Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Christian Theology of the Body

One of my favorite contemporary theologians is N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, Enlgand and fourth highest bishop in the Anglican Church. He is a prolific writer and has written several books. I would highly recommend The Resurrection of the Son of God and his more popular level book, Simply Christian.


I have posted here a link to a Time magazine interview where the Time writer asks Wright several questions about his theology on the importance of the human body in Scripture. Wright, I believe, corrects a lot of wrong thinking that passes for orthodoxy in Christian circles. The link is:

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1710844,00.html


This link was recommended reading to me from my oldest, younger brother, Stephen. He sent me the link on Facebook and then asked me what I thought about it. Here are my thoughts below. After reading them, I would invite thoughts of your own on Wright's interview or on my own comments.


"Stephen,

"Yeah, everything Wright said is exactly what we are supposed to believe. It is the teaching of the Bible, orthodox creeds of the early, medieval, and Reformation churches, and should be what we hold to today.


"In fact, you see doubt casted on [Wright's view] of the [End Times and our resurrection] as early as the New Testament itself, I believe. This is why the Apostle John wrote so vehemently in his First Epistle that those who are true Christians are those that confess that Jesus Christ came "in the flesh," that is, as a true human being. He was writing this to his early church community because there were false teachers among them confusing them about the human nature of Christ, teaching instead that Christ was not fully human, or only appeared to be human, like a ghost. But John understood that confessing the full, physical humanity of Christ was absolutely essential for our own salvation (Christ had to identify with those He saved) and for future, bodily resurrection.


"You see, our belief in Christ's full humanity and our value of human physicality are linked. God loves bodies so much that He created them. He loves bodies so much that He took one on Himself. He loves bodies so much that He raised Christ's body (which He still has today) as a "downpayment," or "promissory note" that He will resurrect all bodies some day in the future...some for judgment, and some destined for glory.


"But in our day, we have so de-valued the body (much as the Gnostic heretics of the second century that Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen wrote against), that we think the most important thing we have to give to the world is information. "If we can just tell them the message, give them information about the gospel, then we are doing the only important thing that matters in Christian missions."


"But a true Christian theology means that we don't just want to get a rational, ethereal, verbal message into the minds of people. We care about their bodies as well. This is why for centuries the Church has cared about founding hospitals, clinics, food banks, and education that can help people find gainful employment. The gospel is not just for our souls, a message for our minds. It also affects our bodies. It affects the way we are to treat the bodies of others now (note that Paul says our BODIES are temples of the Holy Spirit--1 Cor 3 and 6), and it affects the state of our bodies later when Christ returns.


"Modernism, the philosophical beliefs arising out of the European Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries, is the main culprit as to why we so de-emphasize and often teach heresy regarding the human body, in my estimation. Modernism told us a whole lot of things that were wrong (and some things that were right, as well). But one of those wrong things was to emphasize rational thought and the human mind as the ultimate source of knowledge, the ultimate arbiter of all truth claims, and our ultimate hope for human better-ment and salvation (hope in science, especially). With such a radical, extreme emphasis on human rationality and thinking, it is no wonder that Western man has come to exalt the mind to such an extent that we often view the body as just a temporary "earth-suit" that we will one day escape. (I have actually heard our bodies referred to as "earth-suits" by SCOPE ministries teachings).


"In my opinion--a point that Wright does not touch on much--it is the uncritical wedding of modern thinking and sub-Christian theology that has allowed so many in Christian circles to develop such unbiblical thinking about the body, soul, salvation, and the End Times.


"I look forward to talking to you more about it this weekend, if you want.

"Love ya,
Your brother."

9 comments:

stephen e. buerger said...

thanks, john, for your insight into this topic and wright's interview. this is a subject about which i have talked with friends recently and it has really got me thinking. however, it can be difficult to come to any sort of "conclusion" about it because some of it is still very unknown (by design) and the known aspects are usually, as you said, quite contrary to popular Christian belief.

in all honesty, the concept of God loving bodies and loving the earth is one of the most foreign views to the majority of Christians. also, the point you brought up this weekend (not talked about in wright's interview) is the fact that death is an abnormal, bad thing, brought on by the curse after the fall. i for one, have often thought of death as just the ability to go see the Lord. though paul does talk about being able to be present with Christ in some way, i don't think it's the same state which i have usually thought. i'm intrigued to continue looking into this topic and see what God wants us to know about it through His Word.

Eric Tippin said...

Good thoughts John. Wright seems to be right on in what he believes. At first when I read the interview I was a little scared of what he might say, but he just stuck to the truth, and nailed it!!
I could see how people would mistreat their bodies on earth because they will be made new and renewed in the coming days. I personally don't like my body very much for the pure fact that it's impure, and as long as that aspect of my body is gone in the resurrection, I'm good.
What kind of stands does he take on other necessary issues?

matthew said...

Great letter! I love Wright and need to read The Resurrection of the Son of God!

Have you read Surprised by Hope yet? I just picked it up Friday and am looking forward to getting into it.

It really is amazing how much unbiblical thinking is widely popular within the modern church...

John Buerger said...

Matt,

Yeah, I really like Wright. I enjoyed his "Simply Christian." It is to the post-modern world what "Mere Christianity" was to the modern. I think you would really like it, too. I'm also hoping to read "The Resurrection of the Son of God." I've had it now for a couple of years, but I just haven't read it yet. I also haven't read "Surprised by Hope" yet, either.

I know what you mean about unchristian thinking in the evangelical church. We are rife with it, I think. I think it has a lot to do with our departing from the concept of theological tradition. In our proud stance against following the Pope, we now have a "pope" in every pew, who believes that he/she can interpret Scripture rightly all by themselves without the help of those God has gifted throughout history.

I'm sure there's more to it than that. But if we did a lot more listening to the early fathers, we probably wouldn't be so Gnostic in our view of the body, at least.

John Buerger said...

Eric,

I'm sorry, man, that I have taken so long to respond to your comment. Please forgive me.

As far as his other stands, Wright is certainly orthodox, I believe. By that, I mean that he holds to the essentials of Christian belief, like a good Anglican should. This includes Christ's person (His full deity and humanity), the Trinity, substitutionary atonement of the cross, the resurrection (obviously), the divine inspiration of Scripture, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone. As far as I know, he would confess all of those things.

Beyond that, I'm not as sure. I'm sure that if we try hard enough, we can disagree with him on something. But when I try hard, I often disagree with myself.

I've even been known to disagree with God, from time to time. Fortunately, He's patient with me. :)

matthew said...

John,

you should also give credit to the existentialists and students of Barth for much of that...

yeah, i'm in the middle of simply christian right now and loving it. i give that book out all the time - it will indeed be a classic. it so well frames - with clarity and patience - the christian faith.

John Buerger said...

Matt,

I'm glad you are enjoying it. I need to look through it again. I co-wrote a review of the book with Dr. Kreider for BibSac, but I don't know when it comes out. I know that Dr. K likes Wright, too.

Did you mean to say that Barth and existentialist theologians are part of the reason why there is so much bad theology in modern evangelicalism?

matthew said...

no, sorry - both contributed to the idea of self interpretation.

John Buerger said...

Gotcha.