Dru Johnson – Knowledge by Ritual

Episode: Matt L. discusses with Dru Johnson his claim that the Bible offers an epistemology, one where humans know by ritual. They discuss key influences on Dru’s work, the importance of the body for knowing, whether Dru burns incense in his office, and more. This is Johnson’s third book on biblical epistemology (and it’s really good!), so you won’t want to miss his reflections on this topic.

Guest: Dru Johnson studied psychology as an undergraduate before going to Covenant Theological Seminary (St. Louis, MO). Prior to his Ph.D., he both studied and taught analytic philosophy at the University of Missouri—St. Louis. Dr. Johnson occasionally teaches as a visiting professor at Covenant Theological Seminary. He took research leave in Spring of 2013 to be the Templeton Senior Research Fellow in Analytic Theology at The Herzl Institute (Jerusalem, Israel). He currently serves as the co-chair for the Hebrew Bible and Philosophy program unit in the Society of Biblical Literature. He’s the author of Biblical Knowing: A Scriptural Epistemology of Error (Cascade Books, 2013), Scripture’s Knowing: A Companion to Biblical Epistemology (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and Knowledge by Ritual: A Biblical Prolegomenon to Sacramental Theology (Eisenbrauns, 2016).

Starting at 17 years old, Dru served two years active duty and five years in the reserves of the U.S. Air Force—extensively involved in counter-narcotics operations in the Amazon basin of Colombia from 1993–98. Working in I.T. from college through seminary, he then served for eight years as an associate pastor at GracePoint of Webster in St. Louis, Missouri and two years with Holy Trinity in St Andrews (Church of Scotland). He teaches regularly in Western Kenya in a school for rural pastors and is currently ordained in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He and his wife have four children. (Info from The King’s College website).

Book: Johnson’s recent Knowledge by Ritual: A Biblical Prolegomenon to Sacramental Theology (Eisenbrauns, 2016) argues that the rites of Israel, as portrayed in the biblical texts, disposed Israelites to recognize something they could not see apart from their participation. By examining the epistemological function of rituals, and engaging with contemporary theorists like Michael Polanyi, Catherine Bell, and Jonathan Klawans, Johnson’s monograph gives readers a new set of questions to explore both the sacraments of Israel and contemporary sacramental theology.

The OnScript Quip (our review): Knowledge by Ritual offers a robust and coherent biblical epistemology. With ample examples, philosophical support, and even some pictures, Johnson shows how knowledge of God in Scripture is inextricably ‘ritualed.’ We cannot know apart from the embodied practices in which we engage, and the trusted authorities to whom we listen. He also demonstrates that ritualed knowing is no mere marginal subject for the biblical writers, but is of central concern. I can’t not see it as I now read the Bible. – Matthew Lynch, Westminster Theological Centre, OnScript Podcast