Elizabeth Johnson-Revisonist Method of Theology

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  • Topic: Jesus, Christian theology, Theology
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Elizabeth Johnson is perhaps one of the most preeminent Catholic theologians of the new millennium. The fact that she is a woman religious who writes from a feminist perspective adds to her unique and distinguished career. This paper will examine the revisionist method espoused by Elizabeth Johnson, in an effort to understand her approach to Christian feminism. An overview of revisionist methodology will be presented so as to understand the framework in which Johnson works. References to some of Johnson!s writings will then be presented in an effort to illustrate her revisionist method. Finally a survey of various critics will then be presented in an effort to determine what has made her method, approach and style groundbreaking in the area of feminist theology. In its simplest form, revisionist methodology involves looking back at one!s tradition in an effort to gain new insights into the situation at hand or to uncover what has been lost. In a more elaborate definition, David Tracey states that, ”In its briefest expression, the revisionist model holds that a contemporary fundamental Christian theology can best be described as philosophical reflection upon meanings present in common human experience and language, and upon the meanings present in the Christian fact.”1 Tracy then outlines five theses that are intended to explicate this particular model: The first thesis defends the proposition that there are two sources for theology, common human experience and language, and Christian texts. The second thesis argues for the necessity of correlating the results of the investigations of these two sources. The third and fourth theses attempt to specify the most helpful methods of investigation employed for studying these two sources 1

David Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order: The New Pluralism in Theology (New York: The Seabury Press, 1975) 43.


(methods include phenomenology of religious dimension for human experience and language and historical and hermeneutical investigations for Christian texts). The fifth and final thesis further specifies the final mode of critical correlation of these investigations as an explicitly metaphysically and transcendental one.2 If we apply the aforementioned description to our area of interest, then revisionist Christian feminism can be seen as seeking,”…to mutually and critically correlate the central and liberating themes of biblical and Christian tradition with the experience of women in the contemporary situation.”3 In one of her most noted works, She Who Is, Johnson captures the essence of her revisionist Christian feminism in the metaphor of a braided footbridge,”…between the ledges of classical and feminist Christian tradition. Throwing a hermeneutical span from side to side may enable some to cross over to the paradigm of women!s coequal humanity without leaving behind all the riches of the tradition that had been their intellectual and spiritual home.”4 It clear already from this brief introduction, that Johnson employs the revisionist model of theology. Tradition is key to anyone employing the revisionist model and Johnson is no exception to this. Tradition is important for Johnson, but not necessarily in the sense that one should mindlessly adhere to every aspect of what we inherit. On the other hand, we cannot put our heads the sand and deny the existence of tradition or avoid learning about it. We are all part of a tradition and it becomes part of our shared history and allows us ,”…to see far thanks to the stature of those who have handed on the

2 3

Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order: The New Pluralism in Theology , 43. Shannon Schrein, Quilting and Braiding: The Feminist Christologies of Sallie McFague and Elizabeth Johnson in Conversation (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998) 2. 4 Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1992) 12. 2

tradition to us.”5 Johnson is respectful of tradition, with...
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