Luke Timothy Johnson returns to Candler School of Theology as McDonald Chair

Emory Report | Sept. 8, 2021

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The 2021-22 McDonald Lectures of Candler School of Theology will be delivered by Luke Timothy Johnson, Robert W. Woodruff Professor Emeritus of New Testament and Christian Origins. His first public lecture as the McDonald Chair will be Sept. 15. Photo: Emory Photo Video.

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Robert W. Woodruff Professor Emeritus of New Testament and Christian Origins Luke Timothy Johnson will serve as Candler School of Theology’s 2021-22 Alonzo L. McDonald Family Chair on the Life and Teachings of Jesus and Their Impact on Culture. In this role, Johnson will present two public lectures and teach the fall course Imitation of Christ: An Inquiry into the Nature of Discipleship.

Centered around the overall topic Imitation of Christ: Disparate Visions of Discipleship, Johnson’s lectures will be held in person on Wednesday, Sept. 15, and Wednesday, Nov. 10. The lectures are free and open to the public, with registration required. Both lectures will be livestreamed on Candler's Facebook page, and video recordings of the events will later be made available on Candler’s Vimeo site.

Wednesday, Sept. 15: “Imitation of Christ: The Disputed Understanding of Christian Discipleship”

Room 252, Rita Anne Rollins Building

11:30 a.m.–12:45 p.m. (Register here.)

The centuries-long vision of discipleship as an imitation of Christ demanding the transformation of the person has become for many Christians a vision calling for the transformation of society. Each vision claims to be based in the imitation of Jesus as portrayed in the New Testament. Each is embedded in a distinct construal of reality. This presentation traces the process by which one vision has increasingly been displaced by the other.

Wednesday, Nov. 10: “Imitation of Christ: Is a Unified Vision of Christian Discipleship Possible?”

Room 252, Rita Anne Rollins Building

4–6 p.m. (Register here.)

Building on the narrative related in the first lecture, this presentation engages in a critical analysis of each vision of discipleship, interrogating its premises, its grounding in Scripture, its theological coherence, and its limitations, before posing the question whether Christians within either understanding of discipleship can find it possible to transcend their antagonist postures and through dialogue discover the riches each offers to the other.

Award-winning scholar and teacher

Johnson served on the Candler faculty from 1992 to 2016 as the school’s Robert W. Woodruff Distinguished Professor, the highest faculty rank at Emory. An influential scholar and an award-winning teacher, his research concerns the literary, moral and religious dimensions of the New Testament, including the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts of early Christianity, Luke-Acts, the Pastoral Letters and the Letter of James.

A prolific author, Johnson has penned 31 books, more than 70 scholarly articles, 100 popular articles and nearly 200 book reviews.

His 1986 book, “The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation” (Fortress Press), now in its third edition, is widely used as a textbook in seminaries and departments of religion throughout the world. A decade later, Johnson made national headlines with “The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels” (HarperOne, 1996), the first book to systematically challenge the Jesus Seminar’s controversial claims, among them that Jesus said only 18% of what the Gospels attribute to him.

In 2011, Johnson won the prestigious Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion, designated for highly significant contributions to religious and spiritual understanding, for his book “Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity” (Yale University Press, 2009), which proposes a new framework for analyzing early Christianity in its religious, social and historical contexts. He received the Catholic Press Association’s 2012 Catholic Book Award in Scripture for his book “Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church” (Eerdmans, 2011), which reveals the vision of Jesus and the church in Luke and Acts.

A former Benedictine monk, Johnson is a highly sought-after lecturer and has made more than 175 academic presentations. He is also a member of several editorial and advisory boards, and a senior fellow at Emory University's Center for the Study of Law and Religion.

The lectures are made possible by the McDonald Agape Foundation.

About the McDonald Chair

The Alonzo L. McDonald Family Chair on the Life and Teachings of Jesus and Their Impact on Culture is supported by gifts from the McDonald Agape Foundation, founded by Alonzo L. McDonald, a longtime trustee of Emory University. The McDonald Agape Foundation “supports lectures and other public presentations that deal creatively and imaginatively with the person and teachings of Jesus as they shape and form culture.”

Recipients are given a distinguished visiting professorship, in which they speak and teach in the focused area of Jesus’ effect on culture and, conversely, culture’s shaping of the figure of Jesus.

Past McDonald chair lecturers include Judge John T. Noonan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; composer Alice Parker; art historian Herbert Kessler; historian and documentary filmmaker Randall Balmer; author James Carroll; Episcopal priest and bestselling author Barbara Brown Taylor; Pulitzer Prize–winning author and historian Garry Wills; Jesuit priest and film professor Lloyd Baugh; and theological scholars David H. Kelsey, David F. Ford, Walter Earl Fluker, Roberto S. Goizueta and M. Shawn Copeland, among others. View a full list of past chairs.