" the world through acts and rituals of honoring and hallowing. Three posts that explored this theme are Faith as Honoring, This Ritual of Hallowing and Love is the Allocation of Our Dying.

A popular post this year in which I wrested with Christian a/theism and tried to carve out a niche in this contested area was Kingdom A/theism.

6. Elizabeth Smart and the Psychology of the Christian Purity Culture
By far the most popular post of the year was one prompted by the story of Elizabeth Smart regarding the psychology of the Christian purity culture. That post led to my being a part of an article in The Atlantic by Abigail Rine.

7. Gender Roles in the Church
I continue to write about gender roles in the church, making the case for the full inclusion of women in every office and role of the church.

The four most popular posts during the year on this subject came in two pairs. The first pair from early in the year was Power and Gender: Among Us It Shall Be Different followed by Gender and Service: A Simple Test. More recently I wrote Let's Stop Calling it Complementarianism which was followed by Hierarchical Complementarianism Implies Ontological Ineptitude.

8. Universal Reconciliation
I also continue to write about the doctrine of universal reconciliation in Christ. Three popular posts on this topic from this year were Doubt and Universalism: Being Hopeful and Dogmatic, On Hell and Holocausts: Comparing Annihilationism and Universalism and Equally Shaking Ground: The Ancillary Hypotheses of Calvinism, Arminianism and Universalism.

Kevin Miller, director and producer of the documentary Hellbound?, which came out on DVD this year (you can see a bit of my interview with Kevin in the Special Features of the DVD), visited ACU for a viewing this year. Kevin and I did a talkback after the viewing and I reflected on some of those:
Hellbound? Talk Back: Part 1, Would You Still Be a Christian If Heaven Didn't Exist?
Hellbound? Talk Back: Part 2,  Atonement and Universal Reconciliation in Christ
Hellbound? Talk Back: Part 4, Love, Power, Patience and Time
10. Beads and Ropes
From time to time I try to share things that have helped me with prayer. In the past I shared about how important The Book of Common Prayer has been for me. This year I wrote about my My New Hobby, making prayer beads for myself, friends and family. I also wrote about The Orthodox Prayer Rope. A popular autobiographical post where the prayer beads appear was Morning Prayer at San Buenaventura Mission.

11. Popular Posts
Popular posts this year reflecting on a variety of topics and issues have been:
The Political Theology of Les Misérables
Drinking Christians
The Gospel According to Karaoke
Self-Esteem as Violence
On Anarchism and Assholes (a copy of my Christian Scholars Conference Paper)
The Missional and Apostolic Nature of Holiness
Good Enough
12. Blogging About the Bible
And last but not least, the bible! I continue to write a lot about biblical texts, sharing things I've discovered, from the quirky to the profound. And I often float interpretive innovations. Some of this "midrash" is potentially insightful while a lot of it is very tenuous and speculative. Hey, there is a reason this blog is called experimental theology.

Some of the most popular posts about biblical texts from the year:
Blessed are the Tricksters
In Humility Hold Others Above Yourself (This post was exciting to me because my translational suggestions helped with the Open English Bible Translation. The recommendation and discussion thread here. H/T to Tim Chambers.)
Lessons Learned at the Threshing Floor of Araunah
The Triumph of the Cross
Devoted to Destruction: Reading Cherem Non-Violently
"To Rescue Us From the Present Evil Age": Christus Victor in Galatians 
Targeting the Dove Sellers
The Most Remarkable Sequence in the Bible
So that was the year 2013 here at Experimental Theology. Again, thanks for reading, commenting, and linking to the blog throughout the year.

Hope to see you in 2014.

Grace and peace,

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15 thoughts on “Experimental Theology 2013 Year in Review”

  1. Richard,
    May you and yours have a blessed new year. Thank you for your thoughtful writing.

  2. Happy New Year, Richard, and everyone. Many congratulations on the latest book - can't wait until it's available in Kindle format (or as a book in the UK). Thanks so much for the texture and shape you have brought to another year.

  3. Thank you for your blog, Richard. I discovered it early this year, and it has been a powerful gift in my life. As I considered this list of what you've done in 2013, it astounds me, and makes me wonder if you get any sleep at all. I thought I worked hard, but this makes me look like some lazy layabout. I find myself reflecting pretty deeply with each of your posts (well, okay, most of them), but I am particularly moved by your prison ministry, and how that setting shapes your theological reflection.

    You may also be interested to know that I serve as a mentor in a program called Education for Ministry, which is intended to help lay people learn their faith so they may function more faithfully as ministers of God's grace in the world. The first year's content is Old Testament, and the students find themselves bogged down with the Deuteronomic perspective, with (in the words of one) "all that crap in Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings." What's the point of it all? they ask. So I circulated your wonderful piece on cherem, and it helped them get why they need to struggle with this stuff. It helped them understand the power and challenge of theological reflection, so thank you particularly for that gift for the group.

    Finally, Happy New Year to you and Jana and all those whom you love. I look forward to reading much more of your stuff, to being challenged by it, and finally to being embraced by it. (btw I just ordered The Authenticity of Faith, and can't wait to get at it)

  4. Hi Richard, I'm grateful to be one of your daily readers here! I hope you do write that fourth book about doing beautiful things. I'm guessing you probably won't mind if I share my blog address here, seeing as though I work at making beautiful things (writings, art, music). www.leahschouten.blogspot.ca

    Thanks again, so much, for playing a role in my faith journey with your experimental theology. Peace be with you in the New Year and always.

  5. I'll keep an eye on it for reader over pond. Thanks, Andrew, for all you input and thoughtful comments over year. It has blessed me.

  6. Thanks so much for sharing this. It's very encouraging, and makes all the writing worth it. I hope you enjoy the book!

  7. A very happy and blessed New Year to you and yours, Richard. Adding my thanks for sharing your thoughts and life.


  8. Looking forward to the book, and am grateful for all of your great posts this year. I find your blog extremely encouraging, and always fascinating.

  9. Dana, thanks so much for sharing your insights into Orthodoxy. Those have been a blessing to me.

  10. Congratulations on the new book! This blog is a constant source of constructive vexation and insight for ol' qb, and if we took inventory of the changes in qb's perspectives over the past five years or so, a goodly share of them would be directly and explicitly attributable to what happens here.

  11. Thanks qb. I've learned a lot from you as well. The constructive vexations have been mutual!

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