Thursday, March 31, 2011

Buying Quest for the Living God...

WIT has done a great service in bringing the current situation with Sr. Elizabeth Johnson and the USCCB to the attention of theology bloggers (here, etc.).  The one thing I lament is that they link to of all places to buy for The Quest for the Living God!

Regular readers know that I harbor strong criticisms of the Amazon.coms/WalMarts of the book industry, and I realize that the "buy indie" message can get a little preachy and tiring when you just want to buy stuff cheap.  But here is a perfect opportunity for anyone interested in Johnson's work to also opt out of needlessly supporting the damaging effects of on folks who are just trying to break even publishing the books that are so important for our theological vocations.  And do remember, you will also want these publishers/booksellers to be vibrant, healthy, and affordable when your first/next book comes out!

Amazon (which I will not link from here) is currently selling the paperback of The Quest at $19.95.  Note, however, that this is the same price that Continuum has on the paperback edition, and it's also the same price that independent bookstores are charging for it (check your zipcode to be sure, but everything near me lists $19.95).

I'm reading up on Johnson's work (and the USCCB criticism) with some interest, as I don't have much previous familiarity with her.  You can find information at her webpage.  Go to WIT for updates as this progresses.


As I said, I don't have much familiarity with Johnson's work and so can't comment too much myself, but one thing that I thought was interesting about the USCCB critique and Johnson's response was the mention of imprimatur/discussion.  The USCCB news release states:
"“The Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine is first and foremost concerned about the spiritual welfare of those students using this book who may be led to assume that its content is authentic Catholic teaching,” he said. “Although an imprimatur is not required for all books that treat Sacred Scripture and theology, it is still a recommended practice (see c. 827 §3).  By seeking an imprimatur, the author has the opportunity to engage in dialogue with the bishop concerning the Catholic teaching expressed in the book. Thus, clarifications concerning the text can be made prior to its publication. It would have been helpful if Sister Elizabeth Johnson had taken advantage of this opportunity.”
He added that “The Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine is always open to dialogue with theologians and would welcome an opportunity to discuss Sister Elizabeth’s writings with her.”"
 Johnson's response states:
"I would have been glad to enter into conversation to clarify critical points, but was never invited to do so. This book was discussed and finally assessed by the Committee before I knew any discussion had taken place."

Both parties claim that the other should have approached dialogue first in the instance of any possible concern of doctrinal errors, but it strikes me that 1) given imprimatur is not required of all books, and 2) given that Johnson's vocation as a theologian presumably includes peer review (i.e., expert scrutiny of her theological work before and after publication), it's difficult to understand how Sr. Johnson was avoiding engagement with the gatekeepers of theological work so as to be less than "helpful".  While I am actually in strong support of the ecclesiastical hierarchy taking part in theological matters and the ongoing conversation about contours of orthodox belief (and Johnson expresses thankfulness of their involvement as well), it strikes me that a lot of this stems from a severe misunderstanding (or perhaps less presumptive: a severe disagreement) about the critical nature of theological work and the exchange that leads to the development of Christian doctrine.  These sorts of power struggles are nothing new and have existed as long as the Church... and not just the Protestant churches!... has used the university as a laboratory of theological reflection (which I suppose can count as solace or an added frustration depending on how much of an optimist one is).  I do hope that as this matter proceeds Sr. Johnson will get a fair hearing with the bishops and everyone will benefit from the exchange.

Until then, don't be a gluttonous dupe of reckless capitalism and let this happen.  Buy the book from here or here instead.


  1. To be clear- we at WIT never recommended buying the book from anywhere. The link was provided for the sake of looking at it through the preview feature of the website and access to basic descriptions.

  2. Of course, and it wasn't my intention for this to be a criticism of you all or anything... I just wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to draw folks' attention to other venues for pursuing Johnson's work.

    Thanks again for all of the posts at WIT on this.

  3. ...I made a quick edit in the first paragraph to reflect your comment above. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Thank you! We definitely appreciate the shoutout and it's great to see that the work Erin's doing is being put out there and appreciated.

  5. Is it okay to buy off amazon market place?

  6. Hey Tim.
    I've been asked this before, and I don't see why it would be a problem. You're "supporting" Amazon insofar as they get a commission from books sold on marketplace, but I imagine this revenue is dwarfed by new book sales in its significance... and in any case, there's nothing exploitative (that I can think of) about Amazon hosting an online flea market the way there is about its interactions with publishers or booksellers. I buy and sell on Amazon marketplace (on the selling end, Amazon is a much better option for individuals wanting to sell a handful of books than a place like AbeBooks, which is ideal but really structured for professional booksellers rather than individuals trying to unload parts of their library).

    For that matter, I buy new books on periodically. I don't want to sound too puritanical here. The big issue, I think, is to recognize the problems introduced by and to be a lot more moderate and considered in one's use of than most tend to be. The book industry would change immensely if everyone just bought five books directly from publishers or independent stores for every one book they buy from Amazon.

  7. PS the paperback doesn't come out from Continuum or Amazon or anyone else until July. Right now hardcover is all that's available.