In a continuum there might be Gnosticism at one end and hedonism at another, but our current state of “evangelical inattention” means that we are simply not mindful of a theology of the body at all, and our careless neglect may manifest itself anywhere along the spectrum. It may take the face of the ascetic who mistreats his body for the sake of his soul, the pastor who overindulges and sees no connection between his eating habits and his faith, or the woman who protests abortion clinics and clothes her own children with outfits produced by child laborers.
Anderson is onto something when he suggests that one of the biggest symptoms of inattention is inconsistent living. He warns, “If we are not attentive to the ways in which the habits, practices, and rhythms of our bodies are shaped by the world in which we live, then we will be susceptible to living according to false understandings of reality…we will end up incorporating ideas and beliefs into our systems that are contrary to what we would consciously affirm.”
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.
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.