Timothy Luke JOHNSON. The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2015. pp. 256. $25.00 hb. ISBN: 978-0-8028-0383-2 Reviewed by Dolores L. CHRISTIE, University Heights, OH 44118.


Timothy Luke JOHNSON. The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2015. pp. 256. $25.00 hb. ISBN: 978-0-8028-0383-2. Reviewed by Dolores L. CHRISTIE, University Heights, OH 44118 (dlchristie@aol.com)

Recent contemporary theology more and more values the study of lived experience, expanding its vision beyond dusty, esoteric, and a-historical categories. This book is an exemplary example of the trend. A well-published biblical scholar, Johnson blends a professional understanding of scripture with personal experiences to construct a comprehensive inductive theology of the body. He notes that usually only scripture and creedal formulae are categorized as revelation--that is claiming to be revelation rather than, as he puts it, to participate in revelation. The former paradigm is insufficient to understand God’s revelatory action. Further, it can be argued that even the texts of scripture are themselves precipitated accounts of human experience.

The author begins with a rather harsh critique of John Paul II’s theology of the body, comparing it to “a sunset painted by the unsighted.” He indicts the work as “disembodied” and “inadequate,” not in the manner that all God-talk is inadequate--but in a deeper sense. John Paul neglects important aspects of human sexuality, excluding among other things "the messy and the silly." The pope places greater emphasis on controlling the body than on its mystery. Johnson sees emotions and passions as divine gifts to be embraced, not alien drives to be tamed.

Other chapters address scriptural references to the body, its interplay with the spirit, and the common experiences of play, passion, pain, and aging. “The Exceptional Body,” explores instances of deviation from what we consider normative: the very tall or short, the obese or anorexic, persons with physical anomalies. Both individual and collective experiences prompt us to reject predictable categories--the "binary boxes" of gender, race, ethnicity and religion. Rather, persons must recognize as normal and good the actual bodily differences encountered in daily living and confirmed by new scientific understandings. In its ordinariness and in its diversity, the body speaks of God.

The “body” includes not only the subjective sensings of each person but encounters with others and with the non-human aspects of creation. The body is also a symbolic reality, the language by which human beings communicate not only in words but in gestures and interaction. It is through the body, individually and communally, that we are raised to transcendence. In liturgy, for example, the collective body moves beyond this world to ecstatic communication with God.

Perhaps the most exciting discussion in the book is on the aging body. Johnson, noting the scant biblical treatment of the subject--particularly in Christian texts--recounts his own experience of growing older. The chapter is exquisitely on target, delicately personal. It should be read more than once and distributed to aging friends, one's children, and those who care for the elderly.

The author writes with candor and clarity, addressing complex issues with boldness and revelatory humility. His style is both crystal clear and poetic. I have only a few minor quibbles with this excellent book. The lengthy lists of biblical passages might have been dropped into footnotes. The reader--at least this reader--was tempted to skip over them to get to the more meaty sections. And I'm not sure all bartenders are obese!

I am delighted that the publisher located footnotes directly on the page rather than in a cumbersome terminal addendum. Readers are more attracted to the ease of access this provides. A handy index and list of biblical and other source references are included. Since the book is not overbearingly technical, it could be read profitably by a non-theologian or a sophisticated student. Bravo!