Monday, May 14, 2007

Elizabeth A. Johnson: She Who Is

Johnson's book was the only one written by a woman that featured in the list of the fifteen most important books of the last 25 years. That's just sad. I hope it says more about who writes and reads theology blogs than about what is really the state of theology today. At least in my own field, the study of Early Christian Asceticism, there are lot's of great female scholars. In fact, from the top of my head I could probably mention more female scholars of note than male.

In any case, this just makes a book like Johnson's all the more important. The book tries to sum up the main insights of the first few decades of feminist theology in a systematic manner. Of course it cannot be complete, it focuses mostly on theology and Christology, and does not treat for example ecclesiology or the ministry. This has the clear advantage that she can avoid much disputed areas and that what she says is applicable in any church regardless of confession.

Johnson presents the case for the need of a feminist theology very convincingly and in a manner I think most people would find reasonable. There are still people out there who think feminism is dangerous (it is, but not in the way they think!), but Johnson writes in a way that is more likely to convince than anger.

I had a fair knowledge of feminist theology prior to reading the book, but I still learned a thing or two of great importance. For example, I was not aware of how sentimental my image of the symbol "Mother" actually was. I guess many a reader would be surprised at the multitude of female symbols for God found in the Bible. But more important is that I have tended to see the value if feminist discourse in theology mostly as criticism: the necessary pointing out of a deeply rooted problem in the Christian tradition. While Johnson does present this criticism, she spends more time in showing in what ways womens perspective actually helps moving the theological discussion forward. Particularly in the area of Christology I found many inspiring insights.

In conclusion, this book should be mandatory reading for all theologians. It (or another one like it) should be on every curriculum. It clears up so many misconceptions and brings home so many significant insights. It is not the best theology I've ready, but it may be among the most important.


Anonymous said...

I have found Johnson to be a major stimulation to my thought on the Trinity. I'll think awhile and nominate other major female thinkers for the list.

I HAVE noticed that theology blogs include very few female voices, which is weird considering that women are over 50% of seminary students in the U.S.

Arvid said...

Guess it's time to dust off my copy, then, and finally read it.

Halden said...

Yeah, this is a good point, Patrik. And you're certainly right about women in the field of early Christian asceticism. I think Margaret Miles work on this topic is excellent.

As for systematic theologians, the women scholars I have most enjoyed have been Kathryn Tanner, Catherine LaCugna, and Marilyn McCord Adams. I'll be review Adams' new book on Christology in an upcoming issue of Neue Zietschrift.

Aric Clark said...

I read She Who Is and while I thought she articulated her points well and I agreed with her by and large, as a read it was boring.

I've really enjoyed Marilyn McCord Adams book "Christ and Horrors". Also Sallie McFague intrigues me from time to time.

Sandalstraps said...

I, too, am interested in Sallie McFague. I'm ashamed to say, though, that after Johnson, McFague and Elsa Tamez, my theological library is pretty thin on female voices.

I do, however, highly recommend Johanna W.H. van Wijk-Bos' Making Wise the Simple: The Torah in Christian Faith and Practice to anyone interested in the Hebrew Bible.

Sandalstraps said...

I forgot to put the Buddhist philosopher (who is often in dialogue with Christian theologians, and who co-edited Christians Talk About Buddhist Meditation, Buddhists Talk About Christian Prayer and Buddhists Talk About Jesus, Christians Talk About the Buddha with Asbury Theological Seminary's Terry Muck) Rita M. Gross on my rather weak list. Her Soaring and Settling: Buddhist Perspectives on Contemporary Social and Religious Issues is worth reading for anyone whose idea of theology goes beyond the bounds of Christianity.

Also meriting some mention is Wendy Farley. I've only read her The Wounding and Healing of Desire, though I've been told that her Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion: A Contemporary Theodicy is a must-read.

Still, this discussion has alarmed with me the realization of the extent to which my theological library is dominated by white males. Only a handful of other voices represented, and so few of them are women. (hanging head in shame...)

Anonymous said...

nice blog, keep on the good work

Ski Chaser said...

how do we move the culture of God's name along in a way which is inclusive and understanding yet progressive?

Schnacht said...

Ski Chaser said:

"how do we move the culture of God's name along in a way which is inclusive and understanding yet progressive?"

Easy - Just keep "God" be the Absolute and Infinite that "He" is supposed to be.

That is: One has to keep in mind that "God" is beyond language in the first place, hence beyond Gender designation--and beyond all categorizations one can think of, for that matter.

Zoneziwoh said...

This is indeed a recommendable piece for all christian and theologians.
she is such an inspiration to the christian women.