Unfortunately (although now I can say with thanks), my wife and I have walked through many of these valleys (idolatry or avoidance of health, fitness, or food), which you may or may not care to understand. These experiences are the context in which I write.
However, my aim and trajectory in this endeavor is inherently doxological. My prayer is that all of these meanderings would be “as the finger of the Baptist,” declaring, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The glory of God is my aim. I’m after seeing more of Him for myself, for the sake of my love for my wife and our covenant, that our four kids would see more of Him and, by God’s grace, be rescued from some of the torments of our youth, at the very least. But it would also be wonderful if others could benefit, despite us.
I aim to be of service to Christ’s church, wherever it may be found, and to contribute to a broader theological conversation of all of those struggling to understand the fine nuances of living for Christ to the fullest in our physical bodies.
I aim to be honest and to show you the cards in my hand as well, but with grace, realizing I am on the journey, recognizing the benefits of interacting with all Christians who hold to the Gospel, that our only hope of being reconciled to the Triune God is by the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Having said that, the faces on the theologian cards in my hand are Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, C.S. Lewis, John Piper, Tim Keller, Gregory Beale, John Laansma, Lecrae, among many others. I obviously draw from a Reformed strain of thinking, particularly some conservative branches of Baptistic and Presbyterian circles.
I am a Christian Hedonist, or at least wanting to be, at heart, thus falling in line with Jonathan Edwards and thus John Piper, believing that it is in His presence we find fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at His right hand (Psa 16:11). The cards I hold in my hand, I hold not as contentious, but as those most influential in helping me understand my life in the physical body, which is a part of our hedonistic pursuit of God. If Joe Rigney in his book, The Things of Earth, helps balance out Christian hedonism to help Christians enjoy “the things of earth,” it would be my aim, in a similar manner, to “flesh out” (pun intended) how physical fitness and health is part of the pursuit of God.
I believe that Jesus reigns over every square inch of creation (so said Kuyper in his inaugural address) and am passionate to explore more fully how to worship in our physical bodies. It has been my experience personally and with many Christians that, after coming to know the Gospel initially, they then have to be reoriented to the physical world with new eyes. As Herman Bavinck quotes the preacher Blumhardt: “man must be twice converted, first from the natural to the spiritual life, and then from the spiritual to the natural” (quoted in Craig Bartholomew, Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition).
My method in the pages to come will be to explore a biblical theology of the physical body with ramifications for fitness and health in particular with exposition of key passages, in light of systematic and historic theological referents, followed by practical theological implications for pursuing God with our physical bodies in our contemporary context.
I do not intend primarily to address sexuality, except tangentially, as many of the themes regarding human sexuality are relevant to our purposes regarding theological anthropology, the image of God, identity in Christ, etc.
I also do not intend to equate physical fitness with godliness. Although I have at various seasons inherently enjoyed low-level sport or fitness competition, I do not expect that others experience nor should experience that joy naturally, nor do I judge you so long as you do not judge the fact that my stick figures look like a second-grader’s. I also realize that physical fitness and health is terribly complex and would discourage others from looking down on someone because of external factors, such as may be common with obesity, recognizing that genetics, upbringing, food access, education, wealth and poverty, hormones, and general effects of the fall, all play into a person’s health and well-being. I do, however, pray that this endeavor would assist in helping us all behold God with more joy and freedom in our bodies from whatever context we may come, with grace, pointing each other to our only hope in Jesus Christ.
Lastly, I am dreadfully aware of sickness, death, and disability, experienced secondarily through my vocations as Army Chaplain previously and as an emergency medicine physician currently. There is a growing body of Christ-centered literature aimed at people going through these bodily struggles as a part of this fallen world. The aim of this book is not directed at such as these, but, I pray, could find helpfulness and not insensitivity if understood within the proper context.
The intended audience here is the lay person of the Christian church, struggling to embrace the inherent possible joys of being made in God’s image, with a broken-yet-being-redeemed body, longing for the day of ultimate fulfillment when our bodies will be transformed to be like our risen Lord’s forever body, when we will taste and see more of Him exponentially forever and ever.
I would humbly hope that this writing could be useful as well for pastors, elders, and teachers across the Christian church. Whether or not my efforts and research provide anything new to them, I would pray that it could be helpful to them in understanding more fully the struggles some of us are going through with regards to understanding our bodily existence and how they may be able to help us avoid misunderstandings, the prosperity Gospel, and neo-gnosticism unintentionally in their teachings.
Beyond the Christian church, I pray this discussion would open doors for fruitful and gracious engagement with those who will outrightly disagree with me.
To those who don’t believe that Christ makes the most sense of reality, I invite you to step back and question what you presuppose about bodily existence, as we all must. May you at least see that there are those of us who find humanism and materialism to have left us wanting, desperate for more, not finding that it squares with reality. I invite you to understand why we think Christ offers us supreme joy and meaning in all of life.
Lastly, I believe salvation and hope is found exclusively in the God of the Bible as revealed in Jesus Christ, but do look forward to fruitful engagements with those from other theological and philosophical traditions under the realm of what I would call common grace, since there is much to be learned in this arena of fitness and health from experts in their respective fields. I am thankful that “All truth is God’s truth” and look forward to how I may continue to learn from the many with greater intellectual capacity than I possess.
Thanks for reading. The next post begins with Creation as Communication from the Trinitarian God
*Pictures with my good friend, Sergeant Arnold, in Saddam Hussein’s chair, Al-Faw Palace, 2011.