Perfect in Weakness
Disability and Human Flourishing in the New Creation
Studies in Religion, Theology, and Disability
Imprint: Baylor University Press
Sales Date: 2023-08-15
224 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 x 0.90 in
- Published: September 2023
One of the central and novel convictions of the early Christian movement compared to the existing Greco-Roman beliefs was the dogma of bodily resurrection. The Stoics esteemed temperance, disciplining the body to curb the flesh; the Epicureans embraced pleasure, indulging their worldly desires. However, Paul’s letters to the Corinthians convey a countercultural idea: what you do with your body matters because it will still be with you in the resurrection. But when many contemporary Christians consider the new creation, they imagine the new Jerusalem filled with unblemished people living with normalized and idealized resurrected bodies: "healing" is assumed as a fundamental reality of the resurrection.
In Perfect in Weakness, Maja I. Whitaker develops the proposition that people with disabilities might retain their diverse embodiment in the new creation—that the resurrected body might still be "disabled." This theological claim is based in the accounts of the resurrected Christ appearing with the stigmata, and it is supported by the intuitions of those persons with disabilities who consider that their unique embodiment is identity-forming and entirely unproblematic in itself. If the human person is an essentially embodied metaphysical unity, then there may be features of our particular bodies that must be continuous through the transformation of resurrection for personal identity to be secured. However, this "retention view" has faced conceptual objections on the grounds of theological anthropology, continuity of identity, and biblical conceptions of flourishing human life. Whitaker confronts these objections, integrating philosophical, biblical, and theological methodologies in order to present a reasonable and coherent defense of the retention view.
The possibility of persons with diverse embodiment enjoying fullness of life in the new creation can expose negative attitudes towards disability and unlock a critique of ableist bias in Christian thought and practice in the modern church. Moreover, it can function as an eschatological parable to subvert the powers of this age that idolize success, mastery, and autonomy to the neglect of theologies of weakness, limitation, and dependency. In this way, Perfect in Weakness is important not only in the realm of disability studies but also in the wider Christian community that is mired within the cultural ideologies of our time.
1. The Body, the Resurrection, and Disability
2. Personal Identity across Life, Death, and Resurrection
3. Identity-Forming Features in the Pre-and Post-resurrection Body
4. The Diversely Embodied Resurrection Body
5. Implications for Pre-resurrection Thought and Practice
Whether disabled bodies will be present in the resurrection is a poignant question that reveals implicit assumptions about God, personal identity, and what is considered 'right' or 'normal.' In this scholarly rigorous but also eminently understandable book, Whitaker tackles the question of disability in the resurrection with thoughtfulness, insight, and a courageous yet humble approach. Drawing on disability theology, biblical passages, and philosophical perspectives on identity, Perfect in Weakness is bound to ignite the pastoral and theological imaginations of those who read it. It will spark crucial conversations not only about the new creation but about the ways we might structure our current reality to better reflect God's heart for everybody.~Keith Dow, author of Formed Together: Mystery, Narrative, and Virtue in Christian Caregiving
Maja Whitaker approaches the complexities of disability and identity with a wonderful sense of dignity, wisdom, and empathy. She draws on many voices to challenge and expand our thinking around perfection, encouraging new expressions of love, inclusion, and acceptance. In this robust book, Maja poses the question, 'If we look beyond perfection, can we bring about more of God's love here on Earth now, for all people, across the whole spectrum of ability?' Maja invites us to reconsider those we may have dismissed, to see more of God in them, and in ourselves. Disability is not a deficit. We are all human and are all worthy of receiving love. If there is breath, there is life, and there is the presence of God. This book's message of life, love, and acceptance is not constrained to resurrection, but is relevant right now, right here in today's human experience.~Rachel Callander, author and speaker
In the current volume, Whitaker seeks to answer the perennial question of ‘What form will the human body take in the resurrection?’ Whitaker’s examination of the resurrected body is done through the lens of disability studies thus adding a valuable contribution to the growing works that address disability from a biblical studies perspective. Whitaker challenges readers to reconsider representations of the resurrection that only allow for Hollywood-esque perfect bodies. Instead, she argues that in the resurrection, human variety and difference will still be experienced and that this may include, in some capacity, the human experience of disability.~Louise Gosbell, Lecturer in New Testament, Australian College of Theology