Well … I’ve been wanting to write a book about the theology of fitness and health. So I figured releasing some snippets would keep me accountable and productive, especially in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. I pray it would be fruitful, worshipful, and enjoyable.
Before you read, I wanted to remind you that my writing is from the context of a Christ-follower, former Army Chaplain, Emergency Medicine Physician, husband and father of four, amateur soccer player & marathon runner turned power lifter, who has learned hard and practical life lessons from going through the valley of bulimia together with Aubrey, experiencing the crushing of my own self-righteousness in the process.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Below you can find my first post…
The burden to labor over such topics as a theology of physical fitness and health in light of Christian hedonism is born out of personal struggle as well as dissatisfaction with an often superficial or misguided theology of the body in contemporary Christianity, on the one hand, or the idolatrous and humanistic treatment of the body in our current generation on the other hand.
The seedlings for this endeavor began in struggles with reconciling my own spiritual desire with my natural enjoyment of athletic endeavors, albeit, only at quite amateur levels. Particularly difficult was my innate inability to reconcile any purpose in playing the game of soccer while attending a Bible college, where it was my aim to lay down my life for Christ, which I understood to be quite separated from my ability to play sport well unless I were evangelizing in the process. At times in the off-season, I recall renouncing physical exercise in light of more worthy physical pursuits to the point that I was breathless climbing a flight of stairs.
More potently, however, was marriage to my wife, whom I love, who also was struggling with bulimia (or probably more accurately anorexia with purging) at the time of our wedding with continued purging for the next five years. In my own self-righteousness, I felt she had a problem with her view of her body, while only coming to realize in years to come my own sinfulness, inability, and wrong views of the physical life. It was only in due time, by God’s grace, that He began to break me, and to break us, of our false views of the body, most potently by my wife almost choking to death while purging on one occasion while I was in Iraq with the US Army (see her writing about this previously).
No doubt, we had some basic understanding of our wrong thinking about the physical life. However, we have been incessantly plunging the depths of these issues since that time, sometimes not by choice.
If we, who were seen as good Protestants, trying to live out our life for Jesus, had such misconceptions and struggles to reconcile life in the body with the Christian life, surely this was a microcosm of the broader generational and theological problems at play.
Cultural and Theological Misconceptions
Within the Protestant church itself, although there is inherent criticism of Gnosticism, which for the sake of introduction, we may define as seeing the physical realm as an impediment to the spiritual life, many have pointed out that a new breed of neo-gnosticism has sprouted up in today’s church, which tends also to de-value the body in pursuit of the spiritual life. If this is true, then the best we can do with 90% of our earthly existence is simply withstand it and try not to let it get in the way of our spirituality.
On the other hand, there has been a renewed interest in physical health within some strains of Christianity, some of which seem to equate physical fitness with godliness, promise health along with the wealth of the prosperity gospel, link physical maladies with lack of faith to find physical healing, or even prescribe new, legalistic rules for eating which are often founded in some obscure Old Testament texts taken out of the context of redemptive history. Yet, interestingly, we haven’t found anybody picking up on the John-the-Baptist diet to promote godliness, although some don’t seem too far off that exegetically!
When we turn to our broader contemporary culture, as we are all imminently aware by being bombarded with visual images daily, there are expectations of what the physically fit, or more importantly, the physically attractive person should look like, although this seems to change by decade, country or what Barbie doll is selling.
Not only is outward image idolized in light of the sexual revolution and the desire to conform to an outward appearance, but for those of us who have had some inherent interest in fitness and athleticism, we see the pride of humanism rearing its ugly head everywhere. People have tended to buy into a naïve indestructibility, that they are the “masters of [their] own fate, the captain of [their] soul” (Invictus).
Syncretism with this individualistic spirit mars the soul’s ability to grasp the Gospel, which is God’s redemption for broken and sinful people. Yet many go on blindly living this unrealistic sense of indestructibility, until perhaps injury or age may bonk them over the head and help them realize that this doesn’t mesh with reality.
The American Dream, or similar dreams elsewhere, has seemed fertile soil for this naïve positivism, which has been the pursuit of physical perfection along with wealth. Dreams are ever before this generation – the blinders keeping away the thoughts of disease and death until they spring upon them, shocked that it would happen to even them.
On the other hand are those who all too easily grasp the realities of our ailing bodies and have given up on any pursuit of health or fitness, whether because of sickness cast upon them or, for instance, because of idolizing food.
… And here I find myself releasing this first post in the midst of COVID-19, a humbling reminder that every breath is from the Lord, in whom is all of our hope in this life and the next.
May you find yourself casing all of your cares on Him during this pandemonium, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
Next Post will be My Context and Aim of Writing