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 Transforming Liberalism: 
The Theology of James Luther Adams

by George Kimmich Beach

Boston: Skinner House Books, 2004, 404 pages

Order from: The Unitarian Universalist Bookstore, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108 @  $18

James Luther Adams (1901 – 1994), a distinguished teacher of social ethics at the University of Chicago and Harvard Divinity School, addressed the major religious and political currents of the 20th century. During extended studies in Germany, he encountered young Nazis, “German Christians,” and the Confessing Church resistance. These experiences led him to recognize the vulnerability of liberal values and institutions to anti-democratic ideologies, and the failure of the universities and the churches to confront them. In this historical context Adams sought a transformed and transforming liberalism. His life-work speaks to the question: Can liberalism recover its prophetic edge and like the Phoenix, rise from its own ashes in the 21st century?

The book provides a systematic treatment of the famously “unsystematic”  Adams.  Its  chapters take phrases from Adams’s own striking rhetoric for their subtitles: (1) Being Religious: “The Intimate and the Ultimate,” (2) Being Human: “The Primacy of the Will,” (3) Contronting the Demonic: “Blessed Are the Powerful,” (4) Confronting Injustice: “By Their Groups You Shall Know Them,” (5) Renewing Community: “The Covenant of Being,” (6) Renewing Faith: “Taking Time Seriouly.”  

A cover-story review of the book notes this thematic structure of the book:  “Beach explores six central themes in Adams’s essays, speeches, letters, and films. . . .  The themes are broad and encompassing, but by emphasizing the stories Adams frequently told to illustrate his points, Beach presents Adams at his most engaging.  The result is a rich guide to one of Unitarian Universalism’s greatest thinkers.”  –Christopher Walton, Senior Editor, Unitarian Universalist World

“Beach leads the reader on a discursive, personal journey through the mind and faith of James Luther Adams.  Rich in parable and paradox, Adam’s thought remains vivid, his cautions instuructive, and his spiritual and ethical commitment worthty of abiding emulation.”       –Forrest Church, author of So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State

“James Luther Adams, one of the most beloved teachers, raconteurs, scholars and editors of the 20th century, wrote in small units rather than full-length books.  No one has mastered this vast body of material or grasped its inner coherence better than Beach, who not only edited several earlier volumes of Adams’s works but has not compiled the main themes into this compelling, coherent, readable and delightfully integrated whole.  It is a magnificent achievement, done with nuance, art and accuracy.  I would not be surprised to see this volume trigger a resurgence of liberalism in theology and social thought, rescuing it from its all to frequent fall into superficiality as well as the slanderous attacks on it by current political and religious dogmatists.”  –Max L. Stackhouse, DeVries Professor of Theoloty and Public Life, Princeton Theolgical Seminary

Transforming Liberalism” is a remarkable achievement.  Even for those of us who knew Jim personally and learned so much from him, your book gereatly enhances what we were aware of only in snatches.  I admired Jim greatly, but I now know much more of his thinking and admire him even more.” –George Rupp, President, International Rescue Committee, former President, Columbia University, New York


Questions for the Religious Journey: Finding Your Own Path

 by George Kimmich Beach

(Boston: Skinner House Books, 1995, new edition 2002), 204 pages  

Order from: UUA Bookstore, @ $16

 This book has been used with adult study groups in Unitarian Universalist and at least one Episcopal churches.   An 8-page Study Guide is available from the author on request (

“Religous ideas and emotions are closely linked to our quest for a more authentic humanity, even for what Hindus call a ‘great soul.’  More than any other subject, religion inspires mindless credulity in some people and skepticism, even cynicism, in others.  We’ve all known ‘true believers’ and ‘the disillusioned,’ and at some point in our life journeys we may have ounted ourselves among one group or the other.  This book is addressed to people who seek something better than these alternataives, who want an intellectually honest and a deeply felt religious faith.”  –from the Preface

The chapters form a “systematic” liberal theology: (1) The Heart’s Directive [on religion], (2) Naming God, (3) The Human Condition, (4) Creative Freedom [on human nature], (5) The Moral Covenant [on ethics], (6) Newmindedness [on Jesus’ message], (7) The Dedicated Community [on church], (8) Parabolic Vision [on faith]. 

“Beach shows how imporant and critical faith can be in a confused and disoriented time.”  –Harvey Cox


Feribacsi in His Own Words: The Reverend Nagy Ferenc, His Story, His Art, His Songs — Segesvar, Transylvania

 Geroge Kimmich Beach interviewer and editor

Madison, Virginia: Campicello Press, 2009, 40 pages

Order from Campicello Press, P.O. Box 417, Madison, VA 22727 @ $15 (includes shipping)

In this oral history Nagy Ferenc (last name first) his life and times with great humanity and humor.   Growing up in the mystique-laden land of Transylvania, being a member of the oppressed Hungarian minority in Romania, becoming an internal refugree during World War II (fleeing first the Germans, then Allied bombs, then the Russians), serving as a Unitarian minister during the era of Communist totalitalianism–all these figure in the stories he tells.  The book, illustrated with Nagy’s paintings and songs, will give young people and adults a vivid sense of the struggles and joyous liberal faith of Transylvanian Unitarians in the last century, and continuing today.


James Luther Adams

 The Prophethood of All Believers

 edited and with an introduction by George Kimmich Beach (Madison, Virginia: Campicello Press, 2009), 324 pages. 

$22.95; order from  (Originally published by Beacon Press in 1986.)

Includes “Taking Time Seriously,” “A Faith for the Free,” “A Theological Interpretationof the Holocaust,” “The Need for a New Language” (on Paul Tillich), “From Cage to Covenant,” “The Lure of Persuasion: Some Themes from Whitehead,” “Blessed Are the Powerful.”

“Without [Adams] I would not be what I am, bioigraphically as well as theologically.  He represents in his whole being a warning agianst a theology that sacrifices the prophetic for teh mystical element, though both of them, as he and I agree, are essential for religion generally and Christianity especially.”  –Paul Tillich

“These essays will be read and reread by those ministers, theologians, and students who find in JLA’s work a unique source of insight, challenge, and inspiration.”  –James F. Gustafson, recipient of the Lifelong Achievenent award, Society of Christian Ethics

“Whereas academics often observe the personal side of learning, Adams offers us an open window on his own soujourn.  He shares personal stories when making a point and writes with refreshing candor.  . . . Prophethood is fun, wide-ranging.”  —The Christian Century


                                                                   An Examined Faith:

Social Context and Religious Commitment

by James Luther Adams

 edited and with an introduction by George K. Beach (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991), 384 pages.  Order from Campicello Press, P. O. Box 417, Madison, VA 22727, @ 18 (shipping included).  

Includes “A Come-Outer” [Adams himself], “A Time to Speak: Conversations at Collegium” [Adams’s major themes, informally presented], “Encounter with the Demonic,” “The Existentialist Thesis,” “The Liberal Christian Holds Up the Mirror.”

“It is no exaggeration to say that James Luther Adams is the primary channel through which the liberal religious tradition has been transmitted to the current generation.  More than anyone, Adams has remembered the sources, the history, the essentials.  This collection of essays is the fruit of a life dedicated to gathering, sifting, and recreating the ‘classics’ of the western liberal religious tradition–a book that will soon take its own turn as a ‘classic’ for religious liberals of all theological and political persuasions.”  — J. Ronald Engel, editor, Voluntary Associations: Socio-cultural Analyses and Theological Interpretation, by James Luther Adams


The Essential JLA

by James Luther Adams

 edited and with an introduction by George Kimmich Beach

(Boston: Skinner House Books, 1998), 240 pages; 

order from UUA Bookstore, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108  @ $14. 

Some of the most imporant and accessible of Adams’s essays, including some of his most striking and characteristic short statements: “I call that church free,” “History is made by groups,” “What is the essence of liberalism?”

“James Luther Adams belongs in the compahy of such artist-teachers as Andres Segovia and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.  In performing and taching to others the skills of living, he has proved himself to be a master.”  –Karen Smith, Cross-Currents

“The Essential James Luther Adams brilliantly provides a concise representatinof the core of Adams’s significant Christian insights on society.  At the same time, it reveals how closely related these reflections were to Adams’s life and experience.  Such an achievement could have been carried out only by a verteran Adams scholar like George Kimmich Beach.” –Stephen Charles Mott, President, The James Luther Adams Foundation


Catechism with an Open Mind

Madison, VA: Campicello Press, 1995, third edition, 80 pages

by George Kimmich Beach

Available from Campicello Press, P. O. Box 417, Madison, VA 22727, @ $10, or $7/copy for five or more copies

A question and answer study guide inviting religious self-understanding throught he discussion of basic questions: What is religion?  The God question.  What it means to be human.  Being in community.  What it means to be a Unitarian Universalist.   Used with older high school students and adults many times in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Virginia.

“Religion is the dimension of depth in all of life experience.  My religion is my answer to the question which I am.”  –Paul Tillich

Cover illustration, “Thoreau’s Loon,”  by George Kimmich Beach:  “Having looked in vain over the pond for a loon, suddenly one, sailing out from the shore toward the middle a few rods in front of me, set up his wild laugh and betrayed himself.  I pursued and he dived.    But why, after displaying so much cunning, did he invariably betray himself the moment he came up by that loud laugh?  . . . ”   –Henry David Thoreau, Walden


One Comment leave one →
  1. February 26, 2011 6:52 pm

    Kim, your site is lovely. . . . Blessings and cheers to you and Barbara. What a beautiful ceramic sculpture [to make its appearance in a future posting–GKB] you’ve created. What a creative soul you are!


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