Thursday, August 18, 2011

Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith by Matthew Lee Anderson

Image taken from  Mere Orthodoxy
Matthew Lee Anderson, author of Earthen Vessels, has been told through Twitter than I am terribly mean and know only how to bruise and destroy. Thankfully, the person who told Anderson this was joking, since I don't think I could live up to that reputation - most of what I have to say about Earthen Vessels is good.

In the first half of the book, Anderson lays out a basic picture of what he thinks the body is, and who he thinks his audience is. None of his reflections on the body should be earth-shattering to any biblically informed Christian who has spent time reflecting on the body, but that's okay because his audience probably hasn't. His audience is Evangelicals, who many have accused of being Gnostic, while Anderson, in defense of us, can at best call us inattentive.

If Anderson is right that Evangelicals have merely been inattentive, then this book will do a lot of good if its read. He establishes that the body is our place of personal presence in the world, the temple of God and the vessel of our worship, and then goes on to explore specific question in reflection of this anthropology. Should Christians get tattoos? What should Christian sexuality look like? What about homosexuality? Anderson approaches all of these questions carefully, and he's clearly given them a lot of thought. Unfortunately, the sheer breadth of the material he's trying to cover means his arguments are often rather thin. He seems to be touching on the topics rather than giving them the thorough analysis they deserve. In the end, the approach seems perhaps more blog-like than book-like. Once again, however, I don't think this is really a problem, because I rather think the point of these chapters is, in the end, a plea to at least think about these things. Think about the body and worship, think about tattoos and the Christian body.

Throughout the book, I found myself at times agreeing with Anderson, at other times disagreeing. Occasionally his critiques of liberal theological positions seemed to me to rather miss the point of those positions. Then again, he, like myself, is a conservative, and its hard to understand the opposing mindset if you haven't spent time immersed in it. There was only one point in the text where I was seriously bothered by anything Anderson said, which was when he discussed yoga. I am not a practitioner of yoga, but I found his view to be narrow and perhaps a bit reactionary even (I plan on writing a separate post on the subject, though, so I won't go into more detail here).

In the end, if you're an Evangelical Christian, or count any Evangelicals as friends, I recommend you read this book. It's true that if you've given much thought to the body nothing here will surprise you, but at the very least it should spark some ideas in your head, and it will probably give you some ideas as to how to approach the Evangelical community with this topic. If you haven't given much thought to the body, then this book is an absolute must read.