Sister Johnson and Contemporary Theology

Sister Elizabeth Johnson has sent a long letter to the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, disputing its claims that her book Quest for the Living God misrepresents Catholic teaching. She in effect says the Committee’s critique rests on a vast misunderstanding. “Dialogue” could have cleared much of it up, she says. This isn’t very convincing. As members of the Committee have pointed out, she passed up a chance for dialogue when she failed to seek an imprimatur for the book.

One irony that emerges in her letter is the notion that theology studied through contemporary experience is bottomlessly rich in insight while theology from previous eras has sometimes reflected the dubious cultural conditions in which it took shape. Couldn’t the same be said even more strongly of the contemporary theology she extols? Why does she assume that contemporary culture–the various politically correct perspectives from which she seeks to glean theological insight (“Quest presents ideas and images of God surfacing, being tested, piritually prayed, and ethically lived out in eight different conversations: in transcendental, political, liberation, feminist/womanist, black, Latino/Latina, interreligious, and ecological theologies”)–is enriching and not corrupting? She, too, is bending theology to the dubious fashions and interests of her time, a practice which the Committee has properly warned the faithful to view with suspicion.