Unclean: Meditations of Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality

By Richard Beck

A combination of psychology and theology exploring the tensions between the exclusivity of a holiness based on notions of purity and the inclusivity of mercy.

ISBN: 9780718892562


“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.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 212

Trade Information LPOD

About the Author

Richard Beck is Professor of Psychology at Abilene Christian University.


Introduction: Mercy and Sacrifice

Part 1: Unclean
1. Darwin and Disgust
2. Contamination and Contagion

Part 2: Purity
3. Morality and Metaphors
4. Divinity and Dumbfounding

Part 3: Hospitality
5. Love and Boundaries
6. Monsters and Scapegoats
7. Contempt and Heresy
8. Hospitality and Embrace

Part 4: Mortality
9. Body and Death
10. Sex and Privy
11. Need and Incarnation

Conclusion: Elimination and Regulation


Endorsements and Reviews

Theologians write endlessly about how Christian faith should affect our morality, our philosophy, and our spirituality. Richard Beck is the only one I know who asks what it has to do with what turns our stomachs. He writes bluntly and stunningly about the engagement of grace with our visceral dynamics of disgust and avoidance. Our complex, precognitive repulsions toward groups, behaviors, and persons stem from deep patterns in our nature. But, unredeemed, those patterns also block us from the gospel path. Beck combines biblical interpretation, theological wisdom, and dramatic psychological insights to give an earthy and exciting take on the Christian life.
S. Mark Heim, Samuel Abbot Professor of Christian Theology, Andover Newton Theological School

In his thoughtful, engaging, and even sometimes humorous style, Richard Beck tells the church that it is time to get dirty. With one leg hip-deep in theology and the other in psychological science, Beck persuasively argues that the church’s obsession with purity is a costly pursuit, one fraught with serious psychological and sociological consequences. You may not always agree, but you will be challenged in new ways to think about the church’s mission.
Peter C. Hill, Editor, Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Richard Beck has my vote as the liveliest voice in the contemporary integration of psychology and theology. In Unclean, he weaves together his sophisticated grasp of psychological research and theological reflection in a manner that is both prophetic and inviting. This is one of those rare books that can be helpful to those who love the church and also to those who have been hurt by churches. Beck writes with an integrative and formative rhythm that kept stimulating my mind and pulling at my heart. These ancient Biblical concepts of mercy, holiness, and hospitality have been implanted anew with deeper meaning for me.
Steven J. Sandage, Professor of Marriage and Family Studies, Bethel University

I am thankful that this insightful and important work has come to print. Richard Beck has woven together important themes from various critical conversations – psychology, theology, biblical studies, and missional ecclesiology – with exceptional artistry. He has ventured across the purity boundaries of academic disciplines for the sake of a large picture of the hospitality of God. His readers will be well rewarded for welcoming this ambitious and immensely practical book.
Mark Love, Director, Resource Center for Missional Leadership, Rochester College

Richard Beck’s insightful book is a must-read for those who want to embody Christ’s love in the world. Moving beyond mere sentimentality, this book exposes why we are so prone to alienate ‘the other’ and how we may pursue a way of hospitality and love. This is a deeply human, and humanizing, book.
Mark van Steenwyk, co-founder of the Missio Dei community, Minneapolis

This book left me stunned by an overwhelming impression of the kind of struggles some Christians have to come to terms with. This is a book that any young, or even not so young, earnest Evangelical would do well to engage with. Consequently one can only praise Beck for this tour de force.
Neil Broadbent, in The Christian Parapsychologist, Vol 1, No 7

Noteworthy and full of insights, Unclean is a recommended reading for anyone interested in the psychological – and theological – aspects of purity in the church.
David Jimenez-Cardenas, in Psychology of Religion, Vol 24, No 2

The value of this book is that it begins a conversation that needs to be explored. Many of the discussions to date about human sexuality have ignored the impact of a disgust reaction on the ways that people respond to those discussions. A more honest recognition of personal response will allow a more honest conversation. For that reason, I am grateful for the contribution this book makes.
Marion Chatterley, in The Expository Times, Vol 124, No 8

Beck’s skillful writing and psychological wisdom make this book a thought-provoking read.
Sue Dickinson, in Reviews in Religion & Theology, Vol 20, Issue 4