There is a long tradition of referring to pastoral care as the “cure of souls.” There is even a theological journal called Seelsorger: A Journal for the Contemporary Cure of Souls (full disclosure: I am the managing editor of said journal). The trouble that seemingly accompanies any talk about the “soul” is that people far too often think of it as a thing apart from the body. They view the ‘body’ and the ‘soul’ as opposite things, and falsely conclude that a conversation about the one can be had without reference to the other. And yet, a pastor—a curate of souls—never deals with just souls, but always with embodied souls.
In Wonderfully Made, John Kleinig has given Christians a theologically robust account of the body, without sacrificing the concern for the ‘soul.’ He laments that “most people do not regard their bodies highly enough” and that they “fail to see how the value of the body does not merely lie in its total physical arrangement but in its personal use with all its parts” (5).
Wonderfully Made is structured as follows. The first chapter gives a broad overview of matters pertaining to the ‘body.’ The next three chapters develop the theology of the body along Trinitarian lines: the created body, the redeemed body, and the sanctified body. The next two chapters are an exploration of the Trinitarian framework as it pertains to the sexuality of the human body. The final chapter ties everything together in a reflective and helpful way.
My own impressions of the book are as follows.
For a book of only 235 pages, I found the book to be a slow read. I still don’t know if this is the nature of the subject material, the fault of me—the reader, or the style of the author. The content was rich and dense. The density inhibited my ability to take the argumentation of the book beyond its pages. That is to say, if someone had asked me to summarize the argument of any given chapter after I had finished reading it, I wouldn’t have been able to do so. I couldn’t hold all the information together in my head so as to draw on it readily when I need it. In this sense, this book will serve as a reference book, much like my Greek grammars. I can translate Greek, but only with the help and constant referencing of a good Greek grammar. I am envious of those whose knowledge of Greek is so good they don’t need to consult the grammars very often, but I am not that type of person. So it is with Wonderfully Made. Even writing this review is difficult because I must repeatedly return to the book to wrap my head around what Kleinig is doing. This is not to suggest he didn’t do it well. I don’t offer this as a “critique” of a book. It’s just the reality. This book is not a quick read.
My main interest in the book was in reading the chapters on human sexuality. Those chapters were very good and they did not disappoint. I was particularly impressed with Kleinig’s ability to stay on task and not succumb to the temptation to get lost on one of many possible tangents. Any contemporary theological treatment on human sexuality will need to address the evil of pornography. Kleinig acknowledges the evil and connects it to his main argument about chastity without letting the topic hijack his goal. “There is so much more that could be said about the physical, mental, and personal destructiveness of habitual indulgence in pornography. But that goes beyond the scope of this study, which considers how God regards our bodies and what we do with them” (173).
If there is any critique of the book, it would be its failure to address the matter of bodily deformities or infirmities in a fuller way. In the same way that the book used two chapters to explore how the Trinitarian framework of the body affects our understanding of human sexuality, I wish there was a chapter using that same framework to help us think through the issues pertaining to disabilities, deformities, and infirmities.
In our sexually confused climate, I think Wonderfully Made is a valuable resources for pastors in particular. With laity, your mileage may vary depending on many different factors. Whether pastors or laity, if you take up the book, be prepared to put in the work. It’s not a book for skimming.
WONDERFULLY MADE: A Protestant Theology of the Body. By John Kleinig. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2021. 235 pages. $27.99.