The 2009 Year in Review

Sometimes I wonder about how to classify this blog. I'm a psychologist who blogs about theology. A believer who struggles with belief. And a Christian who wants to disown much of what passes for Christianity.

That said, one of the advantages of blogging outside of my academic discipline is that I'm rarely at a loss for material. Unlike most theological blogs I could launch into a series tomorrow reviewing, say, John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus. Most theological blogs would never devote that kind of time to a book they generally have to assume their readership knows very well. For my part, as an outsider, I don't assume anything. I will assume you've never heard of John Howard Yoder. This, I think, is a part of my "niche," a place where people can peep into my theological explorations, learning right along with me.

That said, sometimes I do try to make constructive, novel and positive theological proposals. Rather than summarizing or commenting on existing theological work I sometimes try to actually do some theological work, to say something new and original. Some of those attempts were on display in 2009:

Experimental Theology 2009 Year in Review

1. The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity
In 2009 I wrote the post that has gotten more attention than anything I've ever written on this blog. Something about my broadside about Christians being bad tippers struck a nerve. Mostly for the positive. However, someone did compare me to the Antichrist in the comments of that post.

2. Original Sin: A New View
2009 started with a series where I tried to develop an alternative formulation of the doctrine of original sin. Specifically, I wondered if human sinfulness was less a product of a inner defect then the predictable outcome of being, to use the words of Marilyn McCord Adams, biodegradable creatures in a world of (real or potential) scarcity. The series ultimately transformed a load of soteriological problems into a load of theodicy problems. Which is a frequent theological habit of mine.

3. The Theology of Monsters
The series I had the most fun with in 2009 was writing about the theology of the monstrous. The series was inspired by a church class I hosted on this subject and I repost this material every Halloween.

4. Alone, Suburban and Sorted
In 2009 I dipped into sociology with a synthetic review of the books Bowling Alone, The Big Sort and That Great Good Place. In this series I discussed how Americans are becoming increasingly isolated and ideologically homogenized leading to massive loss of social and civic skills (e.g., welcoming difference). I suggested that churches might become "third places" to help step into this social and civic gap.

5. Freud and Faith
I lecture on Freud every year and in this series I wrote about some of the theological observations I make when I discuss the work of Freud with students. Two posts from this series entitled Pants and Potty are pretty funny (and each, I think, also make interesting points).

6. The Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience
A massive project I took on during 2009 was an engagement with Sigmund Freud and William James. The series set out to answer a very simple question, one asked by Freud: Isn't religious faith just wishful thinking? My answer, which should be of interest to religious persons, builds on the work of William James. ACU Press has expressed interest in this material and I hope to turn this series into a book.

7. Thoughts on Mark Driscoll...While I'm Knitting
This post also got some Internet attention, mainly because the subject of the post, Mark Driscoll, is so controversial and polarizing. In the post I use Mark Driscoll to meditate on masculinity in the church. And I also reveal my penchant for knitting while proctoring exams.

8. Darwin's Sacred Cause
The best book review I did during 2009 was this review of the book Darwin's Sacred Cause. Given how polarizing Darwin is in Christian circles I recommend every Christian read this book to understand how The Origin of Species functioned in the war to end slavery.

9. Purity and Defilement
Another massive series I did during 2009 was an extended psychological meditation on disgust and purity in the life of the church. The series circled around the events in Matthew 9--Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners--and Jesus' claim that God "desires mercy, not sacrifice." The links to this series are now dead because most of this material is coming out in my first book. The book is entitled Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality and will be published by Cascade this Winter/Spring. I'll keep you posted when it's available for purchase.

10. Aliens and a Dog
I try not to write a lot about my personal life (it's not that interesting) but two of my favorite posts from 2009 were biographical (with some theology mixed in). The first post was about our dog Bandit and the experience of becoming first-time dog owners. The second post was about our family trip to find aliens in Roswell, NM.

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

2 thoughts on “The 2009 Year in Review”

  1. Happy New Year, Richard, and all your readers. Am delighted to report that I have already fulfilled my New Year's resolution to look up soteriology and theodicy in the dictionary. Can now suggest a new blog series for 2011 (after your T.S.Eliot one) of 'The Theodicy Odyssey' - catchy or what? Could be a book deal in it...

    More seriously, thank-you for this overview of the last few years. I'm trying to catch up as fast as I can! Looking forward to all that inspires you to inspire us in 2011, Richard. I love the fact that you see yourself as a fellow-learner. Amen to that for all of us.

  2. Do you actually needed to remove the links to your series of Purity and Defilement, even if at the end most of the content ended in a book? I found it helpful to direct some friends to your posts. Not everything in life is money, and even so if money were the motive, it will be still in general much more likely that the people I know would buy your book because they have been inspired by the post, than directly from a store. I found it really a pity that the links are missing.

Leave a Reply