Elizabeth A. Johnson

Orbis Books, ©2018 by Elizabeth A. Johnson

Are you looking for a very readable and rich theological work that could revolutionize your spirituality, satisfy your mind with its insights and wisdom, and liberate your spirit? One that is conscious of the vast cosmos and the fragility of Earth that are the daunting new contexts of contemporary human consciousness? One that is committed to making sense of our Catholic/Christian faith in the midst of them?

If so, I cannot recommend highly enough Elizabeth Johnson’s 2018 volume, Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril.

Here are some examples of what will engage you and seem indisputable after she lays them out:

  • Jesus’s experience of God and teaching about God and God’s Kin-dom is basically the same as that of Second Isaiah. It is not a radically new sense of God as love in opposition to an Old Testament God of judgment focused on our sin.
  • God would have preferred that Jesus not suffer and die.
  • Jesus did not have to be divine to save humanity from our sins by suffering to make infinite satisfaction for an infinite offense against the infinite God [pace Anselm’s theology of atonement].

In fact, much of the book, written in dialogue format the way St. Anselm wrote his treatise on atonement, is focused on showing that the concept of atonement for sin that still has a dominant place in contemporary theology and liturgy is an outdated reflection based on the 11thcentury feudal system of honor.

In the process of showing the need to retire Anselm’s theology of atonement or satisfaction for sin in our time, Johnson offers fresh insights into such traditional terms as salvation, reconciliation, redemption, justification, justice, righteousness, sacrifice and more. Christians have tried to explain their faith experience with a wide range of historical metaphors. She reviews those, helps us understand them in their historical context and evaluate their meaning and value for our vastly different contexts. All of that is effective preparation for inviting us to discover imagery and language to better convey an authentic experience of God in our cultures and times.

That, of course, is the point. Freed of a false set of cultural beliefs from another era, how do we bring the riches of our faith tradition to expression in our time and to responding to the challenges of the cosmos and climate threatening us today? What does incarnation mean in the vast cosmic contexts of time and space? What does the cross mean for Earth, a planet in serious peril? What conversion must take place for us to assume our place and our mission in the community of creation?

This book is a wise and exciting guide for our spiritual paths. Open it prayerfully and with a sense of expectation.


James E. Hug, S.J.