I recently read this response to bestselling author Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Made to Crave, “You should be ashamed for writing a Christian book about healthy eating. How dare you perpetuate the world’s lie that we should care about such things. I think your book is nothing more than a crass attempt to make money.”
The Ghosts of Gnosticism
I would call this an extreme perspective, but it is telling about the veins of ancient Gnostic thought that are so deeply rooted in the Christian faith even today. Gnosticism was a heretical sect that challenged the early church with the fallacy that the transcendent self is trapped within matter and the body is merely an impediment to “true spirituality.” And this critic bases her claim on namely that: the separation of the sacred and the secular, spirit and matter, accusing the author of offensively seeking to reconcile the two.
I’m not sure many Christians today are mindful of the ghosts of dualism in our church history that still haunt today; rather, I think the strands of Gnosticism have eroded over time from zeal-fueled rejection of the body to what Matthew Lee Anderson aptly calls, “evangelical inattention.” In Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith, Anderson makes the case that Christians’ attitude toward the body is marked less by outright opposition and more by ignorant neglect of how our bodies play an integral part in our faith.
A Critical Disconnect
In a continuum there might be Gnosticism at one end and hedonism at another, but our current state of “evangelical inattention” means that we are simply not mindful of a theology of the body at all, and our careless neglect may manifest itself anywhere along the spectrum. It may take the face of the ascetic who mistreats his body for the sake of his soul, the pastor who overindulges and sees no connection between his eating habits and his faith, or the woman who protests abortion clinics and clothes her own children with outfits produced by child laborers.
Anderson is onto something when he suggests that one of the biggest symptoms of inattention is inconsistent living. He warns, “If we are not attentive to the ways in which the habits, practices, and rhythms of our bodies are shaped by the world in which we live, then we will be susceptible to living according to false understandings of reality…we will end up incorporating ideas and beliefs into our systems that are contrary to what we would consciously affirm.”
It’s true that we need to carefully discern our living patterns and what informs them, as Anderson suggests, from evangelical impulses which are true and that which are false, as well as worldly influences. But I would also add that there are cultural examples the church might benefit to learn from. Because if our evangelical inattention to the body results in inconsistent living, others have inversely made a religion out of the body to which they devote themselves, in both word and action.
For example, I go to a farmer’s market every week. The same people are always there, beekeepers, farmers, and “locavores”—all people who have significantly rearranged their lifestyles to accommodate their ideology of sustainability, environmental care, and organic foods. Regardless of your views on the new food movement, its proponents admirably demonstrate the commitment to marry their convictions with practical, daily living.
The Incarnation for the Body
I hope that the church, while we often suffer from a dangerous disconnect between our bodily practice and our spiritual convictions, will grow to become just as committed to whole living. And as Anderson is adamant to uphold, we have more reason than any to celebrate body and spirit, as it defines the pivotal point of our faith in the Incarnation. If would only look to the Incarnation, the majesty of very God in human frame, we would be healed from our illusions about the body and the spirit and begin living the full life that is centered on the life, death, and resurrection of the Word made flesh.
Visit Matthew’s blog for this ongoing conversation through the Earthen Vessels Symposium, and also if you’re interested, he is offering an hour of his time to spend with any group of 8 or more who buys and reads the book. For more info on this, read here.
Where do you see the damages of evangelical inattention to the body? What do you think is helpful in correcting our broken perspectives of the body?