The final installment (for now) of some of the things that people have been saying about Earthen Vessels.

Cole Huffman, a pastor down in Memphis, did a little creative expansion on the tattoos chapter that is very much worth your time:

But I wonder if eschewing a tattoo can display what I’ll call “cultural modesty”? A lot of Christians in my generation and younger have adopted a cultural strategy of accommodation, finding in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 9:22 principle of “becoming all things to all people” a permission slip to participate in most everything the world does, just without going “too far.”  (It is apparently self-evident where “that’s okay” ends and “too far” begins.)  But this strategy has panned out a lot of iron pyrite (fool’s gold) for us.  Anderson quotes Lauren Sandler, whom he calls “an outside observer [of evangelicals]”: “Young Evangelicals look so similar to denizens of every other strain of youth culture that, aside from their religious tattoos, the difference between them and the unsaved is invisible” (from her bookRighteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, p. 6).

I wonder if we might make more visible inroads with the world if we’re “marked” (pun intended) by humble restraint.  This is what I mean by cultural modesty.  I’m willing to bet you that a young tatted dude or dudette, encountering a tattoo-less contemporary, might actually find it more intriguing to hear from him that he gratefully (and of course, non-judgmentally) considers his body a temple of the Holy Spirit, rather than pulling up his sleeve to reveal a crying dove on his shoulder, “Because, like, you know, a dove descended on Jesus when He was baptized, plus I also love that Prince song, ‘When Doves Cry.’”

“Cultural modesty” is a term I can get behind, as is his caution against “absolutizing your now” (which I worry is another form of immanentizing the eschaton).

“Anderson touches on many important and controversial topics, including tattoos and homosexuality, and while he treats these subjects with care and grace, he occasionally has a narrow view on some subjects. This was true of his chapter on tattoos: while he traces the history (ancient and recent) of tattoos fairly well, his analysis of the question “What should a Christian do with this information?” felt very clearly to come from his particular demographic. His conclusion that tattoos are primarily a result of consumerism and individualism may have some compelling evidence, but there are numerous other reasons that people (as individuals or as groups) get tattoos that I felt could have garnered more weight. Particularly a discussion of getting tattoos as a part of a group (be that a gang, a church, or even just a tight group of friends) would have provided an interesting addition to the chapter.”

Lots to say in response here, but I do think James is right that I didn’t play out the communal dimension as much as I should have.  But I honestly wonder:  are people still getting tattoos as groups of friends?  I suspect the communal nature of the tattoo is very different than what James suggests (and what I remember of my research points me in that direction as well).

Finally, there are a number of reviews over at Amazon which make for interesting and, at points, utterly amusing reading.  However, I wanted to highlight this review by G. Kyle Essary, not so much because it’s generally positive, but because he manages to strike a really excellent balance between highlighting the books strengths and its shortcomings.

To have as many excellent and generous readers as I have had has been  the greatest joy of this process.  I am grateful for everyone who has read the book and hope to, at some point soon, start doing constructive work on these themes in dialogue with the questions and amendments that people have posed to me.

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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.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for the response (and question).

    I haven’t done the research, particularly, but when I wrote that critique I was particularly thinking of the hip-hop community. Within both Christian and Secular environments, the hip-hop community has a variety of tattoos that people get as groups, and I’ve met a few people who have gotten tattoos with friends in order to signify their friendship and connection. Perhaps ‘branding’ with a particular group isn’t as common as I think it is, but I do not think it is as uncommon as you seem to think.

    Just my two cents. Thanks again for the link.


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