Writing a book is a community project.

It’s been almost 10 weeks since I announced that I had signed the contract.

During that time I’ve read through some 35 books on the topic.  My mother has spent long hours researching databases for obscure journal articles, and my wife has graciously taken as many of the household chores upon her as she can, all to give me more time to read and write.

But what I’ve been missing–and hope, with your help, to rectify–are some good conversations about what, and how, evangelicals should think about the body.

So, I need help.  Your help.  You, the faithful reader.  You, the lurker who has never commented.  I need you to step forward, out of the internets shadows, into the light.

Please.  Pretty please.

What questions do you have about the nature of the human body, and its role in our society, our churches, and our Christian lives?

If you had one thing to say to the world about the human body, what would it be?

What sort of book about the human body would you be interested in reading?

What topics do you want to see covered?

This is your opportunity to definitively shape my thoughts on these issues.

And if you comment, your name will find its way into the acknowledgments, right there with my family and my wife.  And there’s really no better company to be in than that.

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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.


  1. I would want to know how Evangelicals (who are want to see things simply with clear distinctions) handle the messy reality of genetics. Some examples:

    Were Neanderthals and/or Homo Erectus made in the image of God as were Homo Sapiens? Did they have souls?

    What specific attribute(s) determine(s) sexual gender (as seen by God), especially those who fall under the category of “intersex.”

    When an adult stem cell is reverted to a toti-potent state, is it really any different from an embryonic stem cell or a human being at the moment of conception (when it exists as a single cell)?

    Sometimes a fetus will fail to develop an organized tissue and instead grow as a unformed mass of tissue – akin to a tumor. I’m not speaking of people people who would be born with severe mental or physical defects, but those rare instances when a living being will develop. Would it be wrong to abort the fetus in advance of the impending (natural) miscarriage?


  2. That should read: “but those rare instances when a living being will NOT develop”


  3. Matt: Would it be possible for you to list some of the thinkers and books that have influenced you the most to this point? It might help avoid redundancy and also give some insight into what might be of benefit.

    I think there is an implicit gnosticism, although I don’t want to push that further than necessary, and dualism present in a great deal of the evangelical community. It is often subtle but nevertheless determinative.

    If you don’t want to put this on the table at this point perhaps you could email them to me.



  4. William E. Woodward March 16, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    The initial list of potential topics included: tattoos, physical suffering, disabilities, smelliness, sexuality, liturgy, and the spiritual disciplines.

    Where is SPORT, was my initial reaction, that activity where we push the human body to its limits? Was Eric Liddell right in Chariots of Fire when he claimed: “God made me for a purpose, for China. But He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure”?

    Can we bring God glory by putting our bodies in competition?


  5. *What questions do you have about the nature of the human body, and its role in our society, our churches, and our Christian lives?

    I’m interested in the correlation between the de-sacramentalized understanding our culture has of the world around us and the de-sacramentalized understanding evangelicals (particularly my fellow Baptists) have of church practice. I think that it relates strongly to the way we think about the body and stuff in general. IOW, how does my kids eating chicken McNuggets (with little thought about where they come from) relate to the way they will come to think about all of life, including their own body? I know that’s probably way out there.

    I’m also interested in how the witness of the church about the body impacts the culture, particularly with respect to the sanctity of life.

    What deficiencies in Christian theological thinking and teaching that have led to bad thinking about the body?

    *If you had one thing to say to the world about the human body, what would it be?

    It is good. It is not a temporary “shell.” It will be restored. Ok, so that’s really three things.

    *What sort of book about the human body would you be interested in reading?

    A short one. But that’s really a reflection of the problem isn’t it? Seriously, one that majors on recovering a sound understanding of the goodness of the body God has made.

    *What topics do you want to see covered?

    Goodness of creation, nature of the resurrection, restoration of creation, Sanctity of life/culture of death, separation from the natural world


  6. Hi Matt,
    I know that we barely speak the same language, but I just think it is wonderful that you have this opportunity to write this book. I also wanted to say that if you have medical related questions, I would be happy to answer any questions – reading the questions in comment 1 made me think of quite a few. (ectopic pregnancies are very common and requiring the termination of a pregnancy that is non-viable, but still a living fetus, something even the catholic hospital where I used to work allows). I am most interested in hearing about women’s issues and marriage. As a Christian feminist, I rarely hear an argument on either side of the spectrum that doesn’t make me cringe. Without becoming embroiled in the abortion debate, I feel that there is a lot to be said about reproductive rights and birth control, as well as the idea of valuing females as human beings and as christians in their own right (not because of their purity or fertility). My experience in church has been that the reality is very egalitarian, but the dogma is not. I work at a clinic in Grays Harbor now and I cannot tell you what suprising responses I get from women concerning their religious beliefs when discussions of birth control, HPV vaccines, etc. come up. The rhetoric is still “feminism is the evil enemy”, but the reality is very different. I have know idea if this is even remotely helpful – but you did ask.


  7. Hey Matt,
    You finally got me out of the shadows and into the light! Don’t worry about acknowledging my input. I’m sure you have thought of these questions in one form or another before. They are the first that come to mind when I consider the Bible’s teaching on anthropology.

    Most of my questions on the body revolve around 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (ESV)

    If God has purchased our bodies what rights do we actually have to them?

    Why is sexual immorality singled out as the only sin that is against one’s own body?

    What are the implications of believers using their bodies to glorify God?

    How does male and female modesty affect the mores of society?

    I would be interested in a book that reveals the impact a misguided view of anthropology has on secular culture and on the church today.


  8. A thought that came to my mind was the stewardship of the body, especially as it relates to health and obesity in this country. I say this also, as a person who is considered obese himself. As a Christian living in America, it is definitely not hard to miss the “body-change” focuses that we go through. Fast Food, Plastic Surgery, Dieting fads, etc…. All of these are almost a subconscious part of our neurological makeup, and they are becoming rapidly entwined with Christianity in the American culture.
    Scripture does speak about remaining sexually pure, but what about the other issues of the body that relate to seeking holiness and stewardship for the Lord. Since obesity affects something like 60%+ of people in this country, apparently the desire of the flesh and its bodily consequences have not gone away.
    That’s my two cents. Thanks for the invite to comment.


  9. Christof Meyer March 17, 2010 at 8:27 am

    Wow. Just threw down the gauntlet eh? Well… here are the things that I’m thinking about right now:

    1. Is this world/body our home? Or are we just passing through?

    2. If it is good to build beautiful worship places for our senses to delight in, does that mean it is bad to live in places where our senses are attacked? If so, how would we go about building a framework for determining how a Christian should go about his daily life (how to walk, how to eat, what to allow our ears to hear, what to smell, etc.)

    3. How are we supposed to choose between giving our money to a Christian hospital and using it to sponsor a Christian feast for the community – say, Easter?

    4. Do all things that COULD hurt our body become immoral? Example A: Smoking. Many Christians oppose smoking because it sometimes destroys our “temple”. Example B: Rock Climbing. Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned from certain sports because the likelihood of fatalities are too high. Example C: Traveling to Muslim Africa to preach the Gospel. Mormons have famously decided that they will not do evangelism here because of the real danger that they might start losing missionaries. What I’m getting at here are the interactions between the telos of a bodily action and the action qua action. I tend to worry that Evangelicals worry too much about health/longevity and too little about the “uses” of their body.

    5. Is it better for one man to die (on a grenade) than for the whole battalion to perish? In other words, do we have boundaries for discussing the “use” of a body/life in the pursuit of the good of a community? Sacrifice babies to give everyone a cure for cancer? Sacrifice 25 year-olds to preserve America? The The West? The Church?

    6. How do the medical arts compare to the theological arts? Our Western culture has swung back and forth between these two – as if they are opposite poles. Why is this? Hudson Taylor seemed to believe you couldn’t have one without the other. Billy Graham seems to think that you can’t talk about medical arts without first handling one’s theological problems. Others, flip these. What’s up with this tension? (note: saying we’re bad dualists here doesn’t attain)

    7. Why are there so many unhealthy Evangelicals? Why does food/health/exercise seem like an impossibly irrelevant topic to discuss in Church when “the 7 habits of highly successful parents” style sermons are so common? It seems like health is either idolized or unattended to, but rarely integrated into a common understanding of Christian life. Think fasting, feasting, alcoholic beverage production (see the Cistercians/Trappists for more on this), etc.

    That should do I suppose – plus I got to the Holy Number 7. Keep this conversation going. I trust you will have enough to think about!


  10. Matt —

    I am most interested in hearing about the beauty of the form and function of the human body, and what it looks like for us as Christians to glorify God through good stewardship of what we have been given (whether this stewardship involves athletics, medicine, fashion, dance, etc.) I also am interested in the nature of the resurrection body, if research can be had in that direction.


  11. You can get your name immortalized in my book with a comment. More importantly, you can help me….which I need. http://bit.ly/bufROd

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter


  12. How can my name be immortalized in your book? What sort of weird semantic ontology are you promulgating?

    Ha! Anyhow…I’m interested in hearing you address these issues of the body in the vein of established Protestant doctrine rather than posing it as the newest/latest/greatest idea devoid from historical context.


  13. All,

    MANY thanks for this feedback. I cannot tell you how helpful this is. I’ve gotten some really good ideas here, and am already considering trying to address some of them here at Mere-O the next few months. It might be fun to take them on systematically.

    That said, there were a couple individual comments that I wanted to respond to…

    IJ, the list of influences is a good idea. I’ll write that up as a separate post, I think. And don’t worry too much about pressing the gnosticism issue/question. The subtitle, after all, is “overcoming the new gnosticism of young evangelicals.” I am undecided (honestly) about whether evangelicals actually have gnostic tendencies or not–I usually think that the claims that we do are made too quickly, but it’s something that I’d like to kick around some.

    William–your list has a number of issues that I put in my proposal, not least of which is tattoos.

    Michael–I think you’re right to emphasize the de-sacramentalized view of the body that evangelicals have, and particularly Baptists. One of my big questions, in fact, is HOW a non-sacramental theology (like I think I have) can end up affirming the goodness of the body. It’s difficult, but I think can be done.

    MaryEllen–I’ve been hoping you would comment….and I think you’re right about the reality begin different than the Dogma. Have you read Susan Bordo? I’ve been reading a little lately for this project, and am generally impressed. She seems to have a sensible take on some of these issues, and while I don’t agree with her, find her generally responsible.

    Chad: I couldn’t agree more with you that the food/obesity issue is under-addressed when Christians talk about the body. While I aim to talk about the sex/marriage issues (have to, after all), you’re right that I should definitely include something about food and obesity.

    And Tex, what do you mean when you say that you hope I avoid posing it as “the newest/latest/greatest idea devoid of historical context?” Do you mean that you want me to put our current relationship to the body within evangelicalism in historical context, or point out that I’m not “prescribing” anything new?

    Thanks again, all. One more task: tell your friends. I’m really interested in hearing more people’s feedback on what they want to hear, even if it’s redundant!



  14. Matt,
    I’ve encountered an over-use (almost to the extent of a bromide) of the passage–humans made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27)–to justify just about any agenda, but I would interested in a deep analysis of what this truly means in a bodily context. E.g., Can a body image spirit? What about the anthropomorphic descriptions of God as having a body, e.g. hand, face, back? (Gen. 33:23.) Looking forward to reading your work on this.
    Richard J. Radcliffe


  15. Richard,

    I couldn’t agree more with you about the image of God language. One thing that Matt Jenson (a Biola prof) points out is that people who go there too quickly tend to find that they make “the image of God” to be whatever is currently popular….so relationality is hot right now, and *that’s* the image of God. John Webster made a similar critique–it’s something that I’m going to try to avoid, if possible.



  16. Correction: I meant Exodus 33:23.


  17. From comment #5:

    *If you had one thing to say to the world about the human body, what would it be?

    It is good. It is not a temporary ‘shell.’ It will be restored. Ok, so that’s really three things.


    Also, I’d love to see at least the beginnings of a treatment of transhumanism. There’s a deep desire in the West to overcome the natural limitations of the body via technology. One question I have been asking myself lately is, what would Heidegger say about Ray Kurzweil?


  18. Oh, and one more thing:

    One of my big questions, in fact, is HOW a non-sacramental theology (like I think I have) can end up affirming the goodness of the body. It’s difficult, but I think can be done.

    Heh. If you keep affirming the goodness of the body, my guess (as a formerly Baptist Anglican) is you’ll end up with a sacramental theology. I am highly interested in seeing where this book takes you.


  19. Christof Meyer March 18, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Mr. Anderson… I feel left out.

    Sherri – we share the same background it seems. Baptist -> Anglican. Does this show that Baptists are quicker/smarter than covenantalists or that Mr. Anderson is simply slow?

    I kid, I kid.

    But in all seriousness I also wonder what effect this project will have on Matt’s view of sacramentalism. It seems like the project would be good for almost anyone.


  20. Matt, I’m very excited to see where this project takes you. I know that you have already mentioned that you will discuss sex and marriage, as they are unavoidable in this discussion. What I would like to see you discuss is the distinction I’ve seen made between our having a body and our being a body. This discussion leads down a number of different theological/philosophical rabbit trails, but nevertheless, I do think there is some value in examining our understanding of personhood in relationship to our physicality, and while it seems intuitive that our minds somehow exist apart from our bodies (as in the thought experiment that our brains could be canned in some experimental lab, stimulated with images and experiences of our physical reality, including my composing this comment), I find it hard to separate my mind from my body and the experience of reality I obtain through the senses. Perhaps if we thought of ourselves as bodies, bodies that have eternality in light of the resurrection, our approach to living the Christian life would be quite different. Though it might be thought a bit strange, my diet and exercise habits have been impacted dramatically through contemplation of the resurrected body.

    That’s a start. If more comes to mind, you know I will be in touch.


  21. The comments on this post make me think that my readers are at least 1500x smarter than I am: http://bit.ly/bufROd

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter


  22. These are in my mind right now, and probably good concluding topics that could draw in the reluctant OR intro topics to bring interest in current trends toward deeper understanding.

    How does a sound theology of the body influence my eating, sleeping, and exercising habits? And how does it influence where I live in a city or neighborhood?


  23. Matt, congratulations on an intriguing (and ambitious!) project. I would like to see exposition of I Cor. 6:12-20. Perhaps modern evangelicalism has swung too far the other way from the asceticism of earlier times, to a sort of “have our cake and eat it too” mentality, or a sort of reverse gnosticism which elevates sensual appreciation and fulfillment above virtue, or equates sensuality with spirituality (not that the two are never compatible). Issues of honor and stewardship enter in as well. I guess for me it boils down to, how *do* we glorify God in our bodies, which are not our own?


  24. Hi Matt, It might be a book in itself, but it seems there is not much thought given to the body BEFORE the fall, the body AFTER the fall, and what kind of body did Jesus assume as a man and the implications of Him on earth participating in eating, sleeping, fasting, and ascetical endeavors (staying up all night praying, falling asleep from exhaustion etc.) Did He have to “overcome the flesh” as we do? If He did, what does that mean for us? (Bonnie’s last comment is along these lines). A quote I read somewhere regarding fasting kind of sums up the EO view: fasting is not a battle AGAINST the body, but FOR the body: to rightly order our noetic existence so our bodies are subject to the soul and and not our souls led by our bodily existence and its desires. (Phil. 3:19) The notion of “neo-gnosticism” seems to cut several ways. One can claim a “respect for the body” but live and worship in a way that essentially elevates reason, emotions, “spiritual experience” and feelings above concrete physical expressions. The culture “respects the body” so much it cuts, pastes, enhances and alters it… and we as Christians have bought into the “cult of beauty”, but not from the vantage point of Dosteyevsky’s “Beauty will save the world.” So there is an “affirmation of the body” that is twisted (what is the limit on self beautification as a Christian? And what about clothing/adornment of the body?) Another issue is cremation: the EO discourages cremation because of what it says about our regard for the body: it is a dispensable cannister for the soul which is gone, so we can toss the “can” now. Hmmm… that’s all I can think of for now. Great discussion.


  25. […] I finally got around to writing this post after commenting on this post by Matthew Lee Anderson. When his book comes out, you should get […]


  26. Just a ocupel of things I’ve been thinking about recently.

    First, is related to the comments on Gnosticism above. On one hand, Christians like the EO have emphasized a very anti-dualistic view of the importance of the human body. Yet, when I read Paul, it seems that he continually laments the flesh, or body of sin, that we live in and struggle against every day. It seems we have been spritually born again but are trapped in these mortal bodies of sin. I’m sure this has been covered a hundred times over, but its difficult for me to read Paul and from a certain angle not to hate this body I live in now…only the resurrected body will be free from sin, so how does this understanding play out day to day as I consider my body?

    #2: I’m intrigued by Adam and Eve’s shame over their nakedness after the fall. This is probably covered under marriage and sex above, but I don’t fully understand the implications for the beliver today. My best understanding is that physical nakedness was indicative of spiritual and emotional vulnerability. That being aware of the evil with himself, taking Adam as an example, he is embarassed before God and Eve, fearful of God, and fearful of Eve, as he knows the evil potential within her as well. Evil makes us vulnerable and ashamed. But how does this translate into modern modesty for the Christian? If we are redeemed from the fall and are reconciled to both God and each other, is there need for shame in nudity? Is the only obstacle concern over being a stumbling block to others (I’m thinking female nudity inciting men to lust)? I guess, what the the cause for Adam and Eve’s shame and how is that applied to members of the new covenant?


  27. Matt and Casey, “Deification in Christ: The Nature of the Human Person” by Panayiotis Nellas (SVS Press) is a great overview of the patristics on pre-fall and post fall human existence in which he explicates the image of God, and the “garments of skin” which are actually our fleshly bodies given to us by God to be able to deal with the fallen world and our fallen existence. Unfortunately it is out of print and the last time I looked at Amazon it was almost 300.00 used. Matt, I’d be glad to lend my copy if you can’t find one (it’s paperback so libraries probably won’t have it)email me privately if you’d like to borrow it.


  28. Christof, you shouldn’t feel left out…there was just TOO MUCH good stuff in your comment. It kind of overwhelmed me. : )

    That said, Sherri, I was thinking more about sacramentalism and the body today and I think I have a few thoughts on how Baptists might be able to sit at the “body is good and super-important” table along with you Anglicans.

    Bonnie–save that thought. I’m hoping to launch a robust conversation over the state of the body in contemporary evangelicalism, and I hope you’ll play.

    S-P, re: cremation, check out this post and the comments: https://mereorthodoxy.com/?p=1115

    And while I think the questions about Jesus are a separate book, I also think that the basic issues will run throughout: creation, fall, redemption, restoration. It’s an overly simplistic framework, and I don’t plan on using it in the book, but at the end of the day, the question is what the body’s role in those four areas is. Any treatment of the body has to account for all of them.

    Casey, your point about Paul is one that I think a lot of people share. There’s a tendency among evangelicals to try to get around his negative language about the body too quickly, and that’s something that I want to avoid. Some of it is the question of sin–what is it, where is it? While we can affirm the goodness of the body without reservation in its original creation, the presence of sin in the world….complicates things. And simply saying that Jesus took on a body doesn’t solve everything, either, as the nature of the body Jesus took on was exactly like ours, yet without sin. But that’s an important qualification there on the end of that sentence. : )

    And S-P, I’ll definitely email you. I don’t quite have $300 to drop on a book right now. : )



  29. I was just listening to a Sunday morning “spirituality” talk show on reincarnation. It occurred to me that the Christian opposition to reincarnation is based in the body: we are not disincarnate souls put into disposable bodies, the human person is body, soul and spirit. The reincarnationists believe the soul is unrepeatable but the body is a “vehicle” for the soul’s “journey”, and like a car can be traded in for a new one. I don’t know if there is any place in your book for a discussion of reincarnation, but it seems to be a topic that is popular and addresses a theology of the body.


  30. As a Christian, is there a legitimate argument for the human form (nude) as art? – e.g. Michelangelo, figure-modeling, etc.
    Is this a question of “beauty in the eye of the beholder” or connected with individual comfort levels? – or are asking questions like these a reflection of relativistic culture?


  31. Joanne, what an interesting question. Just my 2 cents: I would actually turn the question around– is there a legitimate argument _against_ the nude human form in art? And I would say that the question either form arises from not a relativistic culture but a pornographic one; I gather that before the human body became hypersexualized to the point that we tend to understand it primarily as an object of sexual desire/consumption, nudes in art were not that big of a deal.

    This is also an issue where it seems to me the difference between sacramental/non-sacramental culture comes into play. Cf. the difference between JPII…

    In the restoration project of the Sistine Chapel, John Paul II insisted on removing several of the loincloths that other clerics had had painted over Michelangelo’s original nudes. In turn, when he dedicated the restored Sistine Chapel he described it as “the sanctuary of the theology of the human body.” It seems Michelangelo, he said, had been guided by the evocative words in Genesis 2:25, which enabled him, “in his own way,” the Pope said, to see the human body naked without shame (see John Paul II, homily 4/13/94). (http://www.christopherwest.com/page.asp?ContentID=46)

    …and John Ashcroft drawing curtains over a naked statue at the Justice Department.


  32. […] should that even be a question?  Or is the more appropriate question (as Sherri suggests) whether there is s there any […]


  33. A question about the nature of the body… I think I came across the term psycho-somatic unity somewhere in relation to this, but I’ve never researched it…

    It seems that the more closely you examine the body the harder it becomes to tell where it stops and the soul begins. Is the soul a completely separate entity that is somehow connected to a specific body? (If so, what is the nature of that connection? Why this body and not that body or all bodies?) Or are the physical and the spiritual two ends of a spectrum with infinite gradations between? And if this latter is the case, where does the “I” reside? Is my person then reduced by the amputation of a limb?


  34. A comment and a question. First, I’d love to see that list of influences when you get a chance.

    Second, what do you mean by non-sacramental theology?


  35. Brad,

    Yah, that’s forthcoming. It’s been forthcoming for a while, though, so don’t hold your breath. : )

    And as for a ‘non-sacramental theology’……well, that’s a tough category, if only because “sacramental” is an adjective that people are happy to attach to just about everything these days. I listened to some lectures by John Webster, one of my favorite theologians, and he called for a moratorium on its usage so we can figure out what people are talking about. That’s half my worry.

    But it basically has to do whether God communicates himself to us in and through the practices of the church, like baptism, communion, (and etc. if you’re Roman Catholic). A non-sacramental theology argues that those practices are fully human responses to a divine work–they are not a Divine work properly speaking.

    Does that help?




  36. I know I am late to the party but excellent topic for a book. I do wonder about the image of God reflected in Gen 2 “God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” I also wonder about ‘absent from the body and present with the Lord.’ Is there really a contrast between the Hebrew view of ‘nephesh’/soul and Greek ‘psyche’/soul? Does a gnostic, ‘physical is evil’ pervade the basic evangelical landscape? Since ‘flesh’ is the preferred word for sinful nature in Paul, what really are the implications for our physical nature?

    Got to deal with sex, but what does Paul mean about ‘one flesh’ relationships when he talks about prostitutes in I Cor 6? Why when we unite with the Lord are we united in spirit? Just before our bodies were members with Christ himself…It makes my head hurt :)
    Also in II Cor 7:1 how do we purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit? What things contaminate the body?
    Lots of other questions but these are a few…


  37. So I had another thought that you might deal with while on the topic of the body…my Oxford educated (Sommerville college)/Fulbright scholar mother now has Alzheimer’s. The change in personality is dramatic. My very spiritual mother in law also suffers from this disease and her personality changed in other radical ways. I had never realized how prescient St. Augustine was in his Confessions with that long riff on memory and how critical it is to shaping us. At any rate, one test case might be bodily sickness and its influence on personality. Are there any implications for our implicit assumption that personality arises from the immaterial soul? Is that an assumption modern Christians make?


  38. […] last plea for help on this book was so successful, and shaped so much of my thinking about the direction my book is going in, that I thought […]


  39. Way late to the party on this one. If you’re going in-depth on stuff, you might touch on dancing–one of the classical ‘fleshly’ things that was banned in many conservative Protestant denominations. In recent years I’ve become a social dancer and have wrestled with questions of Christian ethics and the dance-floor. (Wojtyla/JPII’s Love and Responsiblity, helpful on many other levels, helped me resolve some of those questions.) Actual questions: (a) What is the young evangelical view of dancing and how it mediates/portrays/uses sexuality but also the body in general, and (b) how would the correction or temperance you propose for the YEV of the body affect its views on dance, especially partnered dance?


  40. Dan,

    Interesting suggestion. Out of curiosity, what was it in *Love and Responsibility* that helped you resolve some of these questions? I’ve read it, but it’s been a while (a few years).

    I think you’re definitely on to an interesting aspect of embodiment, though. The evolution of dance suggests (to me) that we view our bodies very differently than in the past….so there’s a high liklihood I will at least touch on dance.



  41. In L&R I don’t remember specifically, partly because what a lot of the book did was to further codify for me some of the moral instincts that I already had about how to deal with the fact of sexuality. Probably the single most helpful thing (on and off the dance-floor) was the thought that neither sexual attraction nor sentimental feeling about someone matters quite as much as what is done with those things–that those attractions can be turned to good or ill, and are not necessarily bad in and of themselves. That said, I recall the section on Tenderness and Sensuality being very helpful, since partnered dance (especially blues dancing) can be very sensual, so trying to situate how to dance it with a view to the dignity of the partner (and a view to proper use of sexuality on the part of both partners) was a big part of my conflict. The section on shame I think might also be particularly relevant, especially a discussion of context of sexuality and its expression. Like anything else physical (and thus, to some degree, something which will mediate our sexuality), context is important. A lot of stuff about cultural context, subcultural context, context of the song, even context of the relationship of two particular people as dancers, comes into play.

    Now in blues–to give an example of something that can be wildly contextual in its rightness/wrongness–one big thing that gets a lot of people freaked out is whether it’s okay to dance in closed embrace–this is like any normal embrace except for a full-body contact roughly between the chest and gut (things below the gut, in proper technique, will not touch.) Reading L&R, I’ve generally found I dance closed a lot less, but that when I do, I generally feel much more morally satisfied with my choice. On a similar note, whether how (or if) hips are shaking is imprudent or sinful might depend on where and how they shake. (It can be quite uncomfortable, morally and physically, to dance with a partner who equates hip-shaking with grinding.)

    As quotations go, here were the ones I have in my notes still that are probably most relevant:

    “If I believe that A is good, and I do A, I act well even if A is really bad.” and “‘Authenticity’ of feeling is quite often inimical to truth in behaviour.” [page 163, ‘The Structure of Sin’]

    (So, if I’m feeling something in the music, that doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do. At the same time, if I don’t realize a certain move is inappropriate before I do it, I don’t need to beat myself up about it later.)

    “Every human being is a limited good, and for that reason capable of disinterestedness only within limits.” [page 203, ‘Tenderness and Sensuality’]

    (Good as a reminder that dancing with someone doesn’t have to be merely disinterested–and since both people are usually interested in having fun dancing, it never is–for it to be a ‘good’.)

    Anyway, I dunno if that helps. Hopefully it does some. It was just good to get some of my neurotic conscience into proportion, to get a better and more automated moral sense of what was right and wrong. But hopefully I’m remembering the book well enough to pass along some details of how that happened (I should remember it much better because my reading was just last summer.)


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