A native of Park Falls has returned to the state of his birth to give our Père Marquette Lecture for 2002. Professor Johnson has come to us from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, where he is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins. He has built his distinguished career on the effort to interpret the Bible as a living resource given by God to the Church, an effort that has borne an amazingly rich and varied harvest of reflection on the New Testament and the origins of the Christian movement. In 1966, Professor Johnson earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. He went on to earn his Masters of Divinity from Indiana’s St. Meinrad School of Theology in 1970 and, in the same year, his Masters of Arts in religious studies from Indiana University. Six years later, Yale University awarded Professor Johnson his Ph.D. in New Testament, after he had completed a now published and influential dissertation entitled The Literary Function of Possessions in Luke-Acts. In the meantime, he had already begun his teaching career, having lectured at St. Meinrad during his last year of study there, the next year at St. Joseph Seminary College, and at Gonzaga College in the summer of 1973. Upon finishing his degree at Yale Divinity, Professor Johnson became an assistant and then associate professor there. In 1982, he moved to Indiana University, where he became a full professor in 1988. Since 1992, he has occupied his current chair at Emory.
Along the way, many have recognized and rewarded Professor Johnson’s scholarship and teaching. The Lilly Endowment awarded him three research grants in the mid 1980s, allowing him to pursue his work on the contemporary use of the New Testament. Phi Beta Kappa selected Professor Johnson as a visiting scholar for 1997-98, and last year he was a Henry Luce III Fellow in Theology. His two-year term as Senior Fellow of the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Religion at Emory will expire in 2003. Over the years, Professor Johnson has received awards for his distinguished teaching from the students and administration of Indiana University, from the National University Continuing Education Association, and twice each from the Candler School of Theology and Phi Beta Kappa’s Emory Chapter. In 1999, Marquette’s neighbors at Nashota House awarded him the Doctor of Divinity honoris causa.
The word prolific hardly does justice to Professor Johnson’s scholarly output. Since 1969, he has authored twenty books (including The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship: A Constructive Conversation, co-authored with Marquette’s own William Kurz, S.J., and soon to be published by Eerdmans). He has written thirty-one scholarly articles and twenty-five encyclopedia articles, and reviewed 150 books. His work as editor of Teaching Religion to Undergraduates: Some Approaches and Ideas from Teachers to Teachers (1973) bore witness early on to what would prove an enduring interest in pedagogy. But the scholarly community knows Professor Johnson best for his exegetical works on the New Testament. Since 1991, he has published two commentaries on the Pastoral Epistles and one each on James, Romans, Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles. He saw the Korean translation of his preaching guide to the Pastoral Epistles come out in 1999. These works developed as the natural fruit of reflections represented by many articles and book reviews Professor Johnson has been writing on the exegesis of these parts of the New Testament since the early seventies.
But because his intellect can not find complete satisfaction in the necessarily narrow focus of the commentary form, he has since the early eighties consistently produced works of New Testament exegesis with what one might call a wide-angle lens. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation came out in American and English editions in 1986, was revised twelve years later, and came out in Korean in 2000. Professor Johnson has written articles on the authority and literary diversity of the New Testament books, as well as on the New Testament concepts of God, salvation, witness, and proselytism and on the anti-Jewish rhetoric in the New Testament. He wrote ‘Imagining the World Scripture Imagines,’ a 1998 article in Modern Theology which L. G. Jones and J. J. Buckley also included in their volume Theology and Scriptural Imagination, published that same year. Professor Johnson’s article on the status of the Jewish Bible after the Holocaust will appear in the forthcoming Reading the New Testament after the Holocaust.
Since 1995, this interest in the larger issues of New Testament interpretation has led Professor Johnson to participate in the heated public controversy over the respective roles of historical inquiry and of the Church’s faith in learning who Jesus really was and what he really said and did. He has presented his positions to the literate general public in Bible Review, Commonweal, The Christian Century, and other such organs. At the same time, he has developed his scholarly case in articles and books, most notably The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (1996) and Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospels (1998). Forthcoming articles and a book will testify to his continuing interest in the way various methods of interpretation can contribute to the renewal of biblical scholarship. His hope for that renewal comes from a deep motivation visible to anyone who reviews Professor Johnson’s energetic and fruitful career. Since 1977, he has spoken to church congregations, bishops’ meetings, and academic gatherings in at least twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia, in Bangkok, Winnipeg, in Windsor, Ontario, in Dublin and Oxford. His scholarship, as well as popular articles and lectures and his encyclopedia contributions, have all focused on making available to today’s readers the Bible’s spiritual power to move and guide people toward the God of Jesus Christ. Marquette University’s Department of Theology is confident that Professor Johnson’s reflections will help those who hear or read them to give greater honor and glory to that same God.