Matthew Anderson addresses one of “evangelicalism’s least developed doctrines”—the theology of the body :

Renewed evangelical interest in the body has perhaps been most evident—and problematic—in our teaching about sex and sexuality. Starting in the 1970s, evangelicals experienced what some scholars have described as our own sexual revolution. After the publication of Marabel Morgan’s The Total Woman , manuals designed to maximize marital pleasure flooded the evangelical book market. Seeking to justify physical pleasure amid stereotypes of prudishness and repression, evangelicals embraced literalist interpretations of the Song of Solomon, arguing not only that God made sex good, but that Christians should have more frequent and pleasurable sex than anyone else—a sort of sexual apologetic, if you will. At minimum, this is an expansive Christianity, a Christianity attempting to move outside the church walls into every part of our lives—especially the body.

The downside is that evangelicals have sometimes been clumsy in our efforts to see how the Word should shape the flesh. Our approaches to the body have often proceeded in rather piecemeal fashion. Whatever trend happens to be in vogue at a particular moment, Christians readily respond with a “Jesus approved” version. When dieting became the rage, Christian dieting shortly followed. As yoga gained popularity, Christian yoga started up. And as the sexual revolution unfurled its banners, Christians sought scriptural warrants for indulging the pleasures of the flesh.

While Christianity clearly impinges on every aspect of our bodily lives, the piecemeal approach to a theology of the body has significant drawbacks. Beyond the fragmented understanding of the body that comes from attending only to diverse activities and functions, the absence of an overarching theological backdrop risks reducing our ethical teachings and pastoral care to mere legalism. We lose the sense that Christianity proposes more a distinct way of life than a moralizing list of dos and don’ts.


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Articles by Joe Carter

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