Friday, March 08, 2013

Book Review of the Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation by Valerie E. Hess and Lane M. Arnold

The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation
By Valerie E. Hess and Lane M. Arnold
ISBN 978-0-8308-3571-3
IVP Press
Formatio Imprint
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I have long admired the Formatio imprint at IVP. Several excellent books have been put out by this publisher and this line. I have to say though, as I read this book, I was a little disappointed. Even though the text was well-written, it did tend to focus a lot on guilt and shame to motivate people into practicing healthy living.

Part of my distaste for this book may come from my personal place in life right now. I am overweight. I don't always have the healthiest habits. And, I know this. In many ways, as a overweight minister approaching middle age I might even be this book's target audience. I agree with a lot of what was said in this book. It was convicting. The problem is, when a person is overweight, guilt and shame are probably the least effective motivators to induce life change. Yet it seems to be the books primary way of motivating me as I read it.

For example, in the first chapter, the authors ask, "How do you currently preach the gospel without using words?" (p.16) The answer is supposed to be, by having good eating and exercise habits, and looking physically fit. And while I do believe that how we look and care for ourselves has a role in how we are perceived, these ways of making the point are laying things on a little thick. This point is further reinforced later when the authors say, "poor lifestyle choices...impact our very witness to the good news of Jesus Christ." (p. 40).

If the above example were the only example of guilt motivation I could stomach it. But it just goes on and on. If I wanted or needed to be nagged by women old enough to be my mother, I will call my mom.

Having said that, I think the authors do make several good points. In my weight-loss journeys in the past, I have seen where living healthier does effect other areas of my life, including my spiritual life, my mood, and my emotional state. I agree with them that increased discipline in one area of my life has often helped me increase discipline in others. The authors make some strong points about "food justice" issues. And they briefly discuss "eating extremes" in relation to Christian discipleship.

I think more books like this are helpful for spiritual formation, just not one that read to me like hell-fire and brimstone food and exercise Nazis. I have the Biggest Loser on TV for that--thank you.

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