One of my predictions for the new year was that appreciation for John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" would grow among Evangelicals, as well as among all conservative Christians including Eastern Orthodox, Confessional Protestants, etc. A couple of comments call for some further discussion of this prediction. I intend to post regularly throughout the year on the TOB, but I want to start off by recounting my experience this past semester.
I taught a new course, RLGS 3943 Marriage in Theological Perspective, this past semester and I had 23 students in the course. Seven were married and several were engaged and all were very interested in the course; it was a pure elective for most.
My working assumption was that we are all bombarded with the sexual revolution and the liberal view of sex, marriage and family every day and so the course content was to examine the only two serious alternatives to the liberal view, which is now the establishment view in the West, namely conservative Evangelicalism and the TOB. We used a book by Andreas Kostenberger called God, Marriage and Family for the first few weeks and then studied Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by John Paul II. Each student also did a review of a different book and made presented a 10-15 minute presentation on the book to the class....
But what I really wanted to stress in this post is how positive the students were toward John Paul II's book. They were mostly surprised to be reading a biblical-theological study by a Roman Catholic that seemed to them to be informed by a high view of Scriptural authority and a deep engagement with the text. They found him to be Evangelical in his view and very convincing.
By the end of the class about half were convinced that artificial contraception is wrong and most of the rest were very open to the idea of Natural Family Planning. All found John Paul II's arguments to be impressive and not to be dismissed lightly. In fact, I have arranged for a speaker from the Couple to Couple League to come to campus on Feb. 4 to make a presentation on the practical questions surrounding NFP.
My experience is that the problem is simply ignorance. Evangelicals and Roman Catholics live in "two solitudes" and communication is bad. Christopher West, who has devoted his life to spreading the message of TOB, was in Toronto for a conference in Nov. and I attended with about 8 of my current and former students. It was quite an experience to be in such a heavily Catholic environment. (We even attended the 8 am Mass with Archbishop Thomas Collins as homilist and main celebrant and, no, we did not communicate.)
But John Paul II is bigger than Roman Catholicism, if I might be permitted to put it that way. He represents the Tradition and he also represents the apostolic message of Scripture as the fount of that Tradition. I have a student doing an honours thesis this year on how John Paul II's TOB differs from the teaching of St. Augustine, which is a very interesting topic. The TOB is for the whole church. I believe it is a gift given by God now for the post-sexual revolution Church in the West and I agree with George Weigel's famous prediction that it is a time bomb set to go off some time in the third millennium with great blessings for the entire world....
I know that not all Protestants are open to John Paul II's insights just because he is Catholic, but I think that the answer is to present his views as "the conservative and traditional view" of sex as grounded in Scripture. It will be necessary for most Evangelicals to encounter this teaching first in a book written by an Evangelical and I hope to write such a book eventually. But once most conservative Evangelicals get past their prejudice and actually encounter the content of the TOB, their response is almost guaranteed to be positive to one extent or another.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Teaching Theology of the Body to Evangelicals
This was recently posted by Baptist theologian, Craig Carter, who teaches John Paul II's Theology of the Body in a class he offers at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto, Canada: