Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith by Matthew Lee Anderson is an exceptionally good book. It covers a lot of ground and has much to say to us individually as members of Christ’s Body and corporately as the Body of Christ. I heartily recommend it (Hat tip to my good friend Louis at Baker Books for recommending it)!
The last chapter alone is worth the price of the book and should be carefully read by every pastor. In “The Body and the Church” Anderson addresses important aspects of worship: baptism, communion, music, video sermons, technology, structured and routine worship behaviors, and online “worship.” On every page he calls for a responsible biblical awareness of our embodied presence before others in all of these practices.
Youth leaders and single-adult pastors would benefit greatly from chapter 6 “Tattoos and the Meaning of our Bodies” and chapter 7 “The Body and Its Pleasure.” Regarding tattoos, Anderson wisely opines:
The cultural logic, then, of tattoos depends upon the body being a canvas for our self-expression, a lump of clay that we style in ways that express the hidden core of who we are. Tattoos are an aesthetic technique—the program of control and domination—melded with a contrarian aesthetic and applied to our bodies. The practice of tattooing treats the body not as our place of personal presence in the world [and I would argue our place of worship; see Rom. 12:1], but as an object for our self-construction. (p. 113, emphasis mine)
On sexual pleasure he sums up beautifully that “Christian sexuality is not simply an expression of an abstract or vague inner desire—it is a dynamic encounter between a man and a woman in the fullness of their humanity before God, which is constituted by their mutual self-giving to the other for the other’s good” (p. 125). With this framework, Anderson goes on to offer solidly biblical counsel for and caution in sexual freedom and self-giving, sexual union, holiness, singleness, and pornography.
The subsequent chapter is devoted to addressing homosexuality and gently offers pastoral insights that are especially helpful for those who struggle with same-sex attractions, concluding that what we do with our bodies matters immensely since “sexual sins uniquely affect our sense of the Spirit’s indwelling presence” (1 Cor. 6:18). In every instance where sexual aberration exists, the Apostle Paul presupposes male and female “sexual complementarity in the original creation.”
I especially appreciated the chapter “Spiritual Disciplines: The Body Shaped by Grace and Gratitude” (see my series on the spiritual disciplines). Although brief, I could tell that Anderson was heavily influenced by the wisdom of J. P. Moreland, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, et al. Arguing for a wholistic and communal view of Christian spirituality he writes,
The body is both the place of our personal presence and the temple of the living God—it is the place we meet with him and he lives in and through us….The body is a social reality, which means there is no such thing as a spiritual discipline that does not transform our relationships (pp. 182, 192).
Anderson closes out the book by insisting:
We are earthen vessels that are given the extraordinary privilege and honor of bearing the love of God himself in our eyes, our toes, and all the other members that make us up. That which has been regarded as worthless has become the temple. The body is a beautiful ruin, a tragic glory. It has been stained and broken by the burden of sin, but purchased by the death of Jesus and made new through the indwelling Holy Spirit (p. 229).
Pastors, small group leaders, church staff and laity….tolle, lege (TAKE UP AND READ!).