This is another splendid book by Elizabeth A. Johnson, Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University. Distinguished, indeed! Written primarily for intelligent lay folk, the engaging style of this review of the last 50 years of Christian theology contains Johnsonís own insights couched in smooth, economic and yet elegant language with an occasional zinger that sums up a movement or an insight. Johnsonís table of contents is a reliable outline of her book; a real help for teachers or study groups who use The Quest for the Living God as I propose to do in an upper level undergraduate research seminar this fall. The book provides an overview of theological highlights and contributions from major theologians. Johnson grounds her thinking in the transcendence of God that cannot be captured in any one theology or by any one cultural group.
The theologians she reviews indicate the breadth of her enterprise and the sources of her own inspiration. They range from Augustine, through Scotus and Aquinas with bows to Luther and Calvin and the awe of Rudolph Otto on her way to Vatican II and Karl Rahnerís idea of transcendence, Godís total otherness that invites our self-transcendence through Godís gracious immanence. Theodicy is not just a word; it is the horror of the Holocaust. Here Johnson dialogues with Jurgen Moltmann, John Baptiste Metz, and Dorothy Soelle. I say that Johnson dialogues because this book is not simply a presentation of various theologies; it is tour-de-force in which she weaves a story and an encompassing theology that rings changes on the great commandment to love God as God loves us and to love our neighbor as ourselves. How do we do that if we are Germans horrified by the Holocaust? How do we do that if we are aware of the great injustice of rich nation, poor nation and yet we inhabit the richest, most powerful nation? Johnson reads Godís indignation in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament and Jesusí preference for the poor and marginalized. She guides readers to Jon Sobrino, Gustavo Gutierrez, Leonardo Boff, and Maria Pilar Aquino to help us enter into the need for a God who walks with the poor.
This liberating God transcends all categories and challenges the idolatry of restricting language about God to male images. God acts ďwomanishĒ in the theologies that draw on womenís experience and presents herself throughout the Bible as Holy Wisdom. She is neither male nor female, Jew or gentile, white or black and yet nothing human is foreign to the God who creates and cradles each human life, inviting intimacy, encouraging growth, exemplifying self-giving. The feminist theologians are many, from Mary Daly to Rosemary Radford Ruether. They include Elizabeth Johnson herself and Elizabeth Fiorenza and Phyllis Trible, Shawn Copeland and Sallie McFague, women theologians from Asia and Latin America.
This same God breaks chains, leads across the rivers and lights freedom fires across every land where people suffer bondage. But especially the liberating God finds voices among Africans enslaved in the Americas who sing of freedom, of crossing the Jordan, of ending endless, unrewarded labor and finding themselves whole and wholly human in the embrace of a crucified, risen savior. Their theological voices are Martin Luther King, James Cone and Delores Williams, Albert Raboteau and Diana Hayes. Latin America gave rise not only to liberation theology, but also to the rowdy, gaudy God of Fiesta who wins the battle, la lucha, for those living in barrios or on the streets. These are the people whose ancestors are Spaniards, Africans, and Indigenous Mayas, Aztecs, Huichol. Their voices are their songs, their dances around the altar, castanets and heels clicking as they circle the Word and the Cross, the Eucharist and the poor couple looking for an inn, a posada, where Maria can bear her Child. God accompanies these latinos/as and their story is a theology elucidated by Virgilio Elizondo and Justo Gonzales, Orlando Espin and Miguel Diaz and many others.
Surely you get the picture! The remaining chapters are just as challenging, just as inspiring as Johnson lays out the richness of inter-religious dialogues and the urgency of attending to all Godís offspring, including the planet and its beautiful burden of living creatures of the sea, the skies, the earth. Theologians give them voices, point to the living Spirit of God creating an evolving world so heedlessly and recklessly squandered by its human users and abusers. The last chapter is a wonder. Johnson sums up the history of Trinitarian theology in a few luminous pages and carries her enterprise to its conclusion in a profound grasp of the practical beauty of the Trinity itself in the lives of all those Christians who people her pages. Johnsonís epilogue invites readers to continue the quest for the transcendent and immanent God who invites our conversations and exceeds all we can say.