Friday Five: Matthew Lee Anderson
Matthew Lee Anderson is the founder of the popular blog Mere Orthodoxy as well as the author of Earthen Vessels, Why Our Body Matters to Our Faith He was featured in Christianity Today’s Who’s Next column in December of 2009. Matthew sits on the editorial board of The City, and has been quoted on FoxNews.com, in the Wall Street Journal, and by the Associated Press. He is a frequent contributor to publications such as First Things, Christianity Today, and The Gospel Coalition. He is a Perpetual Member of the Torrey Honors Institute and a graduate from Biola University (2004).
You’re part of a wave of young evangelical intellectuals. Scholars like Mark Noll have lamented the lack of evangelical scholarship in the past, but do you sense a new renaissance in evangelical intellectual pursuits?
I hope so, but it’s very difficult to tell these sorts of things with anything approaching accuracy. I know we have made incredible advances in a number of disciplines, particularly philosophy, psychology and sociology. And I keep running into really intelligent Ph.D. candidates in political philosophy, which gives me hope for the future. But if we are experiencing a renaissance, it will only be because of the work of Noll and others in the generation previous. They were the true trailblazers, and my generation is simply lucky to stand on their shoulders.
In your famous paper, “The New Evangelical Scandal“, published in The City, you cautioned young evangelicals who tend to dismiss everything they learned from their parent’s generation. Why is this tendency so dangerous?
“Famous” is probably overstating it, but it was a fun piece to write! I think when the default mode of cultural engagement is that our parents were wrong and we’re out to fix it, we risk inoculating ourselves against any form of self-criticism. Myopia breeds only more myopia: if we don’t have the vision to see both the good and the bad of what we’ve inherited, we’ll never learn to truly see both the good and the bad of what we’re contributing. Chesterton once wrote something to the effect that love is blind–it’s bound, and because it’s bound, it sees more clearly than anything else. I think the same sort of thing is true of our cultural engagement: if we recognize the ways in which our lives our bound up in our parents, for both good and ill, we’ll see ourselves and the world more clearly and act more effectively in it.
Earthen Vessels is a thorough treatment of the intersection of the human body and faith. What inspired you to write this book?
A moment of insanity! Seriously, I have been ruminating on issues related to the body for a decade. I first realized that there were depths when I listened to a lecture on Plato by John Mark Reynolds. I also happened to be binging on the Apostle Paul and reading Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines The result was the realization that the Incarnation changes everything, and that the problem that Christianity solved in the ancient world (which is pretty close to the problem it solves today) is the problem of the body.
Why do evangelicals need a more robust theology of the body?
For lots of reasons, not least of which is that it will help chasten the tacit secularism that many evangelicals have unwittingly adopted. Secularism isn’t always and everywhere bad, but it’s impossible to sift properly without pre-existing theological categories that will filter things out. Seeing how the Gospel shapes (and doesn’t shape) bodies is imperative for living in a world that has reduced the body to a question, and evangelicals are currently woefully equipped to do that. Developing a more robust theology of the body will help us know what shape our practices should take, see how those practices will affect our bodies, and help us resist and affirm the counter-practices of the world with greater wisdom and discernment. If it’s not my book, it has to be someone else. And I’ll sell their book as much (if not moreso) than I’ve tried to sell mine.
Lastly, I appreciate the lack of straw men in your writing. You really aim to present both sides of an argument fairly in a way I don’t often see even in people whose arguments I agre with. Has this always been a feature of your writing?
Well, that’s very kind of you to say. I don’t know if it’s always been a feature of my writing, but I’ve always tried to make it one. It’s a practice I take very seriously. My motivation has two sides to it. On the one hand, I want to be charitable to people, to represent them at their best because that’s what I want for my own work. But on the other hand, if we’re going to ultimately disagree on something, I want to really disagree–fairly, honestly, out in the open, and preferably over a good meal that you’re buying. It’s no fun having arguments when one side has been misrepresented: it’s a lot more fun when the disagreement’s over the substance of things, and that’s always the level to which I’m trying to reach.