Toward A Theology Of Human Embodiment -- By: Gregg R. Allison

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 13:2 (Summer 2009)
Article: Toward A Theology Of Human Embodiment
Author: Gregg R. Allison

Toward A Theology Of Human Embodiment

Gregg R. Allison

Gregg R. Allison is Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Allison has eighteen years of ministry experience as a staff member of Campus Crusade, where he worked in campus ministry and as a missionary to Italy and Switzerland. He serves as the book review editor for theological, historical, and philosophical studies for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Dr. Allison is the author of Getting Deep: Understand What You Believe About God and Why (B&H, 2002) and Jesusology: Understand What You Believe About Jesus and Why (B&H, 2005).

Early in my career of teaching systematic theology, a student arranged an appointment with me in my office. After the customary small talk, he cut to the quick: He was experiencing multiple physical problems, plagued by insomnia, digestive and excretory problems, blood in his urine, lethargy, and attention deficit. He wondered what spiritual causes could lie at the heart of these physical symptoms, and he wanted my advice about how to become well again.

I hardly needed to probe much, but my questions caught him off guard because they focused on physical matters: What are you eating? (junk food) Are you scheduling rest periods? (Too busy for relaxation) How are you exercising? (No need for that) Becoming irritated with my line of questioning, he offered the following: Because his body was going to be sloughed off at death anyway, he did not need to be concerned about eating well, resting well, and exercising well. I countered with an observation: His body was (literally) breaking down before his eyes, and he would soon be no good for himself, his family, and the church ministry for which he was preparing through his seminary studies. And, I added, I thought the problem was a physical one, not a spiritual one. But that was not the answer a “spiritually minded” evangelical like him was accustomed to hearing. Besides, this student had come to me with an expectation that I would share something with him from the Word of God. But I was not prepared to do so.

This encounter plunged me into a crisis: As a professor of theology at an evangelical seminary, I wondered what I should have shared with this student from Scripture that would have helped him with his physical problems. If you found yourself in a similar situation, what would you communicate?

The purpose of this article is to sketch a theology of human embodiment, the fruit of years of study flowing from the encounter related above. It is my contention that evangelicals at best express an ambivalence toward the human body, and at worst manifest a disregard or contempt for it.

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