Theologies of Failure

By Roberto Sirvent and Duncan B. Reyburn (editors)

A collection of essays exploring the theological implications of failure and how it can illuminate our understanding of Christian teaching.

ISBN: 9780227177136


What does failure mean for theology? In the Bible, we find some unsettling answers to this question. We find lastness usurping firstness, and foolishness undoing wisdom. We discover, too, a weakness more potent than strength, and a loss of life that is essential to finding life. Jesus himself offers an array of paradoxes and puzzles through his life and teachings. He even submits himself to humiliation and death to show the cosmos the true meaning of victory. As David Bentley Hart observes, ‘Most of us would find Christians truly cast in the New Testament mould fairly obnoxious: civically reprobate, ideologically unsound, economically destructive, politically irresponsible, socially discreditable, and really just a bit indecent.’

By incorporating the work of scholars engaging with a range of frameworks within the Christian tradition, Theologies of Failure offers a unique and important contribution to understanding and embracing failure as a pivotal theological category. As the various contributors highlight, it is a category with a powerful capacity for illuminating our theological concerns and perspectives, it frees us to see old ideas in a brand-new light, and helps to foster an awareness of ideas that certain modes of analysis may have obscured from our vision. Theologies of Failure invites readers to consider how both theology and failure can help us ask new questions, discover new possibilities, and refuse the ways of the world.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 260

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Roberto Sirvent is Professor of Political and Social Ethics at Hope International University in Fullerton, California.

Duncan B. Reyburn is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.



1. Theologies of Failure: An Inadequate Introduction / Duncan B. Reyburn and Roberto Sirvent

Part 1: Failing Well
2. Yes, And: Let Us Learn from Improvisers the Power to Fail / Heather C. Ohaneson
3. A Popular Blogger’s Theology of Failure: Glennon Doyle on the Redemptive Act of “Showing Up” / Mariana Alessandri
4. Someone Must Lose: A Theology of Winning in Sport / Lincoln Harvey
5. Failure and Natural Selection / Kara N. Slade

Part 2: Failing Better
6. Mimetic Failure and the Possibility of Forgiveness / Duncan B. Reyburn
7. A Moral Theology of Technological Failure / Michael S. Burdett
8. Christ the Failure: Bonhoeffer and the Paradoxical Power of Weakness / Matthew D. Kirkpatrick
9. Orgasmic Failure: A Praxis Ethic for Adolescent Sexuality / Kate Ott
10. Please Don’t Go Out and Change the World: An Interview with William T. Cavanaugh / Roberto Sirvent

Part 3: Failure as Resistance
11. “A Strange Kind of Slavery”: David Foster Wallace’s Enslaved Self / Dennis F. Kinlaw III
12. Blessed Are the Failures: Leaning into the Beatitudes / Rebekah Eklund
13. The Uselessness of God: Failure as Political Resistance / Silas Morgan
14. Pink Blankets, Sexual Violence, Moral Paralysis, and Christian Vocation / Elisabeth T. Vasko
15. Failure and the Modern Academy / Elizabeth Newman

Part 4: Failure and Liberation
16. Rival Powers: US Catholics Confront the Climate Crisis / Rosemary P. Carbine
17. The Body of Christ Given Up for the Ashamed: Rethinking Shame after the Sinking of the Ferry Sewol / Min-Ah Cho
18. “Love Never Fails”: Rereading 1 Corinthians 13 with a Womanist Hermeneutic of Love’s Struggle / Mitzi J. Smith


Endorsements and Reviews

In this moment when theology is in danger of failing along with its traditional institutions, when politics threatens to fail us all along with the Earth itself, these essays burst failure open from within. Vibrating with the art, the humility, and even the humour of our indelible inadequacies, this conversation enlivens a practice more important than success – an improvisational minding of failure that may indeed prove to be ‘a condition of the possibility of theology itself’.
Catherine Keller, Professor of Constructive Theology, Drew University

Given the almost-irresistible temptation to which the Church regularly succumbs – to imitate the world’s obsession with glory and national greatness, success stories, triumphalism, celebration of the powerful and winners, and denigration of losers – this book is a timely and perhaps timeless resource for resistance and renewal. It’s not clear what it means to construct a ‘successful’ book concerned with Christianity and failure, but Sirvent and Reyburn have done it.
Michael L. Budde, Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology, DePaul University