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    Entries in Valerie Hess (1)


    Book Review :: Hess and Arnold's The Life of the Body

    James William McClendon, in volume one of his Systematic Theology, observes that a certain "biblical materialism" is essential for the formation of ethics. God is the creator of all organic matter, including our bodies. The church, as the people of God, is a bodily fellowship--the body of Christ. Therefore, determining how we are to live, and why, is predicated on certain assumptions regarding our physical nature and constitution in the world.

    Knowing this, Valerie Hess and Lane M. Arnold focus on the body in their book, The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation (Renovare Resources) (IVP Books; Formatio). Hess and Arnold explore the intersection of Christian spiritual formation and physical health, carefully examining the interrelationship between body and soul.

    First, they reflect on the significance of the incarnation, asking what it meant, and now means, that Jesus has a body. Second, they consider the bodily nature of the church, noting the implications for communal life and for the individuals who together comprise the whole.

    Next, Hess and Arnold guide the reader to reflect on just how we offer our worship to God with our bodies. We take steps to enter a worship space. We behold the beauty of the created order with our eyes. We feel water on our skin in baptism. We "taste and see that the Lord" is good as we celebrate the Lord's Meal. We move our tongues to sing and pray to God. We listen to the Word of God proclaimed in Scripture. We use our hands to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Engagement with God is a physical reality, not only a mental or ethereal phenomenon.

    The incarnation, church, and worship of God are the soil from which the remainder of the book flowers forth. Hess and Arnold help the reader to envision a balanced life, and what that means for diet, food choices, and exercise. The authors examine cultural messages about the body and warn against dangerous extremes. They also consider illness, bodily deterioration, suffering, and dying, and what those experiences signify for discipleship. Additionally, they turn an eye to the future and help us consider what we are teaching the next generation, and how we might care for the created order as part of a life well lived in the body.

    The basic message of The Life of the Body is better self-care--a better diet, exercise, sleep, enjoying the created order, and glorifying God in our bodies--which leads to better care for others and for God's good world. Hess and Arnold structure that message in a way that is easy to comprehend and understand. Much of what they say is intuitive, stating truths that most of us have considered but not applied. Most of us know, for instance, that food served at potluck dinners is not always healthy, or that the cultural messages about the body we are saturated with are often idolatrous. Nevertheless, these reminders are helpful, and the practical instruction in this book is notable not because of its profundity, but its simplicity.

    Hess and Arnold are right to argue that care of the body is absolutely essential for spiritual formation and Christian ethics. Life in the Kingdom of Jesus entails placing all things under his Lordship, including who we interact with, what we eat, how we exercise, rest, and how those practices, in turn, lead us to care for our neighbors through the care of our world. Books like this one are rare, though not unprecedented (John Wesley's Primitive Physick comes to mind), primarily because many of the truths given are assumed, and because they are convicting. We often neglect our physical well-being due to busyness, overwork, or apathy, and thus fail in an area that is foundational for the overall stewardship of our lives. Hess and Arnold offer a corrective, and provide a solid trajectory for those who seek to be spiritually formed in Christ, body and soul.

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