Vulnerable Communion

A Theology of Disability and Hospitality

Cover Art Request Exam Copy

Where to Purchase

More Options


"In this excellent book Reynolds weaves his personal narrative into a complex cultural and theological exposition of the construction and theological practice of disability. . . . There is no doubt that Tom Reynolds has made a very useful contribution to the theology of disability in this work."--John Swinton, Practical Theology
As parents of a son with disabilities, Thomas Reynolds and his wife know what it's like to be misunderstood by a church community. In Vulnerable Communion, Reynolds draws upon that personal experience and a diverse body of literature to empower churches and individuals to foster deeper hospitality toward persons with disabilities.

Reynolds shows that the Christian story is one of strength coming from weakness, of wholeness emerging from brokenness, and of power in vulnerability. Wholeness, he argues, comes not from self-sufficiency, but from the "genuinely inclusive communion" that results from sharing our humanity--including our lack of ability--with one another. Then, and only then, will we truly live in hospitality with one another and with people with disabilities.

Reynolds offers valuable biblical, theological, and pastoral tools to understand and welcome those with disabilities. The book will be useful to academics, students, and pastors, as well as anyone touched by disability in some way. Readers will find penetrating examinations of the difficult questions of why God allows disability and what the church can learn from people with disabilities.


"Vulnerable Communion is subversive theology in the tradition of the prophets speaking from the margins of society. It calls the church to confront and dismantle the (world's) 'cult of normalcy,' within which the church has uncritically worshipped. It also calls for a theology of disability that not merely insists on caring for people with disabilities but that allows the experience of disability to interrogate its theology of power. The result is a long-awaited and much-needed theological revisioning of the traditional doctrines of God, Christ, creation, redemption, and church so that the true power of the gospel is released from the underside of history once again."--Amos Yong, book review editor, Journal of Religion, Disability and Health; associate research professor of theology, Regent University School of Divinity

"Disability is a gift that forces us to rethink what we thought was settled. The worship of a crucified savior in a similar manner forces us to rethink what we thought was settled. It is to Reynolds's great credit, therefore, that he helps us see how disability and the gospel are inseparably linked just to the extent that they both force us to recognize our vulnerability. It will be a shame if this book is read only by those concerned about disability, because Reynolds's reflections are crucial for any work in constructive theology."--Stanley Hauerwas, Duke Divinity School

"A remarkable book that reveals in a compelling way that being truly human and Christian is not just accepting people with disabilities but accepting our own vulnerability by entering with them into a relationship of mutuality where each one gives and each one receives. Their place is not at the margins of society and of the church but at the center, urging and calling us all to open up to the fundamental truth of our being; they can then become our healers. This book is essential reading for all Christians who desire to enter more fully into the vision of our loving God for our world and to become men and women of peace."--Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche

"Tom Reynolds has written a theologically profound and deeply moving exploration of what happens to core Christian understandings of God, of Christ, of community, and of embodiment when these are understood in light of disability. His work makes an important and bracing contribution to disability studies. It makes an equally important contribution to theology, making available an awareness of how our vulnerability opens us to each other and to the great compassion of the divine. It would be hard to come away from this beautiful book unchanged."--Wendy Farley, Emory University

"What we call disability is part of our fragile life and also of life's mystery in God. To understand disabled people and our own vulnerability and to understand the vulnerable and compassionate God condition each other. This astonishing book serves both sides and is an insightful contribution to an all-embracing theology of life."--Jürgen Moltmann, University of Tübingen

"This is an important work for theologians, ethicists, clergy, and seminary students as they reconsider assumptions about human and divine power and privilege. In placing persons with disabilities at the center of the theological conversation about God's power, Reynolds negates the 'cult of normalcy,' offers a theology of vulnerability, and encourages the church to reclaim its role in providing hospitality to those on the margins of society."--Kathy Black, Claremont School of Theology and author of A Healing Homiletic: Preaching and Persons with Disabilities

"For years, I have thought that the key theological and pastoral issue in ministries with people with disabilities is not disability per se, but vulnerability. Tom Reynolds has taken that premise from his own experience as a father and his own training as a theologian and crafted a theology based on a foundation of vulnerability that does two things simultaneously: it deconstructs and reframes a social understanding of disability from a theological perspective; and builds new understandings of classic theological doctrines based on the foundation that vulnerability, diversity, and hospitality are at the core of God's creation. I have rarely read a manuscript where I made so many 'amen' marks. This book is an amazing integration of Reynolds's experience in the worlds of disability and theology. This is a wonderful contribution to theological studies--a resource that any clergy interested in understanding vulnerability for ministry will go to again and again--and a theological contribution to the exploding field of disability studies."--Bill Gaventa, editor, Journal of Religion, Disability, and Health

"Powerful in its questioning of 'the disabling framework of the 'normal',' Reynolds's unflinching account emits an irresistible lucidity. A theology of life as sheer gift unfurls in the space opened by his profound meditation on human vulnerability."--Catherine Keller, Drew University

"Thomas Reynolds provides another vital resource and is a new and important voice in issues concerning the place and presence of people whom the world calls 'disabled' in the life of the church. Reynolds carefully unpacks the baggage of labels and stigmas that have been placed upon the lives of many people with disabilities. With strong, articulate theological arguments, he lifts up the power of being what the world would call 'weak' and 'vulnerable,' in which the presence of the Christ is revealed in all of human life. Yet Reynolds is quick to remind us that this discovery is not a solo journey, but discovered in the very practice of hospitality within the body of Christ, in which we are reminded that this resurrected body is inclusive of all God's people."--Brett Webb-Mitchell, School of the Pilgrim

The Author

  1. Thomas E. Reynolds

    Thomas E. Reynolds

    Thomas E. Reynolds (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is associate professor of theology at Emmanuel College in the Toronto School of Theology, University of Toronto. He lives in North York, Ontario.

    Continue reading about Thomas E. Reynolds


"[Reynolds] writes movingly of his deep love for his son: living with a child with disabilities has opened him 'to a surplus of grace that can only be called divine.'. . . Reasoning from experience and from the Bible, Reynolds develops a theology of creation, sin, redemption and the church designed to produce a 'metaphorical reversal' that challenges our culture's 'cult of normalcy' by 'privileging disability.'. . . Reynolds's insights are often compelling."--Publishers Weekly

"The birth of a son who was diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome, Asperger's syndrome, bipolar disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder led the author and his wife through behavioral programs, family counseling, and psychiatric care. . . . Both the child and they mirrored the apostles' question in the ninth chapter of John's gospel, 'Who sinned that this man was born blind? He or his parents?' The boy asked, 'Why did God make me this way?' This book probes deeply, seeking an answer. [Reynolds's] answer is wonderfully pastoral and comforting--not only to the boy but also to all who are in the same place as the boy and those who care for and with them. . . . The book is exciting and a transforming experience--not only for 'disabled' persons but also for 'non-disabled' ones."--George Ross, Living Church

"This book is an astounding, expressive and deeply profound examination of the stigmatizing effects of disability in society and the church. . . . This book is a great resource for churches, clergy and those who work with disabled people. It's a timely and excellent piece on a much neglected subject. It is thorough, unrelenting and convincing in its arguments."--R. Wayne Hagerman, Faith Today

"That [Reynolds] places the Spirit at the center of what medical science considers mere biomechanical or neurochemical disorders makes [his approach] all the more welcome. . . . Reynolds proposes (and concretely illustrates) the virtues of vulnerable interdependence, availability, respect, fidelity and compassion. He also wrestles with basic doctrines. . . . Reynolds makes important contributions to a Christian understanding of disability. . . . [He] challenge[s] readers to interrogate their own lives and assumptions, moving discussions past the self-satisfying mantras of inclusion and diversity and into new, potentially frightening and grace-filled territory."--Brian Volck, Christian Century

"Reynolds combines a profound and wide-ranging rethinking of Christian theology from the perspective of disability with piercingly honest reflections on his experience as the father of a son with disabilities."--Christian Century

"[This book] engage[s] contemporary ecclesial issues in conversation with classical Christian doctrine, and should persuade readers who may not think they have a reason to read a book concerned with intellectual disability to think again. . . . [It] show[s] that the resources of Christian tradition are rich and varied enough to be brought to bear very specifically on a problem about which there has been little sustained theological reflection until quite recently. . . . [It] demand[s] the attention of theologians beyond the boundaries of the circle of family, caregivers and friends of persons with intellectual disabilities. [It] points us to a revision of theological anthropology that is badly needed to counter the identity politics that [Reynolds] ultimately find[s] theologically bankrupt."--Medi Ann Volpe, Modern Theology

"Reynolds shares his experiences, both joyful and painful, as the father of a child with, and a child without, disabilities. He also writes as a theologian who has read widely about, and reflected at length upon, disability and its implications for Christian thought and practice. This is an extensive analytical work that explores how Christians might think differently about disability and act differently toward people with disabilities. . . . Reynolds reflects upon his own experience, engages in solid social, political, scriptural and theological analysis, and draws extensively upon the work of Paul Ricoeur, Jurgen Moltmann, Stanley Hauerwas, and Jean Vanier, among others. In so doing, he produces a work of significant scholarly weight and theological heft. . . . A valuable resource for all who teach and study in fields of theology and ethics."--Ron McConnell, Touchstone

"A particular strong point about the first personal dimension of Reynolds's book is its honesty. . . . This personal dimension is not the main focus of the book, but enables the author to set the stage for what I think is a particularly helpful analysis of what he names 'the cult of normalcy.' Following the drift of sociological work in the field of disability studies, the analysis seeks to lucidate how society in its cultural and symbolic manifestations constructs the meaning of disability as dysfunction and abnormality due to natural tragedy. For most people the story of the 'social model' of disability is probably a familiar one by now, but the Foucauldian way in which Reynolds sets it up is quite original. . . . Using the privilege of disability as a theological prism, Reynolds . . . offers rich discussions of notions that are central to the divine economy: creation, sin, and redemption, in order to arrive finally at his account of the Church as the body of Christ, which is characterised as 'vulnerable communion,' the place where people that are disregarded in society are welcomed."--Hans S. Reinders, Studies in Christian Ethics

"In this excellent book Reynolds weaves his personal narrative into a complex cultural and theological exposition of the construction and theological practice of disability. Reynolds's work offers us a wonderful example of praxis at its best. . . . There is no doubt that Tom Reynolds has made a very useful contribution to the theology of disability in this work. It is clear, deep, thoughtful, and offers a theologically informed pastoral alternative to the negative attitudes that frequently shape the discourse around disability."--John Swinton, Practical Theology

"The author shows a deep awareness of many writers in the field of disability and theology. He makes insightful use of the Scriptures, exploring creation, sin, and redemption in relation to disability, suffering, and differences. The book can be philosophically and theologically heavy; but that is a strength supporting its premises. It is sociologically insightful, and it is personal in that it arises from the author's life experience with his son who has autism."--James A. Swanson, Covenant Quarterly

"From both a theological and experiential perspective, Reynolds has the requisite base of knowledge to write about a theology of disability. In fact, in his argumentation, Reynolds brings together sociological, philosophical, and theological resources in order to challenge non-disabled individuals. . . . The key insight (of many) within the title is that the basic question of human existence is whether we can find a home with others who recognize us, value us as we are, and empower us to truly become ourselves."--Bradford McCall, Pneuma Review