As someone with my own opinions on such matters, I was naturally intrigued by Thomas’s book. And happily, I can highly commend it to you as an excellent and sensitive exploration of gluttony and fitness’s relationship to the Christian faith.
As R. Marie Griffith argues in her indispensable Born Again Bodies, evangelicals have teetered on the brink (and often gone over) of reinforcing white, western body-types as normative in their endorsements of dieting and fitness. Additionally, they have often lazily associated being fat with being sinful, a correlation that is less obvious and more troubling upon inspection than it might seem.
Happily, Thomas avoids both these errors, repeatedly underlining that the goal is bodily health and vitality rather than shape. That’s an important distinction, yet one lost on many of us.
Of course, I have my quibbles as well. For instance, Thomas instrumentalizes the body in a way that I think is problematic and doubles down on a sort of spiritualization that I find troubling. But on the whole, I count the book as a good step in the right direction for evangelicals.
How should Christians who want to avoid replicating cultural errors about the body speak about health and fitness?
The cheap line is that we should look at our bodies as instruments, not ornaments. The idea comes from 2 Timothy 2:20-21, which is a picture of our progressive sanctification. The question should be How we are making ourselves available to God? If I live to 70 or 80, am I keeping up a body that will have the energy and ability to still minister in those years?
My longevity is set by God, but I can affect both my frailty and my availability. I could eat myself into a place or neglect myself into a place where I’m become so absorbed by doctor visits and a lack of vitality that I’m not as effective as God would call me to be.
That’s not to say there aren’t immediate benefits right now. I notice an enormous difference if my body is in shape in terms of my availability to people than if I’m carrying a few extra pounds and haven’t been working out.