The ink is officially dry. Okay, it’s been dry for about a week. And I can’t keep it in any longer.
I am really, really excited to announce that I have signed a contract with Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, to write a book on the meaning and role of the body in young evangelicalism. The working title is Body Matters: Overcoming the New Gnosticism of Young Evangelicals (though if you have a better title, let me know!).
I am excited about the project because if there’s one aspect of evangelicalism that has been under-explored, it’s this one. Having the opportunity to play a small part in changing that is, honestly, beyond anything I had ever imagined.
Evangelicals and The Body
Several years ago, while reading Dallas Willard’s book on the spiritual disciplines, I became interested in the question of corporeality and the role the body plays in the human experience. This interest launched my senior thesis on Paul’s anthropology in Romans 4 (a work I am still proud of, astonishingly!).
Around that same time, I read through John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, an important and informative work. While I consumed each new perspective and voice, two questions rankled me: what is the meaning of this body, this flesh that I have? And why haven’t more evangelicals thought about it?
The answer to that last question is complex. Evangelical reflection about embodiment has happened primarily in the context of arguing about the existence (or non-existence) of the soul. That is an important question, and I’ll certainly be drawing on that body of literature. But the discussion is not comprehensive enough, as it rarely gets into articulating how a theologically informed theory of embodiment works out in the rest of our lives–at least not beyond advocating for the spiritual disciplines.
There are some important reasons for this. For one, most of the intellectual work on embodiment in the 20th century has been done in a few traditions that evangelicals are (justly, I think) allergic to: feminism, French “post-modernism” (or more precisely, phenomenology) and Roman Catholicism. I don’t mean to equate the three, as I think we should be more ready to learn from the third than the others. But it’s my working hypothesis that evangelical’s worries about each school of thought has obscured the insights that can be gained from them about the role of embodiment, and has caused us to miss an opportunity to provide a robust, Biblically informed alternative. My goal, except at a more accessible and immediately relevant level, is to do precisely that.
My Hopes for My Project
I’m clearly not going to do for young evangelicals what JPII did for all of us, but my hope is to provide an expansive analysis of the meaning of the body that critically takes into account the reflections on the topic in the various intellectual streams I’ve mentioned.
In many ways, I view this book as a companion work to John Dyer’s forthcoming book on the philosophy of technology. While I will doubtlessly touch on the issue, it obviously won’t be my central focus as it is for him. Instead, my aim is to examine in broader fashion the anthropology presumed in Scripture and its meaning for our own day.
Everyone, I suspect, will want to know which topics I will cover. While the list will doubtlessly shift based on my research, I am reasonably confident that tattoos, physical suffering, disabilities, smelliness (because, you know, bodies smell!), sexuality, liturgy, and the spiritual disciplines will all make an appearance. Cremation and burial practices might slip in the back door, if my editor isn’t looking (they don’t much fit with younger evangelicals, but how we handle the body after death says a lot about our understanding of it!).
While the question of how the body is currently viewed in younger evangelicals is certainly a central concern, my real interests in the project are constructive: I want to provide, if possible, a plausible theological anthropology that will help evangelicals of all ages navigate embodiment in a distinctly Christian way.
(Can you tell I’m excited about this? I don’t think there’s any book quite like it out there, at least not for evangelicals. And if you know of one, please let me know either through email or the comments.)
How You Can Help
I’ll be perfectly honest. I’m a bit scared by this. It’s my first book, and it’s on a topic that I care deeply about and is right at the center of the Christian faith (Christmas, anyone?). More than anything else, I want this book to help pastors and laypeople wrestle with this issue. And I am pretty confident I can’t do it alone. So here are several very practical things you can do to help.
- Pray for me. Seriously. Take a look at the list of where most of the intellectual reflection on embodiment has happened again. That isn’t easy literature, and there are some very good reasons why evangelicals are wary about it. Please, please pray for my research and my writing, that I would submit both to the Lordship of Jesus and seek first His Kingdom. And pray that I would be disciplined, as I’m going to keep my day job and keep writing here at Mere-O.
- Pray for my wife. She’s going to need it. While she is supporting me completely in this, it’s going to be a very busy few months for us. Pray that our marriage is strengthened as I pursue this as a vocation.
- Interact with us here at Mere-O or on Facebook. I think that writing this book is going to be a bit of a communal effort. I have no doubt that the bulk of my writing here at Mere-O will be surrounding this topic the next few months, so push back at the ideas and make them better. Please.
- Tell your friends. Obviously, writing a book is going to lead to selling a book at some point. That’s just the way it goes. I have promoted myself a fair amount here at Mere-O lately, and there is good reason to be concerned about that. But I also need to sell books, and I think this one is going to really help people. So follow us by RSS, email, or follow me on Twitter. If you’re a blogger, I’d appreciate a link (which I don’t think I’ve ever asked for before).
- Recommend resources. Movies, music, news articles, books–if there’s anything that you’ve read that pertains to the topic, let me know. I’d love to see it.
Soon, I begin the writing process. I’ll save all my ‘thank yous’ for after the book is written. There will be a lot of them, as I am deeply indebted to those who have trained me and supported me. I arrive at this point only by the mercy of God, which he has repeatedly demonstrated to me through friends, teachers, and mentors.
But in the meantime, I have the difficult task of researching and writing to begin, a task made joyful by the knowledge and awareness that this has enormous potential to be a unique and important project. If God is gracious, and if I am faithful, then this could be a valuable resource for the building up of the people of God for a long time to come. That will be my prayer and my focus as I journey through this topic in the months to come, a journey which I invite you on as well.