A year after publishing a book that re-envisions central Christian themes from the oft-neglected perspective of women, internationally renowned theologian Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J. has published a second book expanding the conversation to women around the world.
On the heels of Abounding in Kindness: Writings for the People of God (Orbis Books, 2015), comes Johnson’s new book, The Strength of Her Witness: Jesus Christ in the Global Voices of Women (Orbis Books, 2016), an anthology of essays by women theologians.
“The 25 authors in this book speak out boldly about the significance of Jesus, but from very different perspectives,” said Johnson, Distinguished Professor of Theology. “The point brought to the fore is that women in different cultures have their own faith experiences, and when Jesus is seen with the female gaze, powerful new insights break forth.”
While Johnson has long called for a greater inclusion of women’s voices in theological discourse, the book was inspired by pragmatic reasons, as well.
“When teaching courses on ‘Christ in World Cultures,’ I became frustrated by the fact that the good standard books were written almost exclusively by men scholars,” she said. “Using the library reserve system I was forever supplementing these materials with essays written by women in various countries.”
The title of the book is an allusion to chapter four of John’s gospel, which tells the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. In the story, the woman has a lengthy conversation with Jesus and is moved so deeply that she leaves her jug at the well and returns to town to tell everyone about her encounter. Her testimony leads many people to believe that Jesus is the messiah.
Like the Samaritan woman, the authors featured in The Strength of Her Witness testify to the significance of Jesus, Johnson said, offering diverse perspectives on critical contemporary issues, such as racism, sexism, poverty, and the exclusion of LGBT persons.
The authors have clear recommendations for these issues: amidst racism, Christ’s message includes a “profound endorsement” of black women’s human dignity; amidst sexism, Christ’s first appearance to Mary Magdalene and his instruction to “Go and tell” provides grounds for women’s public leadership today; amidst poverty, working for justice provides a liberating force.
“The authors in this book signal the dawn of a new historical era,” Johnson said. “Their work, by turn challenging, comforting, and creative, makes clear the rich contributions that flow when women are empowered, both personally and structurally. It also demonstrates how much poorer church and society remain when only one gender speaks and decides.”
In addition to prioritizing women’s voices, the book is intentional in its inclusion of authors from around the world, Johnson said. This geographic diversity illustrates that the significance of Christ is not limited to American theology or to the Western world, but arises in and belongs to all cultures and nations.
“To bring women’s voices into a long-standing male conversation is one important effort of this book. To emphasize different cultural circumstances adds even more complexity,” she said.
Both the content of the book and its editorial arrangement have a clear implication: The message, though delivered by women, is meant for all people.
“The Samaritan woman of this book’s title did not address her words to women only, but to the whole town… women and men alike,” Johnson said. “Everyone can benefit from listening to wisdom, whatever the source. The riches in this book are not for women only, but for all who seek to immerse themselves more deeply into the meaning of Jesus Christ.”