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The Unavoidable Question: The Earthen Vessels Symposium (Ch. 3)

October 31st, 2011 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

This is the chapter I didn't want to write.

Even now, reading it, it feels like a detour.  There I go, wandering through the fields of the various historical models of the body that have been popular, the Bible, the limits the body imposes on us, the nature of our inner life, the habits that are (quite literally) engrained within our bodies, the emerging church...

It's all rather sprawling, and I don't envy Rachel for taking up her cross and attempting to respond to it.  Do I ever get around to answering what the body is?  It's not terribly clear.

Yet this chapter is the setup for what's to come.  I really am going somewhere with all this, and in various ways the aspects of embodiment I highlight in this chapter will return later on.  I am trying to put the edge pieces on the puzzle, to give an outline of the body that I can then fill in.  It asks a lot from readers, I grant, but then I try not to be in the habit of talking down to folks.

And besides, the simplicity of the question betrays the intricate complexity of the answer.  Alisdair MacIntyre took on the question and came up with no less than seven possible answers, each building on the other.  Of course, his last answer was the best:  "[the body] is in certain respects enigmatic, a source of puzzlement, since alone among animal bodies it occasionally emits the question "What is a human body?" and directs its powers towards giving an answer to that question."

Which is to say, the body is as multidimensional as any part of creation.  And it's just a little mysterious.  It limits us, but it also makes the world possible.  It is ourselves in our external dimension, but also a particular collection of organic compounds and molecules.  It has habits, but it is also wrapped up in the image of God.  It stands between the creation and the new creation, awaiting its final glorification which the resurrection of Jesus guarantees.

It's not a detour.  I'm building something, trying to get the notes on the page that I plan on building a few themes around.  But I'll just quote one of my favorite reviews of the book:

As a worship leader, I was especially drawn to the short section The Body in Worship (p. 225). Anderson posits "complex music requires more patience to understand, appreciate, and enjoy, for it takes longer for the beauty to unfold..." The same is true for Earthen Vessels. For a thorough understanding of the book, it takes patience to travel with him through the message.


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.