Five Books on the Body for Evangelicals

One of the joys of writing a book for me was having the opportunity to do some cartography of the terrain between evangelicals and the physical body.

Outside observers often call it a wasteland, but I’m somewhat more optimistic.  It hasn’t been extensively mapped before, at least not by a sympathetic traveler who didn’t want to take the lack of explicit interaction with a theology of the body as determinative for the whole movement.  Look carefully, and there are some resources at hand that are  helpful for thinking well about the shape of the body from a theological standpoint.

This is by no means, though, that list.  Instead, this is a list of five books that don’t shirk from approaching the theological understanding of the body head on.  They’re not perfect books, but I have enjoyed and benefited from reading them.

(And if you’re looking for my contribution, the details are all here and you can win a signed copy here.)

Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard. Willard hasn’t written a book directly on the physical body itself, which given his contributions to the literature is surprising.  Spirit of the Disciplines was the first time I realized just how concerned Paul is with the sanctification of the body, and that influence has never left me.  Interested readers should also chase down Willard’s Renovation of the Heart, which has an excellent chapter on the body and puts it in a more holistic context.

Honoring the Body, by Stephanie Paulsell. Paulsell is a feminist who is ordained and teaches at Harvard Divinity, which for some folks is going to rule her out.  And I  wouldn’t recommend the book without qualification. But  it’s strength lies in her ability to reflectively deliberate about the way the body shapes her normal life.

Marks of His Wounds, by Beth Felker-Jones. This is one of my favorite accounts of the body within the movement.  Is it possible to read Augustine and Calvin on the body closely, and to do it out of the feminist theological tradition, and come away with happy thoughts?  Felker-Jones answers “yes,” and then pulls it off handily.  While a solid work of theology, it’s also accessible at a lay level.  Highly, highly recommended.

Tortured Wonders, by Rodney Clapp. Clapp’s book is almost the book I wanted to write.  It asks all the right questions, and answers them in a thoughtful, meditative, and richly textured way that make for an enjoyable and stimulating encounter.  Some folks I know have complained that it meanders too much, a complaint I can understand, but as a lay-level Protestant examination of the body, it’s the standard bearer.

This Mortal Flesh, by Brent Waters. Waters is one of the most interesting thinkers in the field of bioethics going right now.  A student of Oliver O’Donovan, Waters has been at work the past few years developing properly theological responses to contemporary bioethical challenges.  This book isn’t my favorite of his—I actually enjoyed From Human to Posthuman Morebut it is an accessible, theologically interesting account of the way in which Christianity should inform our bioethical positions.

Are there other books that you have read and enjoyed that I should have included?

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  • http://www.helwyssocietyforum.com Jackson

    Matthew,

    I just finished your book. Job well-done. I am completing a thesis at Duke on technology, and so issues of the body are central to that project. I will be moving to STL this fall, incidently, to pursue a doctorate. I probably will write my dissertation on this topic as well. Brad Kallenberg’s (U. of Dayton) book God & Gadgets: Following Jesus in a Technological Age is an interesting work that parallels some of the themes in your work, and especially concerning the body’s role in communication, evangelism, etc. He is heavily beholden to Wittgenstein, but it is a neat book in my opinion.

    I’ll be posting your book on our recommended reading page at the Helwys Society Forum.

  • http://Bensonian.org Christopher Benson

    Matt: I appreciate your willingness to share the books that you have “enjoyed and benefited from reading.” I would like to think that I had a small role in pushing, sometimes obnoxiously, Rodney Clapp’s TORTURED WONDERS. I, too, think “as a lay-level Protestant examination of the body, it’s the standard bearer.” Too bad the book wasn’t read more widely. Based on your description of it, I’m quite intrigued by Beth Felker-Jones’s book. And guess where this feminist teaches? [Playful jesting.] The best evangelical liberal arts college in the United States: Wheaton.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Yes, I know she’s a Wheaton prof. It’s a solid book.

      And yes, Clapp’s book needed a broader hearing. Every book on the subject does.

      matt

  • Beth Felker Jones

    Thanks so much for the review. I look forward to reading your book; it’s been on my list.