“You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent. You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be the substance of your message? Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God.” – Thomas Merton, by way of Richard Beck
Richard Beck doesn’t know me. We’ve never met. So I do hope he doesn’t mind that I am featuring him (and his books and blog) for my very first #ff (follow Friday) post.
Richard Beck doesn’t know me. But I know him, or at least I know his work.
According to his Amazon profile, Richard Beck is the author of several books (more on those below), a professor of Psychology as Abilene Christian university, and – among other things – a blogger. And it’s his blog that I want to begin with, because it might be the best thing on the internet.
I first stumbled upon Richard Beck’s blog, Experimental Theology, years ago when I was in a very different place in my faith journey (see my kick-off post for a little context). At the time, reading Beck’s work felt like I’d accidentally opened some sort of Pandora’s Box of dangerous thinking. And yet, despite my trepidation, I couldn’t help coming back from time to time to get my progressive Christian fix.
And make no mistake, Richard Beck is a self-described progressive Christian, comfortable with the claims of modern science concerning human evolution, skeptical at times about some of the more supernatural elements of the Christian faith, and fully affirming of the LGBTQ community in the life of the church – among plenty of other semi-stereotypically progressive things. Yet as an – at the time – confidently conservative Christian, I couldn’t help but respect Beck’s work.
And while this blog exists – in part – to catalogue the ways that I’ve shifted away from my more conservative roots over the years, one of the things I continue to love about Richard Beck is how sensitive and appreciative he is to the concerns and perspectives of more conservative people of faith. In fact, he frequently writes about what is lost when progressives lose many of the theological categories so central to a more traditional Christian expression.
But that’s not the only thing I like about Beck’s work. So allow me to outline a few more of his virtues.
First off, he never fails to lay all his cards on the table. Beck is always comfortable in his own position, even it’s one of uncertainty. There is an unmistakable humility about his writing that is hard to ignore. And he never hesitates to push back against his own “camp” when the situation calls for it.
Second, Beck is deeply practical in a profoundly pastoral way. Perhaps it’s due to his experience as a teacher or maybe it’s what he’s learned through the prison Bible study he leads. Regardless of the reason, I found myself drawing on Beck’s work in my own ministry long before some of Beck’s more (seemingly) radical perspectives began to resonate in my own thinking. Beck addresses questions and topics that a lot of people are asking about, and does so with a command of the subject matter and a sensitivity towards those who might find his conclusions unsettling.
Additionally, Beck is incredibly accessible. I’m convinced Beck is at least three times smarter than me. But he writes in a way that avoids the dictionary-necessitating pretension that often characterizes deeper thought.
Lastly, Beck’s work is contagiously hopeful. The Thomas Merton quote I shared at the onset of this post is pinned to the top of his blog and perfectly captures the tone of his writing. I can pay Beck no higher compliment than to say that his work achieves the end towards which Merton’s quote points.
Beck’s blog is a daily read for me, in part because he updates it on a near-daily basis, a level of consistency that most bloggers can only dream of matching. Regardless of your theological (or lack thereof ) inclinations, political leanings, or general interest in reading of any kind, please make Experimental Theology a regular part of your week.
But don’t stop there! If you find yourself liking Dr. Beck’s blog, it might be time to invest a little bit of your next Amazon gift card into his book-length work.
Richard Beck has written four books, The Authenticity of Faith, The Slavery of Death, Unclean, and Reviving Old Scratch. They are all phenomenal – and I say that without a hint of hyperbole (noun: exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally).
They all address incredibly relevant topics, such as the importance of the Satan to a genuinely Christian theology (Reviving Old Scratch). And each one, without a doubt, makes my top 20 ministry/theology books of all time. If you’ve seen my bookshelves you know that’s no small accomplishment. And Unclean in particular might make the top 5. It’s that good (and they are all pretty short reads).
I won’t take the time here to unpack them, though there may be posts in the future for that. Just click the links I’ve provided for their descriptions on Amazon (and then you’ll only be one more click away from owning them yourself!).
I’ll finish this post off by highlighting a few of my favorite Experimental Theology posts/series.
An insightful walkthrough of Bonhoeffer’s most challenging work. Links to the subsequent posts in the series are at the bottom of the first post.
A great series of reflections on another great (and timely) author.
Finally, here is Beck’s 2016 year-end review post.
This offers a nice overview of the content that Beck saw as his most significant of the year. He has similar posts for earlier years.
And if none of these strike your fancy, please take a moment to peruse the archives listed on the right-hand side of his blog’s main page. There is some truly profound stuff there, like this Gandalf quote he posted this week!
Anyway, hope you enjoyed my first #ff (follow Friday) post. Check back Monday as I continue unpacking my faith journey and also on Wednesday as debut my first single-topic post on Christianity and the Theory of Evolution! Or better yet, subscribe and share so you and your loved ones don’t miss a single update of the Deconstruction of David Roberts!