Experimental Theology 2014 Year in Review

Happy New Year!

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

Before I 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.

And thanks to all of you who have taken the time and the risk to comment on the blog. I've learned so much from your insights, perspectives, knowledge, criticisms and stories.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone who took the time and effort to Tweet or link to this blog. It's an honor that you've found posts worth sharing. And your kindness in linking has helped this blog grow every year.

So thank you. I'm so glad you are here. I'm looking forward to 2015.

And now a look back at the year that was 2014 here at Experimental Theology:

1. The Slavery of Death
My book The Slavery of Death went on sale at the start of the year. Over the year the book has received some very nice reviews on Amazon: 
"...illuminating and provocative..."
"I can't recommend this book highly enough."

"Wonderful, thought provoking, challenging and liberating....Will leave you with a whole new perspective on your world..."

"A fantastic dialogue of the Christian faith and psychology..."


"One of the best books I've read in recent years."

"Powerful and evocative."

"Definitely one of those few books that really does change how you see everything..."
In the fall I spoke at the The Fuller Integration Lectures with the lectures summarizing the main ideas in The Slavery of Death. Returning from Fuller I summarized some of the conversation given by the respondents to my lectures, conversations that deepened and expanded the content of the book. Those Fuller posts were: Can We Believe in God Non-Violently?, Monuments of Self-glorification in the Face of Death, You Are Beloved and Kenosis as Pouring Out and Vomiting.

Books are time capsules, but the ideas contained therein are not. So during the year I continued to think about what I wrote in The Slavery of Death. Two popular posts in this regard were Death and Love on (Cormac McCarthy's) The Road and Renunciation.

Finally, during the year I had readers submit questions about the book and I responded to those in a post: Slavery of Death Reader Q&A.

2. The Theology of Johnny Cash
The most popular series I did during the year was "The Theology of Johnny Cash." I've really gotten into the music of Johnny Cash and this series was a quick survey of some of the theological riches that can be found in his work. This month I'm going to be teaching a class at my church Freedom Fellowship entitled "The Gospel According to Johnny Cash." With great fear and trembling I'm going to try to actually play and sing the Johnny Cash songs I'm going to be talking about each lesson. Also, this year at the Pepperdine Lectures Mark Love and I will be doing an evening session about the theology of Johnny Cash. "The Theology of Johnny Cash" series:

Part 1: I Walk the Line, Part 2: Sinner & Saint, Part 3: The Man in Black, Part 4: Bitter Tears, Part 5: San Quentin You've Been Living Hell to Me, Part 6: I Will Make You Hurt, Part 7: The Anawim, Part 8: A Whirlwind in a Thorn Tree        

I concluded that series with a post for those who haven't listened to a lot of Cash but would like some guidance in where to get started: Exploring the Music of Johnny Cash.

3. The Charism of the Charismatics
The second most popular series I did this year was "The Charism of the Charismatics." These posts were prompted by my biography. I'm a skeptical, progressive Christian who struggles with doubt and metaphysics. Thus, my theology tends to be disenchanted and demythologized. And if that last sentence doesn't make any sense to you it simply means I struggle with believing in things like demons, angels and miracles.

And yet, because God likes to mess with me, I've found myself sharing life with friends and fellow believers--out at the prison and at our church plant Freedom Fellowship--who are guided by a charismatic and pentecostal worldview. I've discovered that charismatic and pentecostal theology is the theology of the margins, worldwide and in my own local experience. Thus, a skeptical, doubting Christian like myself will experience some pretty significant theological culture shock as you start to share life at the margins. You have to figure how to share and speak this theological language in a way that has intellectual integrity while also being honoring, humble and open. Concretely, you have to learn to lay on hands, anoint with oil and speak of the devil in a way that isn't fake, ironic or paternalistic.

So this series was sharing my journey in learning how to connect with charismatic and pentecostal theology in my own local contexts:

Part 1: Holy Ghost Conga Lines, Part 2: The Pentecostal Worldview, Part 3: Surprised by God, Part 4: Hermeneutics as Enchantment, Part 5: Bodies and Souls, Part 6: The Heart Has a Way of Knowing, Part 7: The Preferential Option for the Poor

4. 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 Robertson prison for a group of 30-40 inmates. I've heard from many readers that these stories have became your favorite posts on the blog.

Some highlights from the last year:

To Make the Love of God Credible
In Prison with Ann Voskamp
There Is a Balm in Gilead
God's Unconditional Love
The Philosopher

5. Ferguson
The events in Ferguson roiled the nation and continue to do so. A lot has been written on social media about how Christians and the church should respond. I added a few posts to that conversation:

The Passion of White America
More than Three Minutes
The Only Way I Know How to Save the World
Honor the Outrage: A Reflection on 1 Corinthians 6 and the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

6. Eccentric Christianity
Another popular series I did this year was entitled "Eccentric Christianity." Borrowing the term and concept from David Kelsey I've been struck with the theological fruitfulness of the concept of "eccentricity." I used the notion of an "eccentric identity" in The Slavery of Death, but this series was an attempt to use eccentricity as a way to explore God, the church, Christian mission, the Holy Spirit and belief:

Part 1: A Peculiar People, Part 2: The Eccentric God, Part 3: Welcoming God in the Stranger, Part 4: The Porous Self and the Spirit, Part 5: Doubt, Gratitude and Eccentric Faith, Part 6: The Economy of Love, Part 7: The Eccentric Kingdom

7. Friendships at the Margins
Beyond the prison I continue to write about my small attempts to give and receive friendship "at the margins" as a part of my life with our church Freedom Fellowship, a worshiping community that serves a weekly meal to friends and neighbors on the South side of Abilene.

Some of the popular posts that originated from Freedom over the year:

Anointing With Oil
Our Lady of Guadalupe
This Morning Jesus Put On Dark Sunglasses
Wiping the Blood Away
Gerald's Gift
Giving a Friend a Lift

8. 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. You can check out all those installments on the sidebar.

This year we covered (chapter by chapter) what many consider to be Stringfellow's best book, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land. This year I also reviewed the book Conscience and Obedience.

Only two more books remain in this series--A Simplicity of Faith: My Experience in Mourning and The Politics of Spirituality. I hope to cover these two books in 2015 and bring The William Stringfellow Project to a close.

9. Popular Posts
An assortment of posts went "viral" to greater or lesser extents over the year, getting shares on Facebook or Twitter. The most popular posts from 2014 have been:

Social Media as Sacrament
Playing God: Using Power to Empower
On Christian Celebrity
How Friendship Saves the World: Sacramental Friendship and the Strength of Weak Ties
All the Sick and Twisted Ways Power and Victimhood Have Screwed Us Up: On Kenosis and Contemplation
Doubt and Cognitive Rumination
Empathic Open Theism
Wearing a Crucifix
The Meanings Only Faith Can Reveal
Why I Talk About the Devil So Much: The Devil, Enchantment and Non-Violence
Visiting and Evolving in Monkey Town
Roller Derby Girls
Icons of God in Marriage: Nature and Election
Incarnational Theology and Mental Illness
Barbara, Stanley and Andrea: Thoughts on Love, Training and Social Psychology
Faith as Quantum Superposition
The Weakness of God and Sin
You Kiss What You Love
When God Became the Devil

10. Blogging About the Bible
Finally, I continue to write a lot about the bible, sharing insights and thoughts about biblical texts, from the quirky to the profound. I often float interpretive innovations, hermeneutical "experiments."

Because of my teaching in the Sojourners adult bible class on Sundays the first part of the year saw a few posts about Ecclesiastes, much of it connecting with The Slavery of Death: Life is Fleeting: Hebel in Ecclesiastes, The Heart of Wisdom: Chasing and Rest in Ecclesiastes and Gain Versus Gift: The Slavery of Death in Ecclesiastes.

Popular posts connecting Psalms to issues of oppression were The Psalms as Liberation Theology and Quit Tone Policing the Psalms.

Attempts at non-violent interpretations of various biblical texts and the atonement included On Religious Commitment and Violence: A Reading of the Akedah, A Christological Reading of Psalm 68, The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 and Redemption and Goel.

This year I also began to explore preterism and how it might be used to think about the Second Coming and Judgment. Two posts exploring this where On Preterism, the Second Coming and Hell and The Things That Make For Peace. Keep your eye on this topic as I'm continuing to ponder preterist perspectives and have already written some posts scheduled to come out in 2015.

Other popular posts exploring biblical texts during the year included Lord of the Flies, Hell On Earth: The Church as the Baptism of Fire, Be Holy to Love Each Other, The Metric of a Prophet, Be Baptized and God's Golden Rule.

So there it is, the year that was 2014 here at Experimental Theology! Hope to see you around in 2015.

Grace and peace,

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2 thoughts on “Experimental Theology 2014 Year in Review”

  1. Happy New Year, Richard and everyone! Congratulations on another year of dedicated commitment to this blog which has meant so much to many of us over the years. Highlights for me included the Eccentric Christianity series and continuing inspiration from the prison fellowship. Please pass on my thanks to the guys and let them know they are held in mind (at least in a few select places) around the world. Looking forward to sharing your journey through 2015 - another year, another book...?

  2. Thanks so much, Andrew, especially for your consistent encouragement over the years. You've been a great blessing to me. And I will pass on your blessings, thoughts and prayers to "the Men in White" (the inmates wear white so that's the name we have for them.)

    I don't know if it will come out in 2015, but I will be working on a fourth book this year, tentatively titled "Angelic Troublemakers: A Progressive Theology of Spiritual Warfare for Skeptics, Doubters and the Disenchanted." It'll be a book building on and expanding my "On Warfare and Weakness" series from last year.

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