Living into the Diversity of Christ's Body
- ISBN: 9781540962973
- Published By: Baker Academic
- Published: May 2021
Brian Brock is an increasingly well-known and respected leader at the intersection of disability and theology. As an author and professor, Brock relates to the topic on a personal level as he journeys with his son Adam who has Down syndrome and autism (taking Brock’s lead on this description), from whom he has learned the most about disability. Brock also brings a wealth of academic writing experience in Christian ethics and helps steward the burgeoning field of theology and disability as an Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Disability and Religion.
In Disability: Living into the Diversity of Christ’s Body, Brock sets out to craft an appropriately accessible introduction to the intersection of disability and theology. Following on the heels of Wondrously Wounded: Theology, Disability, and the Body of Christ (Baylor University Press, 2019), the author writes, “Most Christians have never thought much about disability. This little book is for Christians who want to know where to begin thinking about it” (1). These two sentences on the first page capture the author’s project succinctly.
First, it is a “little book” for those who wish to begin thinking about disability—or, as Brock acknowledges—as a resource for those with lived experience who are relentless advocates and need a point of introduction for others. Brock extensively cites recognized writers in disability theology alongside stories and perspectives from the disability community (acknowledging that several of the authors he quotes also identify as disabled). In this way, this book offers a perfect starting point for further investigation, with its bite-sized introduction to prominent authors and advocates.
Second, it is a book for those who enjoy thinking, or for those who have been thrust into thinking by the issues and questions that disability raises. While Brock sets out to “summarize in the simplest language [he] can” (xii) insights drawn from the world of disability theology, this is not a practical “how-to” book or one that skims the surface of the questions at stake. Neither does Brock opt out of offering his own informed perspective on thorny matters such as how the term “disability” should be used from a Christian perspective (17-21) or specific readings of biblical texts. He presents Samson as “loved and preserved in God’s story as a disabled person” (74), asks whether Job was completely healed of his illnesses (64), explores the relation of sin and disability (95-106), questions whether spiritual gifts are related to “creational gifts” (124-129), and ponders whether Jesus heals everyone he meets or only those who seek out his healing (29-62). Brock takes ownership for his theological positions rather than only providing a summary of potential ways these passages or questions can be viewed. Approaching the texts and questions in this way provides ample ground for readers to wrestle with Brock’s conclusions while demonstrating the sincerity and investment of his authorship.
The thinking required of the reader in certain places, combined with the terms and phrasing used within Brock’s book, mean that this would not be my first recommendation for people whose eyes might glaze over at some of the theological conundrums raised. However, as part of the “Pastoring for Life” series, Brock’s book provides an essential primer for pastors, lay ministers, and inquisitive congregants seeking to understand God’s celebration of the diversity of Christ’s body. The author’s passion for the goodness of created existence, in all its limited and glorious forms, shines through these pages.
Finally, while Brock offers many insights that will be applicable across a range of faith traditions, this little book is written with a Christian audience in mind. Brock offers a deeply theological work centered on the work and ministry of Christ. As early as the second chapter, he dives into Jesus’ relation to healing and Christian discipleship. Christ’s example and the ministry of the church is of the utmost importance to Brock. Rather than center his own personal perspective, however, Brock seeks to “listen to Christians with various disabilities and impairments and to what they pick up in the [biblical] text” (53). It is a delicate dance to write on disability as someone who doesn’t identify as disabled (despite Brock’s “disability experience” mentioned early in the book). Brock listens to the voices and experience of others, and shares perspectives that proclaim the good news of Christ’s mission and ministry, and offer helpful and truly healing ways forward in the church and Christian communities.
Toward the end of his work, Brock rightly emphasizes the difference between church contexts and those of schools or social service providers, with his own book firmly centered on the former. While not providing a “how-to” of next steps, he presents a theologically informed path for churches seeking to fully appreciate the diversity of ability within Christ’s body. Brock calls on churches to become communities of reconciliation, hope, discernment, respite, friends, and advocates, offering recommendations for how to start on this journey. Reading about the prospect of these grace-shaped communities brings hope, not only for those who have been excluded or marginalized from a community life of faith, but for everyone. Brock points the way toward flourishing, toward faithful communities where everybody is there for one another and where Christ’s Spirit moves through the giftedness of each member. In Disability, Brock paints a compelling picture of an interdependent life of mutual encouragement and support for every member of Christ’s church.
Keith Dow is on the core council of the Institute of Theology and Disability and is Manager of Organizational and Spiritual Life with Christian Horizons in Ontario, Canada.Keith DowDate Of Review:March 21, 2022