No epilogue, I pray you; for your play needs no excuse. Never excuse; for when the players are all dead, there needs none to be blamed.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The line has been ringing in my ears as I have been weighing the Christianity Today piece and the (sparse) reaction to it.   It’s a bit of irony, of course, as Shakespeare does in fact provide an epilogue.  “If we shadows have offended” and the lines that follow are among his most famous.  But then, the players are yet alive and still in need of some excuse.

It would be easy to stereotype the negative responses to the piece, and because it’s late and this is my fifth go at this post that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  In short:

Some folks decried the intrusion of yoga into American Christianity, while it also earned some strange defenders (new headline:  “Christian Yoga Knockoffs are Awesome, says Random Feminist“).  Others counted Bible verses and found me wanting, while others objected to my use of the Pope in the strongest possible turns.

These responses aren’t necessarily wrong.  In fact, as the author of the piece I share some of the responsibility for them.  I set the frame for any discussion to follow, and I should have known better than to start with evangelicalism’s second-most contentious issue in the past year and end with a fellow who (unfortunately) is a nonstarter for most evangelicals.  It’s a truism in speaking that if you mention something controversial, everything else you say will be forgotten.  I can now accurately report that this is true of writing as well.

One prominent Christian blogger said to me over email that he found the piece “unassertive,” a word rarely applied to me.  But to clarify, my hope was to take a swing at getting evangelicals to think differently about sexuality and to point people to Earthen Vessels for the full treatment.  Babe Ruth apparently pointed and swung once, only he connected with a bit more success than I.

The irony is that I say twice as much about the Pope in the article as I do in the book.  On purely mercenary terms, this is doubtlessly a mistake, as it will keep some folks from bothering to pick up and read.  But I have found through this process that I am reluctant to repeat myself, and if people read the book I had hoped they might find a sliver of something different in the article.  And, of course, vice versa.

And more importantly, someone is going to have to tell evangelicals about the Theology of the Body at some point, unless we want to further ingrain our habit of recreating the wheel.  The way to offer a better alternative to the Pope’s on the subject is not to ignore, but to read patiently and charitably, finding the good and praising it and humbly leaving behind whatever remains.

As to the questions of yoga, I won’t repeat what I’ve said in the book about it [see: previous paragraph], but I will note that my focus there is more limited than the commenters seemed to take it.  I hoped that the dispassionate use of yoga to point out the very real problem of determining the boundaries for evangelical spirituality wouldn’t descend into the question of whether it’s right or wrong, but we are apparently still too close to the controversy for that to happen.

One closing note:  they said in the early days that blogging was the perfect activity of the chronic narcissist.  But no one blogs for very long without friends, and I am fortunate to have some of the best.  It’s always tempting to allow the negative comments to overwhelm the compliments, but the kindness of the many people who shared it on Twitter and beyond makes that impossible.

 

 

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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.

21 Comments

  1. My greatest frustration with the Evangelical world is its inability to admit that truth is true when people that they don’t like say it. So we get into all kinds of problems with things that are actually good being called bad, because of the person that said it. At some point we are going to be held accountable by Christ for bringing disunity to the body. While I don’t consider the Pope infallible, I do consider him a part of the body of Christ and as such he deserves the respect of a Brother. Thanks for being one of the few that is really working on bringing the Theology of the Body to Evangelicals.

    Reply

    1. Matthew Lee Anderson August 16, 2011 at 2:42 pm

      Thanks, Adam, for the encouragement. I agree that rejecting the message because of the messenger is a real problem within the movement, and one that unfortunately limits us.

      Reply

  2. Maybe Catholics hold this because for us it’s an extension of our other understandings about the Church and Eucharist. For us, imago Dei is intrinsically and integrally comingled with Creation being Good, as with “This is My body…”, as with Paul reminding us we are appended to one another, and with the celebration of the Eucharist. All this “good-ness” makes us to relish physicality, the arts, sex, food, drink…all the good things that make us humans living in Christ.

    From P Kreeft:

    “[But] I suggest that if Protestants make just one single adjustment in their vision, they will see the possibility of reunion. Not just theologically, but more deeply religiously and spiritually, without any compromise at all. And that one adjustment is not to see Christ in any different way at all, but to see the Church in a different way. Not as an obstacle between us and Christ, not even as an intermediary between us and Christ, but as the very body of Christ Himself.

    And why would they make that adjustment? Well, which of these two concepts of the Church is the scriptural way of seeing it? Come on, answer honestly. You read the Bible and isn’t the Bible the supreme authority for any Protestant? Once Protestants see the Church’s identity, they can love her instead of fearing her because the body of Christ is Christ as your body is you. It’s not an alien, it’s not an obstacle. How can your own body be an obstacle? How Gnostic! The body is not your prison house, or your coffin, or your punishment. It’s not even your tool, or your clothing, or your house. It’s not This Old House. It’s you. Although it’s not the whole you. It’s not your head, or your soul. The same is true of Christ’s body which is what the New Testament calls the Church. It is Christ. Though it’s not the whole Christ. He is her head. And the Holy Spirit is her soul.” [[ Ecumenism Without Compromise ]]

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  3. Matt: I just got through reading the comments on your CT essay. I continue to be surprised when I should know, by now, not to be surprised. I’m surprised that some Evangelicals are allergic to a critical appreciation of John Paul’s theology of the body, just as I’m surprised that some Evangelicals [clearing the throat] are so allergic to a critical appreciation of postmodern philosophy. :-) I wish there was Zyrtec for these allergies! Oh wait…. there is: it’s called a posture of discerning reception rather than manipulative use. (For more on this distinction, see C. S. Lewis’ “An Experiment in Criticism.”) And really?! I can’t believe that yoga qualifies as “evangelicalism’s second-most contentious issue in the past year” (presumably following the Rob Bell hellaballoo). This movement needs a reality check. To my ears, you did not affirm or reject yoga but wrote about the controversy with journalistic impartiality rather than pastoral exhortation. I personally wish you had been more assertive, offering your reasoned judgment on yoga. Remember to exhale, Christopher. Exhale….

    Reply

    1. Matthew Lee Anderson August 16, 2011 at 7:28 pm

      Christopher,

      TOB has good stuff in it. Postmodern philosophy….. : )

      Can you name another controversy that comes close to the yoga one? Maybe Jennifer Knapp, but it’s a toss up at best.

      Again, the goal wasn’t to write about yoga per se. When you read the whole of EV, you will find my “reasoned judgment” on the question.

      matt

      Reply

  4. Matt: I’m being brutally honest here, but when I read some of the reactions to your CT article I thought to myself: “These damn evangelicals are their own worse enemy!” They make me want to throw in the towel. Your CT article is commendable for its ecumenical spirit and journalistic impartiality. That’s what I’m scratching my head and asking: Who are these grumblers? Factually speaking, you’re probably right that yoga was “evangelicalism’s second-most contentious issue in the past year” but that depresses me when other substantive issues need widespread attention, such as: Is the war in Afghanistan a just war? Is the federal budget a moral document? Is the economic recession an opportunity for spiritual prosperity? Is biblicism impossible in light of pervasive interpretive pluralism?

    Reply

  5. I liked your article in CT and am sorry to hear that you had sparse and negative comments. I am Anglo-catholic, thoroughly orthodox, sacramental and liturgical now, but have an Evangelical background (who doesn’t here in Texas) so TOB was not scandalous to me, in fact seeing it referenced inclined me to read the article. Through it I have found your blog and your book Earthen Vessels :-). I have the impression the TOB is a pretty heavy theological slog to get through so I am interested in your book as an introduction to it.
    So hang in there Matt, keep searching for Truth…have you read Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth”? Excellent teaching and highly readable.

    Reply

    1. Lyn,

      Thanks for the kind words and for buying EV. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts at some point on it. I’d warn you that early reviews of the first few chapters are that they’re a bit tough to chew on, but I hit my groove right about when I start talking tattoos. Not sure that’s accurate, but I report, you decide!

      Haven’t read Benedict’s JoN. I might at some point, but it will probably be a while. The reading list is mighty long right now.

      Thanks again.

      Best,

      Matt

      Reply

  6. Hey Matt, sorry to see such negative reactions to your article. Even with the questions I have about yoga, and my pointed concerns about the Vatican’s policies (sorry Greg), I thought your Christianity Today piece was well-written and thoughtful. I actually linked to it on my blog. I look forward to seeing more from you on the subject. (One note, though: don’t be afraid to repeat yourself: first, because if it was good enough to say in a book then it is good enough to bear repeating; second, because giving people a taste of what’s in your book is not exactly bad for sales.)… =)

    For what it’s worth, even with my questions about yoga and concern over the policies of the Vatican

    Reply

    1. Woops, left a little bit at the bottom of that last reply without meaning to.

      Reply

      1. (No apologies necessary Sean, but thanks! Your concerns are my concerns.)

        I was referring to Catholic theology as compared to policies.

        Coming to terms with TOB is contingent on coming to terms with Eucharist and Church.

        Reply

    2. Sean,

      Thanks for the kind encouragement. I will admit this: I’m a glutton for punishment, which means I probably won’t stay silent on the issue long. : )

      But repeating myself…..man, I just can’t do it. Every audience is a new audience, every situation a little different……it’s a real struggle.

      Reply

  7. Ps. Maybe your next article should be about how people have a hard time understanding the difference between mildly favorable critical engagement and appeals to authority. :)

    Reply

  8. Keep going brother. Keep it up. Keep writing. Write the way God tells you to. Write in the way you were designed to. To return to our embodied conversation, I’m a pastor and speak and write like a pastor. But you aren’t, and you have something unique to contribute to any conversation. That’s why this blog rocks.

    Oh, and from this pastor who receives his fair share of criticism, I keep a “smile file” in my desk. Every nice email, letter, or card I get, I put it in the smile file. On rough days, when I’ve received a lot of criticism, I try to pull a few of those out. So, moral of the story, keep a smile file.

    Reply

    1. Thanks, Dave.

      And “smile file?” I didn’t know that the positive thinking movement had so deeply infiltrated the EPC! Someone should call a commission! : )

      Seriously, that’s not a bad idea. Lame name, but not a bad idea. : )

      matt

      Reply

  9. Well, I will confess that I just spent the last hour with my husband, reading your piece to him, emphatically arguing all the ways the words “Pope” and “Christian teaching” do not belong in the same sentence.

    And because he is the church history guy in the family, not to mention the wise one, he was able to explain why they can. And lamenting why ninety percent of evangelicals will likely never understand that.

    FWIW. ;)

    Reply

  10. Matt,

    I can’t tell you how encouraged and thrilled I was to read your article!! The call that you made in that article for a biblical theology of human embodiment is exactly one that I and several of my friends have been strategically thinking and praying about recently.

    My story (in short) goes like this. Even though raised as a good Baptist Preacher’s kid who trusted Christ early and pursued ministry, I fell prey to porn. That struggle continued for over 30 years, even through my professional tenure as a full-time worship pastor.

    However, after personally studying the true nature of what the “Image of God” means, I realized that what I had learned about the human body in church all my life was not biblically accurate. When I changed my understanding of the body to match Scriptures, the allure of pornography literally melted out of my life (greatly to my surprise!).

    I was then compelled to understand why such a dramatic and permanent transformation had taken place in my life. As I explored the matter, the Lord led me to others who had been similarly set free. Together, we wrote about all that we learned and posted it on the MyChainsAreGone.org website, in hopes that others could also be set from from porn’s grip.

    Our message was one that no one else seemed to be proclaiming, for all assume that it is the “sight” of the human body that is the problem (what does that imply about God’s handiwork?). We felt very alone…

    Then one day, we heard about the Pope’s “Theology of the Body” and we rejoiced to learn that we really were NOT alone with our message. We also learned that we had very much to learn from the Polish priest-turned-Pope. (Incidentally, one of the TOB proponents who contacted us at MCAG was the owner of the TOB site linked at the end of the CT article: theologyofthebody.net)

    We also recognized that someone needs to develop this theology in a voice that evangelicals would listen to. This is a calling that our team is actively praying about now.

    Consequently, as you can imagine, it was an incredible encouragement to read your article in CT. I hope that you’ll check out MCAG (should link from my name above) and contact us personally through the contact page there.

    Thank you again.

    Pastor Ed Martin

    Reply

    1. Matthew Lee Anderson August 23, 2011 at 8:05 pm

      Ed,

      Thanks for the encouraging feedback and for sharing your story. I’ll definitely send you an email!

      Best,

      Matt

      Reply

  11. Incidentally… we would also welcome contact from anyone else sensing God’s calling to address this issue in the evangelical church today.

    Pastor Ed

    Reply

  12. Thank you for the great article! I’m pretty happy to see an evangelical writing about the theology of the body. I’m going to buy your book and have linked to your article on my blog.

    Keep writing!

    Reply

    1. Matthew Lee Anderson August 23, 2011 at 8:08 pm

      Thanks, Bryan. That’s very encouraging. Your blog looks great and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on EV.

      Best,

      Matt

      Reply

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