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Evangelical Inattention and Tacit Gnosticism, Revisited

October 26th, 2011 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Stephanie Smith's wants evangelicals to learn from locavores:

It’s true that we need to carefully discern our living patterns and what informs them, as Anderson suggests, from evangelical impulses which are true and that which are false, as well as worldly influences. But I would also add that there are cultural examples the church might benefit to learn from. Because if our evangelical inattention to the body results in inconsistent living, others have inversely made a religion out of the body to which they devote themselves, in both word and action.

For example, I go to a farmer’s market every week. The same people are always there, beekeepers, farmers, and “locavores”—all people who have significantly rearranged their lifestyles to accommodate their ideology of sustainability, environmental care, and organic foods. Regardless of your views on the new food movement, its proponents admirably demonstrate the commitment to marry their convictions with practical, daily living.

Stephanie's point here brings into relief one of the (many) aspects of the book that I would love to go back and clarify:  if the problem is evangelical attention, then the solution isn't solely attention.

Stephanie is exactly right that others have "inversely made a religion out of the body," and while she picks locavores as a healthy example, she might have also picked the yoga or gym crowds.  Such folks may not have rearranged their lives around sustainability or organic foods, but get into the culture deep enough and they've certainly arranged their schedule around the body. 

But then, so has everyone else, at least in one way or another.  Even the most gnostic evangelical (and once you meet a real gnostic, like I have recently, you won't pull the trigger on that label quite so quickly) arranges the schedule to fit three meals a day.  They may not have attended to the systemic features of their food as much as a locavore would demand, but they'll thank God for the chicken regardless.

The difference, of course, is that the locavore has become rather self-conscious about the body, the way a runner might become self-conscious about his form.  Such attentiveness is a step, but unless the rails are in place, it may not be a helpful one.  People who stop with being simply attentive to the body often manage the unholy combination of being miserably insufferable, as they make the molding of their bodies a form of self-conscious self-righteousness and then attempt to take the rest of us down too.  There are few things more burdensome than a fellow who has lost his freedom to not drink, and can't understand the desire to preserve it.

The trick, in other words, is being attentive to the body in the right way.  If we are going to rearrange our practices and our schedule, we must have a pattern, a pattern that challenges the locavores and the yoga-goers as much as anyone else.  For while we might look around to various communities to see how they do things, we are looking in the shadows.  Only the church can make our attentiveness holy, for it is at the cross that our bodies can find their worth.

 

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.