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Five Books on the Body for Evangelicals

June 15th, 2011 | 3 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

One of the joys of writing a book for me was having the opportunity to do some cartography of the terrain between evangelicals and the physical body.

Outside observers often call it a wasteland, but I’m somewhat more optimistic.  It hasn’t been extensively mapped before, at least not by a sympathetic traveler who didn’t want to take the lack of explicit interaction with a theology of the body as determinative for the whole movement.  Look carefully, and there are some resources at hand that are  helpful for thinking well about the shape of the body from a theological standpoint.

This is by no means, though, that list.  Instead, this is a list of five books that don’t shirk from approaching the theological understanding of the body head on.  They’re not perfect books, but I have enjoyed and benefited from reading them.

(And if you’re looking for my contribution, the details are all here and you can win a signed copy here.)

Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard. Willard hasn’t written a book directly on the physical body itself, which given his contributions to the literature is surprising.  Spirit of the Disciplines was the first time I realized just how concerned Paul is with the sanctification of the body, and that influence has never left me.  Interested readers should also chase down Willard’s Renovation of the Heart, which has an excellent chapter on the body and puts it in a more holistic context.

Honoring the Body, by Stephanie Paulsell. Paulsell is a feminist who is ordained and teaches at Harvard Divinity, which for some folks is going to rule her out.  And I  wouldn’t recommend the book without qualification. But  it’s strength lies in her ability to reflectively deliberate about the way the body shapes her normal life.

Marks of His Wounds, by Beth Felker-Jones. This is one of my favorite accounts of the body within the movement.  Is it possible to read Augustine and Calvin on the body closely, and to do it out of the feminist theological tradition, and come away with happy thoughts?  Felker-Jones answers “yes,” and then pulls it off handily.  While a solid work of theology, it’s also accessible at a lay level.  Highly, highly recommended.

Tortured Wonders, by Rodney Clapp. Clapp’s book is almost the book I wanted to write.  It asks all the right questions, and answers them in a thoughtful, meditative, and richly textured way that make for an enjoyable and stimulating encounter.  Some folks I know have complained that it meanders too much, a complaint I can understand, but as a lay-level Protestant examination of the body, it’s the standard bearer.

This Mortal Flesh, by Brent Waters. Waters is one of the most interesting thinkers in the field of bioethics going right now.  A student of Oliver O’Donovan, Waters has been at work the past few years developing properly theological responses to contemporary bioethical challenges.  This book isn’t my favorite of his—I actually enjoyed From Human to Posthuman More—but it is an accessible, theologically interesting account of the way in which Christianity should inform our bioethical positions.

Are there other books that you have read and enjoyed that I should have included?

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.