The William Stringfellow Project

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that William Stringfellow, since my discovery of him a few years ago, has had an enormous impact upon my theological development. Outside of George MacDonald no one has had as much influence upon my thinking as William Stringfellow.

What grabbed me about Stringfellow? A couple things.

First, I sympathize with Stringfellow's biography. Stringfellow was a lawyer who wrote about theology. I'm a psychologist who writes about theology. We're both lay theologians. Outsiders to the profession.

But more importantly, what struck me about Stringfellow was how all this theology focuses on the predicament of death. Death is Stringfellow's great subject. It pervades all of this books and thinking.

This is important to me because death is the great subject of my own spiritual life and struggle. Ever since college death has been the topic I've wrestled with more than any other. And few if any of the theologians I'd read to that point had this same particular and intense focus. Then I found Stringfellow. Before reading Stringfellow I'd yet to find a theologian who saw the world the way I saw the world. I think a lot of us are looking for something like this. A theological soul mate. Stringfellow has become that for me.

Relatedly, Stringfellow has become the bridge that has allowed me to connect psychology with theology. As many of you know, my work has been greatly influenced by the thought of Ernest Becker. For years I struggled with how to connect Becker with Christian belief and practice. Stringfellow, because of his focus on death, helped me break through. I sit Becker and Stringfellow side by side and I have my bridge.

Given how important Stringfellow is to me I recently set myself the goal to read through all of his books in chronological order. And with a twist.

The twist--and if you are lover of books you'll get this--is to read all of Stringfellow's books in their first editions. I wanted to read Stringfellow's books as they came out of the crate when he first saw them. I can't explain this in any way other than wanting to make a connection with Stringfellow through space and time.

And so I set about looking for and buying first edition copies of all of Stringfellow's books. First printing and first edition if I could find it. And in this I was very successful. I now have first edition copies of all of Stringfellow's books and all but one are first printings.

More, during the search I found two copies that were autographed by Stringfellow. The prize of the bunch is a first edition, first printing, autographed copy of My People is the Enemy, Stringfellow's reflections on his years living in Harlem working as a lawyer.

(This all might sound really indulgent, expense-wise. But no one--other than nerds like me--cares that much about old Stringfellow books, even if they are first editions. Most of these books I got for $3-$5 each. The autographed ones were only about $20.)

A part of the fun in working with books from the '60s and '70s is getting a look at the dust jackets. Good Heavens, are some of these funky. I'm looking forward to sharing these with you.

So let me get to it.

I hate making big declarations on the blog about a series I'm going to do. Because sometimes I get bored and just stop and not finish. (I got through, what, one chapter of Walden?) So be warned, that might happen again. But I've read enough of these books already to believe that this series has a chance of being completed. And with that let me introduce you to The William Stringfellow Project.

The William Stringfellow Project is me reading through and blogging about Stringfellow's books in chronological order. More, I'll be reading the first editions and will share anything interesting from those editions. Things like pictures of the dust jacket, interesting endorsements on the back of the book, and curious things from the inside flaps.

Here is the reading list:
  • Public and Private Faith (1962, Eerdmans Publishing Co.)
  • Instead of Death (1962, Seabury Press). 
  • My People Is the Enemy (1964, Holt, Rinehart and Winston)
  • Free in Obedience (1964, Seabury Press)
  • Dissenter in a Great Society (1966, Holt, Rinehart and Winston)
  • Count It All Joy (1967, Eerdmans Publishing Co.)
  • Imposters of God: Inquiries into Favorite Idols (1969, Witness Books)
  • A Second Birthday (1970, Doubleday)
  • Suspect Tenderness: The Ethics of the Berrigan Witness (1971, Rinehart and Winston)
  • An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land (1973, Word)
  • Instead of Death, Second Edition (1976, Seabury Press)
  • Conscience and Obedience (1977, Word)
  • A Simplicity of Faith: My Experience in Mourning (1982, Abingdon)
  • The Politics of Spirituality (1984, Westminster Press)
Not on this list are two books Stringfellow wrote with his partner Anthony Towne about Bishop James Pike (The Bishop Pike Affair and The Death and Life of Bishop Pike). I have both books but I'm on the fence about adding them to the list. If I do read them I'm going to do so at the end as a sort of appendix to the series.

So that's the plan. I have no calender in mind, so these posts will appear irregularly. I also don't have a plan for what a particular post will look like. The idea is to do a sort of book review for each title.

So look forward to the William Stringfellow Project. Here are all the first editions of his books:

The First Editions of William Stringfellow

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24 thoughts on “The William Stringfellow Project”

  1. Hi Richard,

    I first encountered the name William Stringfellow over at Ben Myers' 'Faith and Theology' blog. Ben is a Barthian theologian and lectures in theology at the United Theological College here in Oz. If you haven't made the connection Ben's blog is well worth a look.  Peace.

  2. Sounds like an interesting publishing venture..."A Stingfellow Reader"...for those who aren't going to be able to read it all.

  3. Dr. Beck, thank you for sharing your "biography" with us.  I look forward to reading your series on Stringfellow, an author who would be unknown to me, if not for your recommendation and introduction.  I'm sure that the "finished" product will be just right.  We tend to think of "progress" as linear, forward movement.  I tend to believe, as (I think) Richard Rohr has said, the reality is that we learn, unlearn, and relearn for real, deep transformation.  I see the Stringfellow Project as a good impulse toward *relearning* -- who knows what additional insights will come to you now, after some mileage and experience has been logged in your life?  Your generosity in sharing these insights is received as true gift, with gratitude.  It seems to me that this blog, in general, is a real labor of love.  That's all we really have to offer (sacrament) of lasting value.  Whatever our vocation happens to be, we all "do" theology.  Remember, though?  "This is not an academic exercise."  I'm thinking *theosis* is a better way of describing it.  Oneness in mind and spirit, in Christ.

    I'm diggin' the funky book covers.  "Imposters of God":  What is that, a troll?!!  My favorite title:  "An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land."  I'm sure already that I can relate (namely, to the "alien" and "strange").

    Lastly, we do not "become" in a vacuum or in isolation.  I can relate to a sense of the profound "withness" of others, past or present, who have had a deep effect on me in my spiritual journey.  Re-membering, and passing on the blessing, is a sacred act of honoring the gifts that those individuals have given us.  Take courage and press on, friend.  ~Peace~

  4. "Outside of George MacDonald no one has had as much influence upon my thinking ... Before reading Stringfellow I'd yet to find a theologian who saw the world the way I saw the world. I think a lot of us are looking for something like this. A theological soul mate."

    At the risk of sounding like an idolizing teenager, your writing has done for me what Stringfellow's did for you. Before I stumbled onto your blog, I didn't know anyone else in Abilene who had ever even heard of MacDonald, much less read him. Your classroom blog has widened and deepened my reading and understanding, and I am deeply appreciative for your sharing it here.

  5. Dr. Larry Fink at HSU in Abilene, is a respected authority on McDonald. All of McDonald's works are collected in their library. He recently spoke on the author at Heavenly Rest and was well received. He is a kind and gentle man who would be most happy to enter into conversation about this man I am sure. Between Dr. Beck and Dr. Fink you can do lots of good. : )

  6. Others can jump in with their own thoughts. For MacDonald I'd start with Unspoken Sermons. From there check out some of his novels and see if you like them. I also love At the Back of the North Wind. For Stringfellow I recommend Free in Obedience and Ethics for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land. I'm also really fond of My People is the Enemy for its autobiographical nature.

  7. This is my first encounter with Stringfellow so I look forward to becoming more familiar. I have started reading Unspoken Sermons. I have also started reading your series on Death. Thanks for clearing up many a matter for me.

  8. At you end you suggest that Stringfellow had a "partner"; is that to suggest a business arrangement or something other?

  9. Probably the totally wrong place to post this but the opening phrase "Outside of George MacDonald..." compels me! GMD has been very impactful in my life as well; particularly, _Unspoken Sermons_.   I started reading the three series about four years ago and thought. "This is far too good to read fast. I must read s l o w l y." Thus I determined to record _Unspoken Sermons_.   3+ years later the deed is done and can be downloaded at The recording equipment was good. I hope the reading is good. But most importantly, MacDonald's view of God is stunningly beautiful!

  10. Stringfellow lived for many years with the poet Anthony Towne on Block Island. They co-authored books together and Stringfellow's book A Simplicity of Faith: My Experience in Mourning recounts his grief after Towne's death.

    Favorite tidbit: Stringfellow and Towne named their home "eschaton."

  11. I would imagine that "...Aliens in a Strange Land" is a sideways shout out to Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land".  And yes, the Troll cover is awesome.  

  12. As a therapist and a Christian, I am always interested in work that "bridges the gap" between theology and psychology. I'd welcome any references that might make for compelling and thoughtful reading. Thanks!

  13. For an example of an artist who writes about theology, I would highly recommend Makoto Fujimura. He recently created an illuminated version of "The Four Holy Gospels". What is really exciting is that it's all abstract.

    Here is a URL to some of his writings:

  14. Hi Pat,
    I've read a number of those green, hard-backed, odd-sized volumes that were privately donated. I get them through the inter-library loan program through the local library. :-)

  15. I'm really looking forward to this series, Richard. Thanks for helping some of us to discover Stringfellow. What do you think of the "A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings" ( anthology? Does it give a good overview/introduction?

  16.  Just stumbled upon your blog-post when I was doing a search for William Stringfellow. I consider Stringfellow to be a spiritual father in my faith-journey. I very much look forward to engaging with what you post.

  17. I feel the same way, but I actually am an idolizing teenager. I'm 15, and think George MacDonald was the most wonderful writer in the entire world. I haven't read his sermons, but I've indulged myself in ALL of his fantasies. They are magnificent. More people need to read George MacDonald!

  18. Ah, a psychologist-theologian-admirer of Stringfellow.  This means that I would be particularly interested in hearing your reflections on Alexander Lowen and his book _Narcissism: Denial of the True Self_.  Have you encountered it?

    According to Lowen, narcissism is a mental illness very characteristic of our era and involves a hopelessly idealistic image of oneself, to which one wants to live up so desperately that everything is hostage to it, including one's own real needs.  The crushing demands of this image leave the patient himself emotionally starving and tormented.  I don't know what Lowen's religious faith is, if any, but one doesn't often expect a profession of Christianity from psychologists or psychiatrists.  All the more striking it is, then, that he would describe the influence of this image upon the patient as "diabolical" and explain it as contributing to the difficulty and poor prognosis of treatment. 

    For any student of Stringfellow, all this is remarkably deja vue.  The only surprising thing about it is the source.  It's almost like finding independent confirmation of a hypothesis.

    Penny for your thoughts.

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