Friday, April 01, 2011

Professor Elizabeth Johnson's 2007 book, Quest for the Living God criticized by US Bishops

NCR reports that Sr Elizabeth Johnson's book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God has been criticized by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops as not in accord with Catholic teaching in that it: “completely undermines the Gospel and the faith of those who believe in the Gospel.” No disciplinary measures are proposed. The NCR article also contains this response:
Response by Dr. Elizabeth Johnson C.S.J., March 30, 2011:
It is heartening to see the Bishops Conference give such serious attention to the subject of the living God. I appreciate how this statement acknowledges the laudable nature of the task of crafting a theology of God, and the number of issues on which the statement judges that I am “entirely correct.” The book itself endeavors to present new insights about God arising from people living out their Catholic faith in different cultures around the world. My hope is that any conversation that may be triggered by this statement will but enrich that faith, encouraging robust relationship to the Holy Mystery of the living God as the church moves into the future.
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.
At this time I will make no further statements nor give any interviews.

The Christian Century just released a statement on the case. Commonweal Blog grapples with the censure and the book itself, noting the book's improved sales ranking on Amazon.com. (As of 4/1 at 5pm it is the #1 seller). Dan Horan of Siena College has a post which takes each of the USCCB points in turn carefully.  A blog called "Women in Theology"(WIT) posts in defense of Elizabeth Johnson and updates here and here. Frank Oveis, former editor of Continuum Books, blogs over at the T&T Clark Blog: Beth Johnson is the best-selling contemporary Roman Catholic theologian in the world--books translated into dozens of languages (Korean, Finnish, Chinese). She's garned every prize that American Catholic, plus other secular, institutions, can offer. How about a $200,000 Grawemeyer Award given by Southern Presbyterians? Okay, the U.S. bishops, don't want to hear about that.  He quotes an email received from a  leading US RC theologian (male) this morning: "I think they [the bishops] have idiots writing this report who give the most malicious interpretation of anything Beth has written. It is just terrible."
Sad to say, this could be a pr disaster for the Bishops but perhaps some good can come out of wider reading and explanations of the metaphorical and provisional nature of language about God. 

1 comment:

Ana said...

It almost looks as though it took them this long to read the book, and it's clear they need some work on their reading comprehension skills...