On Keeping Promises: Reading and Reviewing Brock and Swinton’s Disability in the Christian Tradition

by UTP Journals on August 3, 2017

Written by guest blogger, Michael Walker.


Michael Walker, reviewer of “Disability in the Christian Tradition: a Reader by Brian Brock and John Swinton” which appears in Vol. 33, Issue 1 of the Toronto Journal of Theology.

In February 2013, just as I started my comprehensive exams in systematic theology at the Toronto School of Theology, my dissertation-committee chair gave me a 550-page anthology on theologies of disability, Brian Brock and John Swinton’s Disability in the Christian Tradition: a Reader. He and the TST wanted me to review it! I was excited—at least at first. Little did I realize that I’d be engaged in the process of reading the book (and spilling laundry-soap on it; that’s another story…) for more than three years, as I wrote my dissertation. I can clearly recall a long string of Monday mornings at the laundromat closest to my house where I puzzled over the nuances of Hegel, whom I’d never previously read; at other times, I got lost in Julian of Norwich’s intimate visions of Christ, and was frustrated by Karl Barth’s long, dense thoughts. All the authors investigated in the book had different ideas of disability and illness, and all of them acknowledged the difficulty of living out God’s love as finite human beings.

All the authors investigated in the book had different ideas of disability and illness, and all of them acknowledged the difficulty of living out God’s love as finite human beings.

Nonetheless, in a special way, the discipline of reading that anthology was a theological enterprise. Simply, the Hebrew and Christian scriptures are a series of promises: in Genesis, God the Creator blesses various creatures, including human beings, and offers them the whole earth for food. Similarly, in the Gospels and elsewhere in the New Testament, Christ promises his friends and followers full and lasting life…life that they find only by emulating Jesus’ way of love, a mode of life that promotes peace, economic justice, and interpersonal vulnerability. As I read the book between the spring of 2013 and the autumn of 2016, and began to formulate the review that’s appeared elsewhere at UofT Press, I felt that same kind of longing, that yearning for the fulfillment of a promise. I wanted not only to (someday) finish the book that still had the faint turquoise stain of Tide laundry-detergent in the middle, but also to really experience and live out the embodied love that all the authors in the book had described.

In the end, I kept my promise to my supervisor, and wrote the review. Keeping promises, especially the ones we make before we count the cost, can be difficult, but the reward can be sweet. On one hand, I hope to write reviews of shorter and less-complex books at some point. On the other, whether the books are short or not, I’m ready and willing to count quarters, and to do hours of laundry, so that I can clearly articulate the world of promise in a theology of disability.


Walker’s review of “Disability in the Christian Tradition: a Reader by Brian Brock and John Swinton“, appears in Volume 33, Issue 1 of the Toronto Journal of Theology, available to read here.

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