Christian aerobics, religious books on nutrition, and seminars on physical healing—apparently the church has joined the rest of society in its pursuit of perpetual physical vigor. Certainly Christians ought to be concerned about matters of health and wellness, but what is the basis for that concern? Where do we find consistent, sensible advice regarding the human body?

Naturally, Scripture must remain the initial resource for answering questions of health, as it is for all other matters. But Scripture has many allies, and in this case, church history offers great assistance. Especially important for modern evangelicals who want to understand how to properly regard matters of health and wellness is the classic Protestantism of the Reformation. From the Reformers, we learn three basic truths about the human body: (1) A healthy body is good, but not the highest good; (2) The physical body can best be nourished within the body of Christ, the church; (3) Illness and death are great evils, but not the worst evils.

The Body Is Good

The Reformers’ belief in the goodness of the physical body was based especially on their understanding of Creation and Incarnation. God had made the world, including the human body, and pronounced it good. The body really was, as ancient rabbis put it, “God’s masterpiece.” Furthermore, moderate attention to the needs of the body was a practical way of praising God for the goodness of his creation. Contrary to the teaching of some, it was not necessary to abuse the flesh in order to please God.

English Puritans, often considered joyless ascetics, in fact displayed an optimistic attitude toward the body, especially in matters relating to sex. As a chapter in Leland Ryken’s ...

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