Review: Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas

Title: Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul
Gary Thomas
November 15, 2011
256 (Trade Paperback)
Genre: Nonfiction, Christian Living

Every Body Matters explores the spiritual stakes behind the very physical battle of eating and exercise and offers a fresh perspective and renewed motivation for making some major changes.

Steering clear of judgement and criticism, author Gary Thomas keeps the focus of this important discussion on the positive impact physical fitness can have on your spiritual and emotional growth. Using the stories of everyday people, Thomas illustrates how becoming physically fit can lead to:

  • Increased sensitivity to God’s voice
  • Renewed energy for God’s work
  • Greater joy for living
  • A fortified soul better able and more willing to serve and love others

The goal in this pursuit is not sculpting thinner or more athletic-looking bodies. The goal is to cultivate stronger, well-nourished bodies that are primed to become, in the words of the apostle Paul, “instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”

One Sentence Review: Every Body Matters is a timely and book that I hope will challenge Christians to take better care of their earthly bodies.

In-Depth Review

Every Body Matters is a book I’ve been waiting for a long time. The church has a problem. It’s visible at every potluck and ice cream social, in youth groups and small groups. Evangelicals are addicted to junk food. We use every fellowship gathering as an excuse to gorge ourselves on sweets, salty snacks, and processed foods and then spout off about “God’s will” when we end up incapacitated by diabetes, heart disease, or any number of diet-related disorders. It’s a problem that affects our entire nation, but studies show that “religious practice correlates positively with obesity–and Christians are the heaviest of all.” (Every Body Matters, Page 100) Why is this?

Since the contemporary church tends to define sinful indulgence as anything having to do with sexual immorality or illicit substances (getting drunk or stoned), we’re acutely sensitive to avoid such sins. But many of us feel quite comfortable with bodies that don’t honor God–in large part because everyone else in our church looks just like us. Too many of us are members of calorie chapel! {Page 93}

The author primarily focuses on the connection between physical fitness and spiritual vitality. He argues that we are called to be good stewards of everything we are given, and that includes our bodies. It’s important to guard our health and maintain strong bodies so that we will not be hindered from doing God’s work because of preventable illnesses or frailty. He points to examples like the apostle Paul, who walked sixty miles to Derbe after being stoned half to death in Lystra the day before. “A physically weak man could never have recovered like that.” (Page 200)

. . . we must guard against viewing the pursuit of God as a soul- or mind-based search in which our bodies are irrelevant at best or our enemies at worst. Though there is a long-established tradition in Christianity touting the benefits of responsible eating, there is also a tradition of those who, as one historian put it, live “from the chin up.” . . . But living from the chin up ignores the impact of our bodies on our souls. {Page 29}

In a culture which places such a huge emphasis on body image, it can be difficult to address this issue without offending people or passing judgement on others. Thomas does a good job of confronting readers in a loving, motivational way.

. . . I applaud the church’s desire to attempt to make all people feel welcomed, without judgement when it comes to body issues. The church should be a place of healing and acceptance, affirmation, and encouragement. With that ethic, however, can’t we also find a way to value physical fitness, within its appropriate boundaries and priorities, since it is so clearly such a positive factor in mental, physical, and spiritual health? Indeed, shouldn’t God’s people–given our belief in God as the creator of our bodies, our acceptance of the call to be good stewards of everything God has given us, and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit within us–be leading the charge in this contemporary battle? {Page 122}

Every Body Matters is targeted to Christians who are basically able-bodied and have the means to buy healthy food and exercise, but as I read, I was concerned that some people might be discouraged or feel unwarranted guilt after reading a book like this. In particular, I was concerned about people like me, who have chronic illnesses or disabilities and are unable to attain or maintain health despite their best efforts. My concerns were alleviated when Thomas clarified that believers with illnesses and disabilities are of no less use or value to God than healthy folks.

There are many church members for whom good health is not an option, who deal with multiple disabilities or illnesses. These dear saints can honor God with their bodies even more than those who are athletically gifted, by means of their spirit, perseverance, and brave acceptance of their limitations. In no way am I suggesting (nor do I believe) that only healthy, fit people honor God. {Page 131}

I was also very glad that Thomas addressed the difficulty (or in some cases impossibility) for some people to live a healthy lifestyle because of financial restrictions.

There can also be a class-based element in all of this. Getting fit is a lot easier if you have the means to join a health club and buy certain kinds of food, while having sufficient leisure time to take advantage of both. Judging one state (thinness) to be superior to another (obese) can support and justify class-oriented prejudices. {Page 67}

Thomas’s theology on health and wellness is solid. He quotes Scripture where applicable, but is careful not to take it out of context. He also quotes a lot of Christian writers from centuries past, some of whom I agree with and some I don’t. One of this book’s strengths is that it stresses the importance of fitness in a way that promotes the gospel, not eclipses it.

Gary is a likable guy and his writing is very friendly and conversational. I’m really excited about this book and I hope it will have a positive impact on the current junk food culture inside the church.

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About Gary Thomas:

Gary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of several books, including Sacred Marriage, Sacred Pathways, and the Gold Medallion Award-Winning Authentic Faith.

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  1. says

    Sounds like a completely fascinating book, and how I wish it were on my bookshelf and at my fingertips ready to read at a moment’s notice. :) Can totally relate with what you say about having waited for this book a long time.

    I feel it would answer so many questions that I’ve had concerning exactly this: “He argues that we are called to be good stewards of everything we are given, and that includes our bodies. It’s important to guard our health and maintain strong bodies so that we will not be hindered from doing God’s work because of preventable illnesses or frailty. He points to examples like the apostle Paul, who walked sixty miles to Derbe after being stoned half to death in Lystra the day before. “A physically weak man could never have recovered like that.” (Page 200)”
    I mean, even as being a Hutterite…we eat hearty, homecooked meals, thrice a day, and it’s HARD to be healthy-minded and it’s not like I can choose to go cook an eat something else, something healthier, simply because it suits my fancy. Funny I was discussing exactly this with a friend at lunch when your review popped up and brought this book to my attention.
    I love that it covers any angle that any person can think of concerning this matter and even more importantly, that it’s biblically sound.

    Now, I just really, really want to read this book. :)

    Thanks for reviewing it; it’s an important one.

    • says

      You’re so right–it is very hard to be totally healthy in today’s world where all natural is more expensive than food drenched in pesticides and filled with GMOs. I appreciated Thomas’s focus on exercise though because while not everyone has access to the best food, anyone can exercise. No one really has an excuse not to (except for physical limitations). I think it’s about doing all we can to maintain health without making it an idol.

  2. says

    I need to read this book!! Ive been struggling losing the weight from baby number three and Ill tell you with the monthly/weekly get together’s between family and church I feel like Im always eating, eating eating…and there’s never healthy picks at potlucks, unless i want to eat the fruit salad, which is usually caked with whip cream!!

    Great review!

    • says

      It’s tough isn’t it? I can’t eat sugar or processed foods because I have Lyme Disease, so that pretty much leaves me out of the church social gatherings. I stand in a corner and pace while nibbling at the rubbery broccoli from the dip table. I hope you get some encouragement from this book!


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