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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.

What’s Next

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.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

29 Comments

  1. And it’s live. http://bit.ly/5SGoUN //I’m excited and daunted by this new project. It’s the most exciting announcement in my short life.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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  2. Cool.

    I hope you’ll give materialism about human persons a fair showing.

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  3. Abailey,

    I hope to. I’d love to chat with you about it sometime, actually, once I get into some of the literature.

    Matt

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  4. Congratulations.

    Clearly, we disagree on fundamentals. As you blog about your book, I’ll try to follow your line of reasoning so that I might offer some constructive criticism, if I have any.

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  5. Prufrock,

    Thanks. Someday, we’re going to have to figure out which fundamentals we disagree upon and why. That would be a fun conversation.

    And I think you’ll probably find more to interest you over the next few months than you realize. My first reading has been, after all, Noam Chomsky… : )

    matt

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  6. Which Chomsky? And what other Bethany House authors have started the research for their books by reading Chomsky?

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  7. Gary,

    On Nature and Language. It’s got two essays on the Mind and the Brain that are really interesting. Actually, his take on the moderns and the body is fascinating.

    As for other BH authors reading Chomsky…I’m just going to take a wild guess that I’m alone on that front. : )

    Best,

    matt

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  8. “… feminism, French “post-modernism” (or more precisely, phenomenology) and Roman Catholicism”

    Will you be interacting with all of these in your book?

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  9. Matthew: Sounds like a fascinating topic, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather hear from on it. I’ll remember to pray. Bethany is a fine publisher. A great place to start.

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  10. AZChas,

    Thanks for the kind words. I really like Bethany, especially the editor, who is a fantastic guy. He played a pretty significant role in the decision.

    rckhff,

    I haven’t decided yet whether I will directly or not. I have no doubts that they are going to form the backdrop of the book, though. However, even if I don’t, I’m sure I will interact with them here at Mere-O as I’m writing.

    Best,

    matt

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  11. Matt, This is awesome! As an “Eastern Orthodox” Christian our understanding is that EVERYTHING anthropological hinges on the definition of the Incarnation and the union of two natures in the (fleshly) person of Christ. I may be able to provide you some resources via private email, I’ll have to peruse my library for some accessible material if you’re interested. God bless this work, I agree it is an essential and timely topic, not just among young evangelicals (they got their attitudes from somewhere….)

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  12. S-P,

    I couldn’t agree with you more that the Incarnation is right at the center of, well, the universe. : ) It’s going to be a fun project to explore some of its ramifications. I’d love more resources. Feel free to email me at matthew dot l dot anderson at gmail dot com (written that way to avoid spam bots finding it!).

    Best,

    Matt

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  13. Congratulations, Matt.
    Just a quick thought about one aspect of the content: you say that you will discuss “tattoos,” but could that be considered one small part of “body modification,” together with piercings, scarification, elective plastic surgery, and even diet/exercise (when concerned with body image rather than health)? Actually a boundary may be difficult to define: what about temporary tattoos, removable-ink tattoos, makeup, etc.? Is there something specific that you are concerned with when it comes to tattoos, or is that a stand-in for the wider topic?
    Um… I realize that you’ve got a lot of work to do, and probably an order in which it should be done… so feel free to not reply to the above question!

    Reply

  14. Booker,

    Great, great question. I definitely meant tattoos to be a stand-in for the broader issue of body modification (especially elective plastic surgery). But there are interesting differences between the tattoo and the plastic surgery, namely that the latter is generally intended to appear “natural” while the tattoo almost never is. Tattoos are a much more public manifestation, then, of some of the same ideas that go on in body modification.

    Does that help? Also, don’t hesitate to ask more questions. I learn best through dialog, so feel free to throw more questions my way.

    Reply

  15. Hey Matt,
    You might investigate books written by Paul W. Brand (1), a doctor who wrote books with related topics in Christianity. Philip Yancey collaborated with him on a few as well. We can talk about this more.

    Reply

  16. […] too humble to mention it here but at his excellent blog, Mere Orthodoxy, Matthew announced he’s signed with Bethany House to write a book on the meaning and role of the […]

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  17. I just finished The Logic of God Incarnate, by Tom Morris, which might be helpful. Aquinas has some very interesting things to say as well about the importance of the body to our personal identity, so let me know if you’d like the references for that. I think Christian materialism is problematic for several reasons, though. Biblical anthropology is non-materialistic, in my view, and the strongest philosophical arguments support dualism of some sort (even though the majority of contemporary philosophers don’t think so!). But the centrality of the body has been ignored for too long in most evangelical approaches to spirituality, in part because we have underappreciated the significance of the body-soul union. Great idea for a book, and I look forward to reading it!

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  18. Warm congratulations Matt. Your enthusiasm for the project is contagious. The painter Ed Knippers calls the body “the crossroads of the Universe.” Also consult Michael J. Lewis’ article on the body in western art, which have appeared in Commentary and elsewhere. Squeezing in some art historical info would not be a bad idea, and Lewis is an excellent guide.

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/body-and-soul-10814

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  19. Mike,

    I appreciate the input re: Thomism. I’ve read through Lee and George’s Body/Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics, which was interesting. Not sure if it’s Thomas himself, but that’s the debate in the New Natural Law. I’d love to know other resources. I’m planning on spending some good time with the man himself (want to do as much primary reading as I can), but other people would be great.

    Milliner, thanks. I was hoping you’d come through for me on that front. The whole book could clearly go in the direction of art and aesthetics if it wanted to. I will probably resist that (not being an art guy per se), but did want to at least familiarize myself a little with that area of inquiry. That’s a great starting point.

    Best,

    matt

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  20. Hi Matt,
    This sounds very interesting and I’m looking forward to it (God bless you with energy).
    I haven’t read the JPII’s theology of the body (yet) but I did just finish Kreeft’s edited “Pascal’s Pensees” and it finishes with Pascal discussing our conversion into the body of Christ. Do you think your book will hit the Church as Body metaphor much?
    Thanks,
    Steve

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  21. Steve,

    There’s clearly a lot there to think about in terms of the body as metaphor for the Church, but I actually think I’m going to try to stay away from that, if only to make sure it doesn’t end up being 800 pages. : ) There’s lots of other good books out there on that topic, and I don’t think my thoughts are necessary there.

    But I was reading Romans 12 yesterday and the metaphor can’t be ignored.

    Best,

    matt

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  22. […] out if there’s a special announcement, but it will have to be something pretty special–like a publication or a book deal.  I hate email spam, and I wouldn’t wish my inbox on anyone.  So my promise is to only send […]

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  23. […] It’s been almost 10 weeks since I announced that I had signed the contract. […]

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  24. […] if you’re wondering why all the thinking about tattoos around here lately?  That’s why. The Peculiarity that is […]

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  25. […] don’t want to pay attention to Glenn Beck right now–I’ve got more pressing things on my mind at the moment–but Ross Douthat’s analysis demands closer […]

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  26. […] the way in which evangelicals have approached moral formation with respect to sexuality.  On that, I’ll have much more to say in the future, but for now let me simply affirm that I think there are real problems within evangelicalism on the […]

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  27. In view of your comment in the email about sexuality, I will be very interested in your comments. There is such a vast range between those who seem to regard the hallmark of intimacy as being orgasm, on the one hand, to those who class it along with urination and defaecation on the other, and who do not worry with whom it is experienced. as long as physical release is obtained.

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  28. Thanks, David. I’m DEFINITELY going to address that issue, as I think you’re right about the problematic nature of the orgasm in contemporary culture.

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  29. Furthere Matt, there is the issue of menstruation. I speak as a retired Gastroenterolgist who spent a great deal of time helping colleagues and patients to think methodically and scientifically, instead of reacting emotionally, about faecal incontinence and constipation. That involved careful history taking, examination, anal motility studies, and defaecating proctograms, and also the use of different kinds of biofeedback. That experience confirmed to me what I had suspected. Much of the problem women face in terms of acceptance in ministry roles, or even in being allowed to hand out the communion elements in some situations, arises from the attitude to menstruation.Even the very way people have scoffed at the notion, their demeanour in doing so, has been consistent with the idea that they do not respect and regard mensturation as a clean and wonderful part of the amazing process of reproduction, with its constant creativity. Instead, they regard it is dirty, something to be hidden and not spoken sensibly about. And that failure rubs off on women themselves, who may not value themselves in the way God values them because of men’s attitudes.Once again, I will be interested to see how you will handle this area.

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