What We’re Reading: Theology of the Body

From 1979 to 1984, St John Paul II gave a series of addresses about the meaning of human embodiment, with particular attention to our calling as male and female to become “one flesh.” These addresses form what he called the Theology of the Body, and have been excellently translated by Michael Waldstein in Man and Woman He Created Them. John Paul II and Leanne Payne were truly brother and sister, on different continents, speaking with their unique voices in the same era; greatly needed prophets who answered the call to proclaim the glorious mystery of our redemption in Christ. Like Leanne’s books, the Theology of the Body (TOB) illuminates the radiant path of the redemption of our embodied, sexual lives. And like Leanne’s books, it seems that these teachings will only grow in importance for this generation and beyond. Scholars, pastors, and cultural commentators from every corner of the Christian world today are encouraging the study of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. 

Christopher West is president and senior lecturer for the Theology of the Body Institute and a leading teacher of the TOB in the US and beyond. Several of MPC’s leaders have studied with Christopher either at the institute in Pennsylvania or through their online courses. This has been a rewarding connection for MPC as the insights of the TOB give us an even richer glimpse into incarnational reality. 

One of West’s most recent books, Our Bodies Tell God’s Story, is written particularly to introduce Protestants to the rich teachings of the TOB. Many people find that they get much more out of their study of Man and Woman He Created Them once they’ve been oriented to the TOB through Christopher’s gifted teaching. He has an inspiring and infectious passion for this telling of the gospel that shows how human love belongs in the divine plan. 

One thing I love about the TOB that I also love about Leanne’s writings is that it gives us two critically important visions. First, it helps us see the goodness and glory for which we were created as men and women, husbands and wives, and members of the Bride of Christ. We need this vision of the heights to which we are called. Here’s just one passage in which Christopher points the way:

“Why was Adam endowed with freedom? Because Adam was called to love – and without freedom, love is impossible. In his solitude, Adam realizes that love is his origin, his vocation, and his destiny. He realizes that, unlike the animals, he is invited to enter a covenant of love with God himself. God is a lover with all the passion of a bridegroom who wants to marry us. It’s this relationship of love with God that defines Adam’s solitude more than anything else. Tasting this love, he also longs with all his being to share this love (covenant) with another person like himself. This is why it is “not good for the man to be alone.” [1]

Second, the TOB shows us how the Bridegroom has redeemed us from the lows to which we have fallen. The cross stands at the center of the TOB, and these rich teachings have profound pastoral reach as we see how Christ’s body, given for us, redeems and restores our bodies. For example: 

“The true solution to all the pornographic distortions of the body so prevalent today is not the rejection of the body but the redemption of the body (see Rom. 8:23): the untwisting of what sin has twisted so we can recover the true glory, splendor, and inestmiable value of the body.” [2]

Good and true symbols of man and woman, husband and wife, father and mother, family and sonship enable us to see and know God the Father, God the Son, and Holy Spirit, and how He brings us into His life and shares His love with us. Every person, family, community, society, and civilization needs these good symbols in order to survive and thrive. The Theology of the Body helps us grasp the good and true symbols that we, and the whole world, so greatly need. 

Paul II, John. Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. Translated by Michael Waldstein. Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media, 2006. 

West, Christopher. Our Bodies Tell God’s Story: Discovering the Divine Plan for Love, Sex, and Gender. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2020. 

[1] West, Christopher. Our Bodies Tell God’s Story: Discovering the Divine Plan for Love, Sex, and Gender. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2020, 32.

[2] West, 9.