Arts & Culture & Public Square & Theology 101

Biblical Flourishing for Head, Heart…and Body

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Editor’s note: You may wonder why a blog focused on faith, work, and economics is doing an interview with Nancy Pearcey, the author of a new book on life and biblical sexuality. Actually, there are a lot of common themes in her new book Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality and the themes of biblical flourishing we talk about here at IFWE. Pearcey is the author of other well-known books on Christianity and culture, including Total Truth and Saving Leonardo, and the co-author with Chuck Colson of How Now Shall We Live?

IFWE: Nancy, there’s obviously a lot of confusion in culture about gender and sexuality. Christian parents, teachers, business owners, and counselors are wrestling with tough questions. Why did you write your book about the cultural view of the body?

Pearcey: I wanted to address the moral issues that we are barraged by every day in the media—abortion, assisted suicide, homosexuality, transgenderism, the hookup culture, and more. We tend to address these issues one by one. But in Love Thy Body I show that we will be much more effective if we get beneath the surface—the politically correct talking points—and engage with the secular worldview that underlies them all.

As a former agnostic myself, I give an insider’s roadmap to secular moral theories, showing how they devalue the body and denigrate biology. Then I show how the biblical ethic provides a positive alternative.

IFWE: At IFWE, we talk a lot about discovering our life purpose based on God’s design and desire for his creation. But does our culture agree with the idea that human beings were designed for a purpose? Why does design matter?  

Pearcey: Every ethic depends on a view of nature. If someone accepts the notion that nature is a product of blind material forces, logically they will end up with a low view of the body. If the body has no intrinsic purpose, then the mind can use it for its own purposes.

The outspoken lesbian Camille Paglia defends homosexuality in just those terms. She acknowledges that nature made humans a sexually reproducing species, but then asks, why not “defy” nature? “Fate, not God, has given us this flesh. We have absolute claim to our bodies and may do with them as we see fit.”

In other words, if our bodies are products of undirected material forces, they convey no moral message, they give no clue to our identity.

To counter the secular ethic, we must recover a teleological view of nature. The term comes from the Greek telos, meaning goal or purpose. It is evident to observation that living things are structured for a purpose, that eyes are for seeing, ears are for hearing, fins are for swimming, and wings are for flying. The organism’s entire development is directed by a built-in genetic blueprint or code.

In a teleological view, our bodies are not raw material that we can use “as we see fit.” Nature has an order, a plan, a purpose, a design. And we are happier and healthier when we live in accord with that design—when our sexual and gender identity is in harmony with our biological sex.

IFWE: How does the current view of the body relate to past views? What can we learn from the past?    

Pearcey: Many Christians hold a sacred/secular split, which means they see the created order—including the body—as less valuable than the spiritual realm. As one of my students put it, “Growing up in the church, I was always taught ‘spirit = good, body = bad.’”

We need to recover our own heritage. The early church was surrounded by philosophies that placed low value on the material world, just as modern materialism does—though for different reasons. Early Christians faced philosophies like Platonism, Manicheism, and Gnosticism that treated the world as a place of evil and corruption. They denounced the body as a “prison” and defined salvation as escape from the physical realm. Gnosticism even taught that there are many levels of spiritual beings and it was the lowest-level deity, an evil deity, who created the material world. After all, no self-respecting god would get his hands dirty mucking about with matter.

In this context, the claims of Christianity were nothing short of revolutionary. It teaches that matter was created not by an evil sub-deity but by the ultimate God, the Supreme Deity—and is therefore intrinsically good. As Genesis says repeatedly, “God saw that it was good.”

An even greater scandal, historically, was the incarnation—the idea that the Supreme Deity entered into the material realm and took on a human body. The incarnation is the ultimate affirmation of the dignity of the body.

When Jesus was executed on a Roman cross, we might say that he did “escape” the physical realm, as Gnosticism says we should aspire to do. But what did he do then? He came back. In a physical body. To the Greeks, this was not spiritual progress; it was regress. The concept of a physical resurrection was utter “foolishness to the Greeks,” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians.

Finally, at the end of time, God is not going to scrap the material world as though he made a mistake the first time. Instead, he is going to restore and renew it, creating a new heaven and a new earth. The Apostle’s Creed affirms “the resurrection of the body.”

Christians need to realize that this is an astonishingly high view of the physical world. There is nothing else like it in any other philosophy or religion.

IFWE: In the workplace, Christian business owners are being faced with tough legal questions surrounding gender and sexuality. What are the issues at stake for them?

Christians need to focus on education, teaching people the worldview behind the issues of gender and sexuality. In Love Thy Body, I show how to move beyond a negative message—it’s wrong, it’s a sin, “Thou shalt not”—and reach out to people with a positive message. The biblical ethic overcomes the dichotomy separating body from person. It heals self-alienation and creates internal harmony and wholeness.

To craft an effective message for the secular world today, Christians themselves need to discover that the biblical view of the body is actually more appealing, more attractive, more affirming, than the secular ethic.

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