The Living Temple, Carl E. Braaten and LaVonne Braaten. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016 (originally published in 1976).
Summary: A theology focusing on our physical bodies as dwelling places for the Spirit of God and the implications for the food we eat, including the problems of processed, chemical-laden foods full of empty calories.
This is a book I wish I had read in 1976 when it was first published. It might have led to amendments in my own diet much sooner. More than this, it might have led to a more thoughtful perspective on one thing we all have in common, our bodies. What the Braatens offer in this brief work is a theology of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, countering the incipient Gnosticism and other worldly spirituality that the church has been dealing with throughout its history. It is not from Christianity which throughout its scriptures attests to a healthy body-theology, but from Greek Dionysian myths that the idea of body as evil comes to us. Sadly, over-spiritualized versions (and maybe over-intellectualized ones) deny our embodied existence, and lead us to a sad neglect of our bodies.
Much of the neglect that the Braatens focus on concerns the food we eat. While food cannot make us ritually and spiritually unclean, it certainly can pollute and deplete the temple of the Holy Spirit. They focus much of their attention on chemically treated and supplemented food and highly processed foods like white bread and white sugar. Presciently, they speak of a growing movement toward healthy, organically grown foods in which groceries would be forced to give over more space to organic foods.
They also see a connection between our care for our bodies and our care for the earth. They write:
“We are to our individual bodies what the whole body of mankind is to the earth. Our attitudes regarding our bodies reflect and express the way we look at the world around us. It is downright silly, for example, to fight for clean air in the city and then suck cigarette smoke into our lungs. We must learn that we are dovetailed into the world. We simply die without day-to-day communion with the vital systems of the good earth. Good body ecology is the key to the renewal of the earth on a global scale” (p. 67).
I do wish this work could have been revised rather than simply re-printed. It suffers in places from what is probably outdated nutritional advice. Yet some things, like the concern about nitrites, are right on target and only now being addressed. At times the authors make sweeping statements railing against big business without substantiation. Yet their fundamental case concerning the food processing industry, the values of organic foods and moving away from a meat-laden diet, path-breaking then, is increasingly common wisdom. In sum, they still get more right than wrong.
Christians are just discovering a theology of our embodied life and working out the implications of this in various areas of self-care. What makes this book so interesting is that it anticipates by forty years work only now being done and articulates both theological grounds and concrete action, and with remarkable brevity. Wipf & Stock is to be commended for bringing back into print this pioneering work.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.