Matthew Lee Anderson is the author of the recently released Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter To Our Faith (you can read my review here). He's also a Biola grad (not Wheaton! Biola!), a reader of old books (50 years old is probably too recent for his tastes), a lover of musicals (even Rogers and Hammerstein) and, sad to say, a compulsive double spacer (even after colons).
More importantly, he's a thoughtful writer with a real passion for gospel-saturated lives and God-shaped theology. You can read more of his work at the group blog he runs, Mere Orthodoxy. He's generously given us a slice of his time to discuss some of the important points raised by the book. We hope you enjoy this second part of our interview—look for the conclusion later this week! And don't forget to pick up a copy of the book!
In your chapter on tattoos, you studiously avoided offering an outright statement of your own views on tattoos—so what do you think about them?
Precisely what I wrote in the book. : ) I think part of the problem with this question is that people want an absolute "yes" or "no" to these questions, but I'm just not sure how helpful that is. I am not a relativist about these things (nor do I think one should be), but I also think that in the final analysis ethics needs to be done in particular situations, not in the abstract. And I think what people need on this question, more than a final affirmation or rejection of tattoos, is to understand precisely what a tattoo is and what it signifies and to deliberate reflectively about that.
In your chapter on sexuality, you wrote, "A church without singles has lost one of its main ways of warning against a sexual idolatry that has driven the whole world mad." For many of our readers, this concept may be almost entirely foreign. In our (good and necessary) rush to defend marriage, it seems we have marginalized not only singles but singleness, at least in the sense of framing it in a Christian light. This is a tense area, because many people are single who wish to be married, and the church wants to serve them. How have you seen churches walk this out well?
Framing the question around who is doing this well is interesting, and I'd love to hear from you and your readers what you have seen that has worked. I am pretty skeptical about the "singles groups" that were the trend for a while, as that sort of segregation often reinforces a second-class status and tends to make people feel like the groups are simply a cover to meet other single Christians. I have seen many of my single friends who want to get married really, really struggle to find someone and it breaks my heart. But there's a deeper goodness that I think the church has to speak of and to repeatedly call people toward.
In your chapter on worship, you suggested (fairly strongly, it seemed to me) that most evangelical churches need to reevaluate the structure and content of their services. After all, if our bodies matter, then our habits of worship matter too: standing and kneeling, listening, singing (and the kinds of songs we sing), and taking communion are all quite important. Can you sketch out, briefly, what a so-called "low church" service (like most of our readers experience) shaped by a concern for the body might look like?
Well, I'm not a worship leader and my hope is that worship leaders and pastors will go implement this in their own contexts and report back. But I would prefer to see a greater openness to something like planned and regular embodied responses, especially toward those (like kneeling) we see in the Bible. It would not be that significant of a change, for instance, to "low" churches to include kneeling pillows and to incorporate that into their services, even if its just to encourage those individuals who are so inclined to respond in that way. Or take communion every week and ask people to walk forward. These aren't "high church" or "low church" ideas, I don't think.
Following up on that, you suggested that we might do well to a "law" you've observed: "the volume of the worship band is inversely proportional to the volume and vitality of the congregational worship." I've observed this as well. It's pretty controversial to suggest that style and even volume might really matter, but you went there. So return for a moment: what about the people who find louder songs freeing to sing themselves, or more engaging of their emotions? We're left asking how we can best engage all the members of a congregation in worship, but we're all very different. What do you think?
It's true that loud music might make some people feel more free to sing loudly, but you know what else might make them feel free that way? A congregation around them that is singing really loudly. Especially if a few of those voices are not was perfect as the one's on stage. That sort of congregational singing communicates that this is a place where people sing and are welcome to sing, but I'm not sure that loud music communicates that as well (in fact, it often communicates the opposite--this is a place where the band sings and people watch and nod their head). So to presume that the technological solution is the only one to engage all the members of the congregation is, I think, wrong. And if people are judgmental about the quality of people's singing in the congregation, well, that's a spiritual problem that an amp isn't going to solve either.
What signs of hope do you see in evangelicalism in the area of theology of the body? What signs for worry? And last but certainly not least: what do you hope to see happen as a result of Earthen Vessels being out there in the evangelical conversation?
I'll have to reference my Christianity Today for the first one. And for the second as well. As to what I hope happens, my hope is that evangelicals will devote more of our intellectual capital to answering many of the questions you have raised. I think that's all I can hope for, really. The trick with writing a book, I'm learning, is letting go of whatever fruits and effect it might have and embracing the quietude of it all.
Thanks for your time!
We hope you have enjoyed this interview with Matthew Lee Anderson. Leave a comment sharing your thoughts—and go buy the book!