Elizabeth Johnson on “a bountiful God”

by Kim on June 23, 2011

It is odd, when you think about it, that for centuries belief in Christ was used to obscure the work of God in other religions rather than to expand appreciation of it. An imperialist framework for christology made it appear that since the Word is incarnate in Jesus, then God is not present elsewhere, or at least not so truly and lovingly. A hierarchal pattern of thinking led to the conclusion that since Christ is number one, no other religion at all is worthy of attention. Not only was divine presence denied elsewhere, but Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life was brandished triumphally like a stick to render others inferior. The God of Jesus Christ became a figure of closedness rather than openness.

Understanding Jesus Christ as the sacrament of God’s saving will enfleshed in history under the sign of kenosis and interpreting his universal significance in the light of his preaching the reign of God make possible a more generous view. Christians need not, indeed must not, abandon the faith that Jesus is in person Wisdom made flesh, whose advent holds saving significance for the whole of humankind, nor stop explaining to others the beauty of the gospel and its effect on our lives. This is the treasure entrusted to our hands in the living tradition of Christian faith. But in the midst of earth’s history, which limits every divine manifestation and human insight, this proclamation should be done in the spirit of the same humble self-emptying that we are talking about. As Joseph Hough put it, “It is essential for Christian faith that we know we have seen the face of God in the face of Jesus. It is not essential to believe that no one else has seen God and experienced redemption in another time and place.”…

Interreligious encounter leads to the praxis of sincere respect, careful dialogue, mutual learning, appreciation, and cooperation on a local and global scale to further the coming of God’s reign. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks proposes some arresting analogies to show the enrichment this praxis can bring. What would faith be like if we acknowledged the image of God in another, whose truth is not our truth? It is like feeling secure in one’s own home, yet moved by the beauty of foreign places, knowing they are someone else’s home, not mine, but still part of the glory of the world that is ours. It is like being fluent in Englsih, yet thrilled by the rhythms of an Italian sonnet. It is like realizing that your life is a sentence written in the story of your own faith, yet pleased to know that there are other stories of faith written in other lives, all part of the great narrative of God’s call and humanity’s response. Those who are confident in their faith are not threatened but elarged by the different ways of others. As we discover deeper truth than what we thought we possessed as a monopoly, the dignity of difference becomes a source of blessing.

Elizabeth A. Johnson, Quest for the Living God: Mapping the Frontiers in the Theology of God (New York/London: Continuum, 2007), pp. 176-79.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }


doug 06.23.11 at 10:03 pm

How does this line up with what God’s Word says when it says “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”? When a person has faith in something other than Christ then one is not truly having Faith.

Can God work in things outside of Faith in Christ? yes but it isn’t Saving Faith.

Being made in the image of God doesn’t mean one is Saved and has eternal life. “He that has the Son has life. He that has not the Son has not life.”

We can appreciate, show care, be blessed by the “other” but we as Believers need to share the Gospel of Salvation that comes by our Faith in Christ alone.

“It is not essential to believe that no one else has seen God and experienced redemption in another time and place.”…

God’s Word does not confirm this. Lord knows I’m very confident in my Faith in that I want people to have Faith in Christ like we as Believers have Faith in Christ. It is out of compassion and a proclaimation of Truth not a lack of confidence that leads Christians to proclaim the fact of Salvation by Faith in Christ alone.

“How can they hear in whom they haven’t heard and how can they hear without a Preacher.”


Earl 06.26.11 at 12:11 pm

Completely at odds with the witness of Scripture. All roads never did lead to Rome. All religions never have led to God. Jesus made it explicit, He is the only way.


Kim 06.26.11 at 3:31 pm

Er, I think Johnson may just be aware of John 14:6, Earl. There is a large body of exegesis, trans-confessional, that does not interpret this “explicit” saying in the narrowly exclusivist way that you do. Either you know this, in which case you’re just being a jerk throwing a text-grenade at us as if QED, or you don’t, in which case your scholarship is too narrow to be taken seriously.

You and Doug are always engaging in this kind hermeneutical arrogance and irresponsibility. Give us a break.


Earl 06.26.11 at 9:22 pm

A brief response was made to what was posted. You are of course welcomed to your own view. If those holding such views of Christian faith are effective at bringing lost men and women to Christ, then that is simply wonderful! There is not much of anything positive that can be said for any view of Christian faith that fails to bring lost people to Christ or worst yet, which would turn people away from a personal commitment to Christ. Complaints of arrogance and irresponsibility are without merit.

Not particularly impressed with scholarship so called that only seeks to accommodate itself to a lost world.


Kim 06.26.11 at 11:25 pm

Not particularly impressed with scholarship so called that only seeks to accommodate itself to a lost world.

There you go again, Earl, this time smugly impugning the motive of this outstanding scholar, distinguished feminist theologian, and committed churchwoman. And you wonder why I speak of “arrogance and irresponsibility”?


Earl 06.27.11 at 1:21 am

“And your wonder…” etc. The witness of Scripture is that apart from Christ, all mankind is lost in sin. To a hostile and unreceptive audience Peter put it plainly, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” To the Corinthians Paul wrote that when he came to them he “determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The preaching of the N.T. Church proclaimed Christ as Savior and Lord. That proclamation was jolting to both Jews and Greeks. It is less jolting to the post-modern ear. Paul certainly found this to be so in his many missionary journeys. Jolting though it was and is, the witness of Scripture is that in the apostolic preaching and the life of the early primitive Church, insistence was upon Christ alone, not syncretism with other religions nor accommodation to a dominate pagan culture. There is no problem with Christian scholarship, liberal or conservative, that affirms the N.T. witness to Christ. There is no problem with such scholarship that seeks to bring lost men and women to Christ as Savior and Lord. There is a problem with any Christian scholarship which fails to affirm the N.T. witness to Christ alone as Savior and Lord.


Earl 06.27.11 at 3:33 am

“It is less jolting” should have been written, “It is no less jolting…”


Ray Gaston 06.27.11 at 12:06 pm

Beautiful Quote Kim. Thanks for posting. Can I cross post on PULTA?


Kim 06.27.11 at 12:21 pm

Sure thing, Ray.

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