Thursday, February 23, 2012

[unclean: intro]

After reading Exclusion and Embrace by Volf, I heard about Richard Beck’s book unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality. Not only does he refer to Volf frequently, but his book is a fascinating look at the very real psychology which influences exclusion and embrace. A key Bible passage he references is Matthew 9, where Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees confront Jesus’ disciples about his behavior and he replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (verse 12).
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Echoing Hosea, Jesus defends his embrace of the “unclean” in the Gospel of Matthew, seeming to privilege the prophetic call to justice over the Levitical pursuit of purity. And yet, as missional faith communities are well aware, the tensions and conflicts between holiness and mercy are not so easily resolved. At every turn, it seems that the psychological pull of purity and holiness tempts the church into practices of social exclusion and a Gnostic flight from “the world” into a “too spiritual” spirituality. In an unprecedented fusion of psychological science and theological scholarship, Richard Beck describes the pernicious (and largely unnoticed) effects of the psychology of purity upon the life and mission of the church.
          (from the back cover).
I will be posting some quotes from his book that relate the themes on this blog. They will be labeled quotes from beck.

If you are interested in reading the book yourself, here’s the reference:
unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality
Richard Beck (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011)

Jamie Arpin-Ricci has interviewed Richard about the book. Read the interview at


  1. This reminds me of a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Being a Christan is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.”