US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Elizabeth Johnson: Bad for your faith?

Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Not by a long shot!

Dismay doesn't even begin describe my reaction to the U.S. bishops' doctrine committee's determination that Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God (Continuum, 2007) "contaminates" traditional Chrsitian theology. (You can read the bishops' statement here.) Most embarrassing is it's point-by-point, "let's find everything possible wrong with you," quality, which you expect to find in a breathless blog post but not from a committee of nine bishops.

Further, not a single attempt was made to actually discuss the questions with the theologian herself--what would have been a very entertaining conversation, I am sure. Instead, says the committee's spokesperson, Father Thomas Weinandy, "They felt it was self-evident in the book what she was saying and that it was wrong. The bishops felt it was expedient, since this book has become so popular, to act upon it immediately." Nor did the committee reveal who brought the book to the committee's attention.

Is that how we behave in the household of God? Just issue blanket staements ripping apart a dedicated theologian's work without even a phone call? Elizabeth Johnson is a brilliant theologian, and her work is deeply rooted in the theological tradition while also being challenging. Indeed, she does a great service to the church by trying to speak and write in ways that respond to the needs of contemporary people--not a trait I find often in bishops.

If you don't believe me, read what her work as it has appeared in U.S. Catholic. It's good stuff, and good Catholic stuff to boot: our most recent interview with her; and an essay that appeared in April 2010.