Journal Week 10: Switcheroo

I have a lot of conversations with people about the style and tone of my last two books. Many readers report being caught off guard.

My first three books--Unclean, The Authenticity of Faith, and The Slavery of Death--were written for academic, classroom, and seminary audiences. So people who followed me and read my books had a notion about what a "Richard Beck book" would be like.

And then I hit them with Reviving Old Scratch and Stranger God.

Reviving Old Scratch and Stranger God were written for Fortress Press as a part of their Theology for the People imprint. Theology for the People is aimed at a popular, general audience market. And that demands a different sort of writing. More whimsy (Scoobydoification, anyone?), more stories, and less jargon.

Some readers of my earlier books found this change of style jarring. They tell me they prefer my earlier books.

But for every reader who prefers Unclean to Stranger God, I can tell a story of a reader who gave up reading one of my early books because they were "too hard." "I needed a dictionary!" is what I often hear.

In fact, the origin of Stranger God came from one of these conversations.

I was planning to speak at a church to talk about radical hospitality, like I do, and the church had recommended that members check out Unclean prior to my visit. Mrs. Azalee, an older member at the church, did so.

But when I came to the church Mrs. Azalee confronted me angrily, "Why is your book so hard to read!?" She was legitimately frustrated. I apologized and said the book wasn't really written to be handed out widely in a church. We chatted and left reconciled.

That conversation with Mrs. Azalee was the moment I decided to write a more accessible book about hospitality, a book Mrs. Azalee would like.

So, to all my nerdy, academically inclined readers, yes, Reviving Old Scratch and Stranger God are a bit of a switcheroo. And I hope that we, too, can be reconciled.

Because sometimes you just have to write a book for Mrs. Azalee.

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