Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, one of the giants in the world of theology was taken to task by the U.S. Bishops regarding statements in her 2007 book Quest for the Living God.

As a Fordham graduate one of the big regrets in my life was not having Sr. Johnson as a professor. I wasn’t a theology major as an undergrad and she didn’t fit into my schedule for one of my electives. In grad school her courses weren’t offered for religious ed majors. But I have read several of her books and the one in question sits on my shelf and while I haven’t read it completely, I have perused much of it, albeit awhile ago.

Br. Dan Horan has a fine post going through the Bishop’s critique point by point. It’s an excellent summary by someone who has really digested the book and the theories surrounding it well. He adds a second piece to this as well that also treats how this was horribly handled.

Sr. Johnson’s response left me admiring her much more than I already do. A snip of it is below:

I would like to express two serious concerns. First, I would have been glad to enter into conversation to clarify critical points, but was never invited to do so. This book was discussed and finally assessed by the Committee before I knew any discussion had taken place. Second, one result of this absence of dialogue is that in several key instances this statement radically misinterprets what I think, and what I in fact wrote. The conclusions thus drawn paint an incorrect picture of the fundamental line of thought the book develops. A conversation, which I still hope to have, would have very likely avoided these misrepresentations.

That being said, as a scholar I have always taken criticism as a valuable opportunity to delve more deeply into a subject. The task of theology, classically defined as “faith seeking understanding,” calls for theologians to wrestle with mystery. The issues are always complex, especially on frontiers where the church’s living tradition is growing. Committed to the faith of the church, I take this statement as an occasion to ponder yet further the mystery of the living God who is ineffable.

I find it hard to believe that the Bishops would have the gall to review a book by a prominent theologian and not have the courtesy to tell the theologian in question that they were doing so. At the very least they could have informed the University President of their actions but instead their secrecy took precedence. Horrible.

Theology is an academic endeavor. It is an opportunity to explore all that we can, to argue, to speculate, to be free to question and to not write a catechism at the end but rather a book that leads people to deeply consider God and what God might be calling us to see in modern society.

Sr. Johnson, you are a class act. I hope you get your day in front of these guys and I hope it becomes a public theological smackdown where they will need to issue you a public apology by the end of it. If nothing else, for their terrible breach of etiquette.

Since my book also came out in 2007, I’m quaking in my boots for the review to come forth any day now. It seems to me that it took four years for the Bishops to read Johnson’s book and they still didn’t understand it.

OH, here’s an even better question: How many people will go and buy this book now that they’ve given it the boot? It ranked #179 on Amazon’s best sellers list after the announcement and #1 in theology books. Guess that’s one way to increase sales–have the Bishops say your book isn’t any good.

0 thoughts on “Elizabeth Johnson responds to Bishops Critique”
  1. We read Quest for the Living God for our book discussion at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, DC. The discussion was led by a biblical scholar and theologian from Georgetown University. I, and I think many in our group, thought this was one of the best books that we have read for discussion in the last 5 years. This is definitely–for me at least–the best book I have read on the theology of God since reading John Macquarrie’s Principles of Christian Theology, a book I read when pursuing a graduate degree in theology. We need more works of theology like this one written by Dr. Johnson, and we need to be encouraging theologians in their pursuits. The points made in this article were superb. Bravo!!

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