Our bodies are messy. They need constant feeding, exercise, and sleep. They smell. They break down and age. It’s easy to see why some have come to view our bodies as nothing more than containers for the soul, the part that really matters, and vehicles of self-expression.
At first glance, one might think the Bible takes a low view of the body. “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come,” Paul writes (1 Timothy 4:7-8).
“See?” people say. “Training ourselves for godliness matters for eternity. Training our bodies is relatively unimportant. The body must not matter much.”
I even hear this from pastors. “The world values the physical,” they say, “but it’s the spiritual that counts.” At a funeral, I heard an evangelical pastor give thanks in prayer that the deceased person had already been resurrected. The implication: that resurrection is a spiritual reality, not a physical one.
Our culture doesn’t seem to know what to make of the body, and Christians aren’t much better.
Why a Theology of the Body Matters
We need to recover a Christian theology of the body.
A theology of the body touches on so many issues:
- What does it mean to be human?
- Are there only two genders?
- What does it mean to be male or female?
- When does human life begin?
- What if someone doesn’t feel like their biological gender?
- What is sex? Who can we sleep with?
- How should we treat issues of nutrition, fitness, and aging?
- Is assisted suicide a valid option?
- What happens at death?
- What’s our future?
Nobody can avoid these issues. Every one of them is informed by our theology of the body.
My concern is that Christians don’t always think carefully through what Scripture teaches about the body and what it means to be embodied. We can be shaped by our culture rather than by what the Bible teaches.
I see this in two areas in particular. First, many churches seem to be following culture’s views on gender and sexuality. Where many of us live, these are the issues of the day. If we don’t answer them with a robust view of embodiment, we’ll soon run into problems. The Bible presents good news on these issues. It tells a better story than the one our culture tells us, and we must be able to communicate what Scripture teaches or else we’ll simply end up following culture.
But we also need to think carefully about death. In Scripture, our resurrection as embodied creatures provides hope for our current reality. Life isn’t easy. Many Christians live with a deficient view of what our future looks like. When we’re fuzzy on what Scripture teaches about our resurrection, we forfeit our hope, and it shows. The tougher life gets, the more we need a robust view of our future as resurrected, embodied creatures.
Every Christian needs an accurate theology of the body. Books like Embodied by Gregg Allison, What God Has to Say About Our Bodies by Sam Allberry, and Wonderfully Made by John Kleinig can help.
We can’t afford to flub this topic. The implications are way too high.
Advent Is a Good Time to Think About the Body
Now’s a particularly good time to think about the body, not only because it touches on so many contemporary issues, but because we’re about to think about when God the Son took on a human body. “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Think about that. God the Son has a human body. We will one day have resurrected, transformed bodies just as he has now.
“Jesus’s incarnation is the highest compliment the human body has ever been paid,” writes Sam Allberry. “God not only thought our bodies up and enjoyed putting several billion of them together; he made one for himself.”
Every Christian needs an accurate theology of the body. As we celebrate Advent and Christmas, let’s pay attention to this issue. Let’s get it right so we live and die as humans according to God’s design, with confidence in our embodied Saviour and hope for our resurrected bodies.