Beckett: Review Essay – Wonderfully Made: A Protestant Theology of the Body

Author: John W. Kleinig
Publisher: Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A book that imperatively challenges the Gnosticism and hedonism of our culture, Kleinig’s Wonderfully Made expertly surveys Lutheran theological anthropology that is easy for the reader to comprehend, whether pastor or layman. From the unique Lutheran perspective, he explores what it means to be human: that our bodies matter (we don’t “have” a body and soul but we are our body and soul); that as Creator, God gives us our bodily identity (especially as Christ is humanity perfected and restores and redeems our humanity); that our human bodies function within certain created orders rather than deceiving ourselves that we are gods of our own bodies, and so on.

The scope of the book presents his anthropological framework that Christians ought to live by example rather than argument. This comes from his apt observation that our arguments against “public immorality” and our endeavours to lobby politicians “to impose Christian morality on the whole of society by the prohibition of abortion, euthanasia, same-sex intercourse, and same-sex marriage” fails to present Christianity as attractive and true but instead “depict[s] Christianity as angry, self-righteous killjoys” (16).

Since Christian rhetoric in the public sphere is ostensibly alienating people from Christianity, the premise of Kleinig’s anthropology is instead to live by example rather than argument. “Such a vision is best communicated physically in word and deed, image and reality, art and life” (17). He sets this premise forth in chapter one.

Chapter 2: The Created Body

Kleinig’s axiom, “We do not make bodies; they are made for us” sets the stage for this chapter (22). Immediately, this is in direct opposition to the liberal mantra, “My body! My choice!” Such philosophy indicative of Gnostic hedonism exposes that they believe they can “use [their body] for their own amusement in pursuit of physical pleasure for themselves apart from God and any higher purpose in life” (2). But we cannot have autonomy over our bodies—or be gods of our bodies—since we did not make them. (Side note: bodily autonomy is an illusion because our bodies don’t believe in autonomy. Anybody with allergies would know this. Thanks to Rev. Hans Fiene for this insight.)

Rather, our bodies come from God. Because God gives us our bodies, no one can decide what to do with their bodies that contradicts God’s created order. Commenting on Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, as well as Mark 10:6-8, Kleinig quotes Luther from his Estate of Marriage:

God divided mankind into two classes, namely, male and female, or a he and a she… Therefore each of us must have the kind of body God has created for us. I cannot make myself a woman, nor can you make yourself a man; we do not have that power. But we are exactly as he created us; I am a man and you are a woman. Moreover, he wills to have his excellent handiwork honored as his divine creation, and not despised. The man is not to despise or scoff at the woman or her body, nor the woman the man. But each should honor the other’s image and body as a divine and good creation that is well pleasing unto God himself.

LW 45:17-18

I would add to Luther’s astute delineation of Scripture that no person is to hate their own bodies as well. If you’re born a male, you’re a male. If you’re born a female, you’re a female. And those are the only two classes of sexes and genders. As Kleinig notes, “In Hebrew, the terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ describe both their biological sex (Lev 12:2, 5, 7; 15:33), which they share with all the animals (Gen 6:19; 7:3, 9, 16), and their corresponding gender, their sexual identity (Lev 27:3, 4, 5, 7; Num 5:3)… So, both their sexual status and their gender are aspects of their creation in God’s image” (28).

Therefore, because in the original Hebrew “male” and “female” denote both biological sex and their corresponding gender, the notion that there are more than two genders is a lie and not within the long established orthodox doctrine of creation. Furthermore, to confess that anyone can profess to be a gender other than what God gave them at birth is to confess that God errs in creation. And if God can err in something as foundational as creation, He is not trustworthy, and we cannot further trust Him with our salvation in Jesus Christ who was born a human male. To confess more than two genders—or that we can change these on the whim of our fickle emotions—is to confess that God is not Creator, which forces all of Christian doctrine to collapse.

Furthermore, of equal importance is that God not only created male and female at the beginning of creation; He is still actively involved in their creation (see Job 33:4; Isaiah 42:5). This dismisses other false teachings and religions as well. That God “creates the bodies and souls of all people, even after Adam and Eve fell into sin… rules out the common teaching of the soul’s preexistence, either with God in the spiritual realm, as taught in Plato’s philosophy and in Mormonism, or its incarnation in a previous being, as taught in Hinduism and in Buddhism. It also rules out any notion of reincarnation in the body of another person, for at death the spirit returns to God its giver (Eccl 12:7)” (31). You are uniquely you. No one has ever been you, and no one will ever be you.

Me and my wife’s wedding rings on our wedding day.

Alongside this is also the fact that man and woman are crucial to one another. No animal was found fit to be Adam’s helper. No, not even the dog is man’s best friend. To solve this thing that was “not good” (Genesis 2:18), God specifically creates a woman. Not a man (which is all that Adam knew of humanity at the time), and not another animal, but a woman. God’s creation of the woman was purposeful.

Kleinig puts it beautifully, “He does not make her from Adam’s head, so that she would dominate him, nor from his feet, so that he would oppress her, but from his side, so that she would be next to his heart… Since she has been taken ‘from’ a man (Hebrew meish), her physical orientation is toward man (Hebrew ishshah)—but not just any man—her man, the man who is her counterpart (1 Cor 11:8-9)” (34).

As one flesh, all they want to be is together. This is why, every time I look at my lovely wife, I am looking at someone who not only belongs to me, but also belongs within me. As my wife—as one flesh—she is part of my body and soul wrought by the union of marriage that God used to bring us together.

Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Wikimedia Commons.

The tragedy of Genesis is, of course, the Fall of Man. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve of course knew they were naked, but they were not ashamed. They “delight in their nakedness, because they have nothing to hide from each other and God” (35). But, tragically, in their rebellion against God in the futile attempt to become gods themselves (and thus gods of their own bodies, as we still fecklessly attempt today), they suddenly grew shameful of their nakedness. Not only have we inherited original sin, but we have also inherited shame. “Oddly and sadly, a sense of shame is now an ingrained mark of our embodied humanity. It is both intensely physical and intensely personal” (35). Not only do we wear clothes in public to mark this shame of our nakedness, but the covering of nakedness also mirrors the covering of our shame, and it is no more evident than in our sexuality, whether one is modest or prude or libertine:

Sexual modesty is a much underrated, indispensable condition for sexual safety and enjoyment. Both shameful sexual prudery and shameless sexual exposure dishonor our bodies and their divine Creator. Sexual exhibitionism damages sexual intimacy because it offers the naked body on display to others rather than as an exclusive, personal gift to a spouse in a committed relationship. But the practice of sexual modesty, with its use of appropriate dress, protects the body from intrusive public, visual abuse and reserves sexual intercourse for private use. In fact, modesty facilitates safe sexual self-giving with its call for physical intimacy and visual self-disclosure.

pp. 36-37

It should be no surprise that sexuality is so perverse today because the devil is vehemently attacking marriage and the family since that is the primordial thing Satan attacked to bring humanity to its fall and corruption. He targeted the woman first. Why? Because he was envious that “he had not been given bodily life… His envy of them bred contempt for them and what he considered to be their disgusting physical sexuality… So, the devil sets out to subvert Adam and Eve’s union with God and pervert their intimacy with each other” (39). Satan cannot have bodily give life, so he attacked the mother of all the living (Genesis 3:20). Satan has hated marriage and the family since the beginning. That is why people redefine marriage to meet their own selfish ends and why unborn babies are being brutally murdered to please the god of autonomy, because Satan hates every living human being and the relationship that God instituted to bring this about, marriage.

Fortunately, though, Kleinig does not remain in such a dismal view of the human body. He spends the remainder of the chapter explaining that life is still good because of God’s merciful provision. In Christ’s words, God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). God’s providence is impartial. Thus, He provides all we need through the earth and the various vocations of human beings (see Luther’s explanation to the First Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism; Ap XXIII, 8; and LC Part 1, 26).

God has also established the 5th Commandment that protects life (“Thou shalt not kill”), which “rules out murder, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, and any other violation of human bodies” (49); and it also sustains life (see Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism). And God has also established governments “to enforce his law for the common good of all humankind and defend the rights of all their citizens (Rom 13:1-7)” (45).

Something Kleinig could’ve spent some time talking about is the joys of life: music, poetry and other literature, movies, whiskey, wine, beer, good food, dancing, art, video games, exercising, camping, fishing, woodworking, playing with children, and so on. These too are provisions God provides for our enjoyment. Because God is our Father, I am a firm believer that He finds joy in whatever brings His children joy.

There are many other things I didn’t cover from this chapter (all the chapters are quite long), but all this should suffice to consider the question of how we use all this to live by example rather than by argument. Kleinig makes four suggestions.

The first is deliberate thanksgiving for God’s provision of your daily bread. “The simplest way to do that is by saying grace before and after our daily meals” (53). This example witnesses not only to our children in the home but also to others in public, should we deliberately pray before and/or after a meal. It will certainly catch people off guard and give you a funny look, and may even bring others to speak to you antagonistically (this happened to my wife once), but let them be uncomfortable and rage. It becomes their problem then, not yours.

Because God has given you your body, you are free to use it to give Him thanks and praise, even in public. Fortunately for us as Americans, we have the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that protects the public right to practice your religion. Nobody can take this away from you, not even the government (not just because of the Constitution but especially because this right is God-given rather than civically-given). Deliberate thanksgiving also enables us to see God’s activity in our lives. “Thanksgiving attunes us and our bodies to God’s daily provision for us” (53).

Second, because the fact that we are bodies deems we deliberately give thanks to God for our daily bread, deliberate daily prayer necessarily follows. “Pray without ceasing,” Paul wrote (1 Thessalonians 5:17). As Kleinig says, “Since God gives us our daily bread to nourish and sustain our bodies, we can ask him to provide it for us and all people. Daily bread calls for daily prayer. Just as our bodies need daily nourishment, so they are meant to engage in daily prayer” (53). We are not only to pray for ourselves, but it is also incumbent upon us that we pray for our neighbour, whether friend or foe (Matthew 5:44). Family, friends, and strangers will notice this too. Indeed, your enemies will hate you for it and accuse you of “crossing boundaries.” As a pastor, by way of example I model a prayerful life by doing my best to remember to pray in the sanctuary for all the people on our prayer list as well as in my private prayer notebook every evening.

Third, there is deliberate worship. “The human body was not just made to work with God in the administration of his earthly estate; it was made in his image to adore and praise and glorify him as its Creator. It was designed to promote God and advertise his goodness” (53-54). In other words, the τέλος (telos, “end/goal”) of our bodies—of you—is to praise God! Psalm 8 makes this beautifully clear, which “praises God for his unreasonable interest in humanity” (54). We do this by going to church, which is what the 3rd Commandment is there for (“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”). The Sabbath is for your own good because it provides your body and soul’s need to give praise to God for who He is and what He’s done for the redemption of your body and soul in Jesus Christ, which He delivers to you in His Word and Sacraments. Live by example for your kids and others that God is worthy of all praise. Kleinig describes this deliberate Word & Sacrament worship early on in the book:

Just as I live my entire earthly life in my human family, my spiritual life in God’s family involves my body from its earthly beginning to its final, heavenly destination. My life in Christ is based on a physical event, my baptism. The washing of physical water accompanied by the speaking of certain words joined my body with the body of the risen Lord Jesus, just as the rite of marriage joined my body to my wife’s. Jesus now interacts with me physically with his spoken word that I hear with my physical ears, his audible word that animates me with his Holy Spirit and makes me a saint. Jesus also gives himself to me physically in his Holy Supper. There I receive his life-giving body and blood with my mouth and in my whole body. Through his body and blood, he unites me physically and spiritually with himself and all other Christians. He also calls and equips me to serve him bodily—that is, with my actual body and its individual members. So, paradoxically, my spiritual life, the life that is created and sustained by the Holy Spirit, is always lived in the body.

p. 3

Lastly, we live by example by affirming our common identity in the imago Dei (image of God). It is no secret that identity is a hot topic issue. Many people sadly dissociate themselves from the bodies given to them by their Creator to ineffectively create their own identity:

Since they feel that they can no longer be truly identified by their parentage, their family, and their place in society, they need to identify themselves in some other way, such as by their race, their class, their politics, or, now rather forcefully, by their sexuality. To secure a certain identity for themselves, they assume a kind of tribal identity that includes them in the company of others who identify as they do and excludes those who do not share the same identity… It further fractures an already-fractured social order. Sadly, the fixation on one aspect of identity by some people may serve to diminish and dehumanize them and all of society.

p. 55

I disagree that the dehumanisation “may” happen; it is already rampant, and more infectious than the coronavirus. Such a singular, narrow scope of view unsurprisingly leads to the very bigotry they condemn and, inevitably, stringent marginalisation of the other.

Conversely, identity is multi-faceted, which “is based on what is given and yet open in orientation. In this view, we do not have a single identity but have many different layers of identity, which do not exclude each other but make for personal uniqueness and social enrichment” (55). For example, I am Afro-Puerto Rican, which is not who I am but simply what I am. My ethnicity and my dark pigmentation do not define me. Rather, first and foremost, being created in God’s image defines me; and secondarily, this image of God restored to me in Baptism is who I am, which informs and shapes everything else about me.

Underneath the other layers of identity, we all share the same common human identity as people who have been made in God’s image. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all share the same humanity, an innate identity that is granted in our conception that cannot be taken away from us… That foundational identity does not threaten the other layers of identity; instead, it confirms them all by giving each its proper due in its proper place in the hierarchy of identity.

pp. 55-56

In other words, our common human identity is being created in God’s image, which informs and shapes the other facets of our identity, especially in Christ via Baptism.

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo (1475-1564), ca. 1511. Wikimedia Commons.

Thus, living by example of the imago Dei has several unique manifestations. To speak personally, my ethnicity, passions, and skills are informed and shaped by the imago Dei. In most of my poetry, for example, I write poems conveying the mercy, grace, love, and majesty of God. Others read them, and I know for a fact that my poetry has positively influenced others (and negatively for those atheists who despise me for doing so). In a separate article, I wrote about how I commune with God through music and how He used music and poetry to save my life.

As an Afro-Puerto Rican, I see how Christ has redeemed my ethnic culture in His perfect humanity (e.g., Christ came to exalt and redeem the marginalised and all races; see the Gospel of Luke). As a man and a husband, God’s Word informs me on how to be a man and a husband. Who God has made me in my Baptism informs and shapes how I relate to other people as an employee, shopper, patron, spouse, brother, son, stranger, etc.

Moreover, we not only affirm the imago Dei in ourselves but especially in others. Thus, to live by example, how do I relate to someone who is living in the sin of homosexuality and transgenderism? Do I argue with them? Do I yell at them for not understanding God’s Word clearly, even openly contradicting it and teaching false doctrine? Do I pound away on my keyboard to a random stranger online a manifesto of their condemnation?

As Kleinig argues in the first chapter, such argumentative approaches are fruitless, which is why the premise of his book is to live by example. To live by example of the imago Dei, therefore, I affirm the imago Dei in this human person and therefore love them. This does not mean I approve their sin, for that is not love (see John 8:10-11). Rather, I treat them respectfully as a human being made in God’s holy and precious image. I do not treat them like scum. Rather, I treat them with the fruit of the Spirit—with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Living by the example of the Holy Spirit produces far holier fruit than the mouldy fruit of heated arguments that more often than not become bitter like bad apples.

With Jesus being the perfect human, in whom our humanity is redeemed and restored, concluding on the imago Dei sets the stage for chapter 3, “The Redeemed Body.”

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