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Instruments for Righteousness: The Earthen Vessels Symposium (Ch. 10)

February 2nd, 2012 | 3 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

I have been rather reluctant to write anything in response to Fred Sanders’ post about Earthen Vessels, if only because I’m convinced it’s better than the book itself.  Fred has a way with things, and it’s fully on display here.

You won’t want to miss this one, particularly if you were one of those folks who thought that the book felt like a rambling set of blog posts.

I’m tempted to simply quote favorite lines from Fred’s piece, but I’ll simply offer a few broader thoughts instead, and trust that you’ll do yourself a favor and go read his.  I endorse it unequivocally, unhesitatingly, and vigorously.

First off, Fred writes: “Evangelical spirituality, which is shaped in response to the good news that our salvation has been purchased for us, is inescapably mundane,” he says, playing off of the word mundus, earth. “It takes our position in the world seriously, and the body as our connection with it.”

This connection, of course, runs throughout the whole book in various ways.  The fourth and fifth chapters, for instance, find me rambling on about consumerism, the relationship between humans and the rest of creation and the ways in which architecture, technology, and the media shape our perception of our own bodies.  I have sometimes been fascinated by the question of how the death of one man made possible the renewal of the whole cosmos.  While that man was Lord of the cosmos, the conformity of our bodies to his death and resurrection will invariably result in the transformation of the social space that our lives inhabit.

Think through the logic this way:  Paul suggests that we are to “present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”  There’s an attentiveness that’s built into that idea of “presentation,” a way of being in our hands and feet that impels them from within to go about things very differently.

Yet to choose a slightly different example, presenting the instruments of our eyebrows to God as “instruments for righteousness” will lead to subtle shifts in our daily relationships.  My example is one of stress and concern:  some of us simply look it, and look it without realizing it.  And our friends and neighbors, bashful as they are, will usually detect it but very rarely point it out.  Faithful, local transformation can start at home, in the reframing of our bodies through the presenting of our members to God.

Of course, that all raises the question about what the pattern is for the presentation of our bodies to God.  And here, I was reluctant to move too far away from the pattern we see in the person of Jesus.  Which is why when I get to yoga, well, I’ll let Fred summarize:

And with language about “holy attentiveness” to the parts of the body, Anderson knows he’s saying things that you hear in your local evangelical-populated yoga studio. Anderson flirts with recent yoga controversy, but eventually says that yoga’s no big deal if it’s just exercise. Go ahead, get in touch with your toes. Literally. But the more theologically meaningful your yoga is, the worse it is.

I couldn’t have put it better, and it nails the concerns I have for those approaches to embodied spirituality where the Spirit ends up bleeding all over the place into everything.  The end result is a badly charismatic neo-Kuyperian transformationalism that loses any distinctiveness or hard edge to which we can say “no” to things.  What starts with yoga ends up somewhere around Pole Dancing for Jesus.

So, I hang about the sorts of spiritual disciplines that are easily discernible in the life of Jesus;  prayer, fasting, silence and solitude, and reading the Bible.  But I’ll give the last word to Fred, who nails what I’m after in each of them:

But don’t miss the fact that these disciplines are introduced here for one specific purpose: to portray a pattern of Christian existence that follows the death-and-resurrection pattern of salvation. In a theme that runs through the whole book, Anderson warns that “our transformation is not a technique. We do not sculpt ourselves into the image of Christ.”

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.