A Brief Book Notice from Books At a Glance
Our good friend Dr. Gregg Allison, professor of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has recently published a very thoughtful and helpful book on the significance of the human body. We could not let it pass without giving it notice.
The Christian doctrine of creation has always emphasized the creation of the human body, but in recent years this has received more attention – often finding important areas of contemporary application.
In his Introduction, Allison himself tells us what his book is all about. (This from pages 15-20, with the kind permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021.)
Why This Book Is Needed
A theology of human embodiment is important for many reasons. It intersects with other important Christian doctrines. As part of the doctrine of creation, a theology of human embodiment helps us understand God’s creation of human beings and his design for human flourishing. As an aspect of the doctrine of humanity (technically called “theological anthropology”), embodiment theology addresses the composition of human nature. In relation to the doctrine of sin, a theology of embodiment traces the bodily effects of the fall and sin. With respect to the doctrine of Christ, embodiment speaks to the nature of the incarnation. Connecting to the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and salvation, a theology of embodiment helps us understand the Spirit’s indwelling of, and divine action through, redeemed people. In relation to the doctrine of future things, embodiment theology highlights the strangeness of disembodiment in the intermediate state (the period between our death and the return of Christ). It also fosters hope in the completion of God’s redemptive work through the resurrection of the body.
Beyond touching on these other important Christian doctrines, a theology of human embodiment addresses numerous contemporary moral and social issues: human personhood, gender dysphoria, transgenderism, heterosexuality and homosexuality, dehumanization and objectification, body image, the obesity epidemic, anorexia and bulimia, compulsive exercise, orthorexia, body modification, selfie dysmorphia, and more. Embodiment theology isn’t a cure-all when it comes to caring for people who wrestle with these and other issues. But it does provide the proper theological foundation on which Christians and the church should construct their mercy and caring ministries.
Finally, a theology of human embodiment exposes the devastating impact of Gnosticism/neo-Gnosticism on the American society and church. Gnosticism/neo-Gnosticism underscores that material things (like the body) are inherently evil or at least not as important as spiritual things. If this view is true, then our body is at least insignificant, if not the major cause of sin and the key hindrance to Christian maturity. But if God’s design for his image bearers is that we are embodied, then we will need to rethink and reject this far too prevalent perspective that diminishes or demonizes human embodiment.
In other words, a theology of human embodiment will help us live as whole people in a fractured world. We’ll be more connected with God and his design for us. We’ll be better prepared to face the cultural challenges around us. And we’ll be more integrated and sound—not divided—people for ourselves and for others.
For these reasons, this book is needed—maybe even long overdue.
How This Book Unfolds
This book consists of thirteen chapters, each of which is structured in the following way: topic, big idea, and application, that is, how to concretely live out the topic. Additionally, if you want to do a deeper dive into the topic, each chapter concludes with a section titled “For the Curious.” For example, you can do some extra thinking about relationships with the other gender, lust and masturbation, same-sex attraction, gospel liturgy, tattoos, traditional burial versus cremation, and phantom limbs.
Chapter 1 is about the creation of the body. The big idea is that embodiment is the proper state of human existence. God’s design for his image bearers is that we are embodied people. I affirm, “I am my body.” The application question is, Are you thankful for God’s creation of you as an embodied human being?
Chapter 2 addresses sex/gender (I’ll clear up this distinction in the chapter). The big idea is that an essential given of human existence is maleness or femaleness. God’s design for his image bearers is that we are sexed/gendered people. The application question is, Are you thankful for the gender that God created you?
Chapter 3 discusses particularity. The big idea is that an essential given of human existence is particularity, which is defined as the condition of being an individual. God specifically designs and creates each human being to be a particular gendered embodied individual. The application is to map out who you are as a particular person designed and created by God.
Chapter 4 raises the issue of sociality. While some people use the word “sexuality” for this category, I’ll explain why I avoid that term and use instead “sociality.” The big idea is that an essential given of human existence is sociality, the condition that tends to bring individuals together. God’s design for his image bearers is that we are social people who express our sociality in appropriate interpersonal relationships and, in the case of marriage, through sexual activity. The application question is, How are you expressing your sociality in God-honoring, self-valuing, and others-respecting ways?
Chapter 5 is about sexuality. The big idea addresses one particular aspect of sociality: sexual activity. God’s design for his image bearers is that, as social people, we express our sociality in the case of marriage through sexual activity. The application question is, How are you expressing your sexuality in God-honoring, self-valuing, and spouse-respecting ways?
Chapter 6 is about the incarnation of the Son of God as Jesus Christ. The big idea is that the incarnation is about God the Son becoming embodied. The triune God’s design was for the eternal Son of the Father to become the God-man by virtue of the Holy Spirit’s uniting him to a human nature just like ours. The purpose of this embodiment was so the Son, without spot or blemish and perfectly prepared for his mission, would be the once-and-for-all embodied sacrifice for sin. The question for application is, How does the embodiment of the Son of God instruct you about your existence as an embodied person?
Chapter 7 treats the sanctification of the body. The big idea is that maturing as Christ’s followers is not only about spiritual and moral progress but physical development as well. God’s design for his embodied image bearers is that we are holistically sanctified, which includes growing in holiness in our body. Such progressive embodied sanctification fights against “deadly” sins of the body—lust, gluttony, and sloth. It also pursues physical wellness through sleep and rest. The question for application is, How should you progress in sanctification as an embodied believer?
Chapter 8 addresses bodily blessing and discipline. The big idea is that through the physical senses, human embodiment brings blessings that are too numerous to count. At the same time, it also demands bodily discipline. God’s design for his embodied image bearers is that we live physically blessed and disciplined lives in areas such as regular exercise, good nutrition, fasting, and feasting. The application is to design a personal program of bodily discipline that you consistently follow.
Chapter 9 connects human embodiment with worship. The big idea is that embodied worshipers properly render worship to God through whole-body devotion to him, expressing praise, thanksgiving, confession, repentance, joy, obedience, faith, lament, and love. God’s design for his people gathered to worship him is that we express bodily what is transpiring in our heart and mind. The question for application is, How can you ensure that your physical posture and bodily activity during worship expresses what is transpiring in your heart and mind?
Chapter 10 explores some implications of human embodiment for clothing. The big idea is that clothed embodiment is the proper state of human existence after the fall. God’s design for his embodied image bearers after sin entered the world is that we are clothed for the purpose of covering the shame of nakedness. The only exception is nakedness between husband and wife. Moreover, clothing expresses something important about human beings. The application is a call to thoughtfulness with respect to the clothes we choose to wear.
Chapter 11 is about suffering and healing. The big idea is that suffering is part and parcel of embodied existence, and that suffering may persist, worsen, or improve, perhaps even be healed. God’s design for his embodied image bearers after the fall is to permit us to suffer the physical consequences of living in a fallen world. Moreover, he calls Christians to suffer for the sake of Christ, even to the point of martyrdom. At all times, God’s grace is sufficient to sustain his people, and sometimes he will physically heal us or rescue us from persecution. The question for application is, How should you face suffering and how should you seek healing as an embodied Christian?
Chapter 12 is a consideration of the death of the body. The big idea is that human existence plays itself out from conception through eternity. Death is an enemy intruder that, at the end of our earthly existence, results in the cessation of the body’s proper functioning. God’s design for his embodied image bearers after the fall is to permit us to die as a physical consequence of living in a fallen world. Because of their salvation through Christ, Christians are able to face death with hope and not fear. The application question is, How should we face death?
Chapter 13 addresses the future of the body. The big idea is that after death, which is a temporary separation from our body, we live in an abnormal condition of disembodiment. At the return of Christ and its accompanying event of bodily resurrection, we will be re-embodied. God’s design for his embodied image bearers is that as we are in this earthly life, so we will be for all eternity: embodied. The application question is, How does the resurrection (with eternal physical life) confirm our first big idea that embodiment is the proper state of human existence?
Finally, I conclude with an invitation to embrace our embodiment.
Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021, used by permission.
Buy the books
EMBODIED: LIVING AS WHOLE PEOPLE IN A FRACTURED WORLD, by Gregg R. Allison