Elizabeth A. JOHNSON, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God. New York: Continuum, 2008. pp. 234. $24.95 hardback. ISBN 978-0-8264-1770-1.
Reviewed by Wilburn T. STANCIL, Rockhurst University, Kansas City, MO 64110

Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., is Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University. From her we have come to expect sharp, theological analysis wrapped in tight, readable prose. This book does not disappoint. The target audience is broad, but there is something for all in Johnson’s work. Her thesis is simple: there has been a veritable renaissance of insights about God in the last half century, and many of these insights have emerged from the particular historical circumstances of people around the world. Johnson wants to make these discoveries about God more widely known, believing that there is a hunger today for mature faith and not simply the same “worn-out concepts of God” that no longer satisfy.

Johnson’s way of proceeding is to start with the practical commitments that have engaged people from widely different contexts, then to move to theological articulations of their insights about God. In other words, she begins with experience then moves to theology, “from heart to head to hands.” Johnson sees in these experiences a living God, a God “full of energy and spirit, alive with designs for liberation and healing, always approaching from the future to do something new.”

The ground rules for Johnson’s search are these: (1) the ineffable mystery who is God cannot be captured completely in words; (2) therefore, no expression of God can be taken literally; (3) hence, we may have to give God many names. Each chapter follows a similar format: the insight about God is presented, followed by a description of the context out of which it has arisen and the challenge it presents to the spiritual and practical life. The theologies explored are: transcendental, political, liberation, feminist, Black, Hispanic, interreligious, ecological, and Trinitarian. In each of these, the ground-breaking insights of major theologians are introduced and explored. Each chapter ends with an annotated bibliography, a very helpful feature for those who wish to do further reading.

I can’t speak highly enough of this book, both in style and content. For Johnson, language matters—the carefully chosen word, the turn of phrase. For those who are used to reading heavy theology, her prose is proof that theology can be both insightful and readable. All can benefit from this book—laity who wish to grow in their understanding of God, clergy who would like some continuing education on contemporary theology, and theologians who need a model for how theology can be integrated into the practical concerns of life.


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