Hot Bods

June 10th, 2013

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Let’s face it. Stewardship is not the church’s strong suit. Surveys indicate Christians tithe between two and three percent of their income. Pretty anemic. George Barna says the biggest culprit is the lack of a compelling vision. He’s right. The good news is that it’s wedding season. At almost every ceremony we see the compelling vision – hot bods.

Over the years, research on tithing has been done by many organizations, including The Barna Group, founded by George Barna. He says there are “five significant barriers to more generous giving.” 1) The church has failed to provide a compelling vision, 2) insufficient return on investment, 3) ignorance of the church’s needs, 4) an ineffective “ask,” and 5) selfishness. Christians seem to be deeply in debt (and can’t tithe) or feel they’ve worked hard for their money (and don’t want to tithe).

Either way, Christians are robbing God (Malachi 3). Since most believers also know robbery is criminal, they con themselves. While 17 percent of Christians claim to tithe, only three percent actually do so. In reality, the average weekly donation by adults who attend U.S. Protestant churches is about $17.1 Pretty pathetic.

More generous giving requires a more meaningful metaphor. Albert Einstein said you could not solve a problem using the same mind that created it. A new frame, or compelling metaphor, is called for. Good news. We have one. Weddings.

You’ll likely witness a wedding ceremony this summer. Take note of the bride and groom. They’re a picture of stewardship. Teeth are whitened, skin is tanned, bods are buffed, cuticles are manicured, hair is trimmed, and – in most cases – weight has been lost. A 2007 Cornell University study by Lori Neighbors and Jeffery Sobal found that 70 percent of 272 engaged women said they wanted to lose weight, typically 20 pounds. Bride and groom know they’ll be front and center in the ceremony, as well naked before one another on the wedding night. They don’t want to be shamed. So they work on having hot bods. All that preparation is a picture of stewardship.

A full-body gospel explains this. God is love (I John 4:8). Love is the enjoyment of others as well as the desire to expand the circle of love.2 In eternity past, the Father, Son, and Spirit decided to expand the circle of love by having the Son wed a bride. God created the entirety of humanity – us – in his image to be the bride. God’s wonderful plan for our life is to “marry us.” This reality is stamped right in our bodies as male and female, right in our sexuality.

This is why the Apostle Paul wrote, “A man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” He’s quoting Genesis 2:24. He’s picturing nuptial union. Marriage, including sexual consummation, is the main metaphor for Christ and the church. That’s why coming to Christ is described as being betrothed. “I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (II Cor. 11:12). Betrothal is similar to modern engagement, except that the couple was considered married yet living apart to demonstrate devotion to one another. Devotion required discipline, or stewarding your life. Just as modern brides and grooms whiten their teeth and buff their bods, the church is supposed to get buffed for Jesus.

Jesus used the same gospel metaphor. “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Mt. 22:2). He also told a parable about ten virgins (Mt. 25: 1-13). They were supposed to be getting ready for the wedding day, stewarding their entire life in anticipation of getting married. Some did. Others didn’t.

It seems that many believers today don’t feel a need to get buffed for their upcoming wedding day. Anemic stewardship is one indicator. The culprit is likely the disembodied faith disseminated in so many churches today. The wedding of Christ and his church has become an abstraction. Stewardship has been reduced to a series of “principles” or “concepts.” These are not terms of endearment but enlightenment. The Enlightenment is a disembodied approach to life. It’s a disaster. Stewardship is never a principle or concept. It’s presenting your body to God to prepare for the wedding day (Rom. 12:1).

It’s a shame that so many Christians view body talk as bawdy or vulgar. It’s not. It’s virtuous. As Gregory the Great noted in reading the Song of Songs, “kisses are mentioned, breasts are mentioned, cheeks are mentioned, loins are mentioned.” These words paint “holy pictures” which “are not for mockery or laughter” but, rather, “to incite us to holy loving.”3 They also incite healthy stewardship.

George Barna is right. More generous stewardship requires a more meaningful metaphor. We have one. It’s found in scripture. Or we can witness it in almost every wedding ceremony this summer. Hot bods are telling a holy story.

_______________________
1 George Barna, How to Increase Giving in Your Church: A Practical Guide to the Sensitive Task of Raising Money for Your Church or Ministry (Ventura: Regal Books, 1997), p. 20.
2 Christopher West, At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization (New York: Image Book, 2012)
3 West, At the Heart of the Gospel, p. 49.

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11 Responses to “Hot Bods”

  1. Barnabas says:

    10% obedience is a bottom line. 100% devotion is a response to gracious, merciful love.
    The 3 in 1 give us 100%, we are truly indebted if we believe we deserve 90%.

  2. Barnabas says:

    Where does the gift of singleness, fit in this analysis?

  3. Mike Metzger says:

    Barnabus: Good question. All believers are to be pure for Christ. All believers are already married to Christ, already betrothed to him. All believers will enjoy consummation – union – with Christ after the wedding banquet (Revelation 19). Some believers are gifted by God to abstain from consummation here and now for the Ultimate Consummation then and there. Either way, all believers should be buffing their bods.

  4. Mark Jones says:

    Mike, thanks for this piece. Bravo! This topic reminds me of what Christopher West wrote in one of my current favorite books, “Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing.” I fully agree with the metaphor, though I believe that even most “Christians” have trouble relating to it. Personally, before I got married, I did not know what I was missing and thus, the promise of consummation didn’t mean much to me. Don’t get me wrong, as a single male, I certainly had the desire for sexual gratification, but I had no idea what real consummation and intimacy could be before I got married. My female single friends were often starry eyed about their future wedding and closeness to a husband, but I believe they were equally unaware of what consummation is meant to be. Married friends of mine seem to often live more like roommates, who each gain satisfaction in getting their needs met through the other, which I don’t think fits the intent either. To cut to the chase, I fear that single or married, we all have a very warped view of what real intimacy and consummation is meant to be. Only with Christ will it be fully as it was intended, given our fallenness. West’s book and others speak about it, but do you have suggestions for how to expand the metaphor in conversation to people who may have very warped perspectives on what being the bride of Christ is really meant to be?

  5. Trent McEntyre says:

    Mike, can I quote this in church planting fund development materials? I think that when I fail to remember what you say in this piece that I struggle to be faithful in my part of the fund dev process. I agree with Barna that some of the reasons people don’t give much is that they have not been offered a compelling “why” or a bold venture to invest in.

    Do you think that some of what we do as Christians is self-focused “keeping the sinking ship afloat?”

    Time to workout, we have a wedding coming soon!

    Trent

    Atlanta, GA

  6. Mike Metzger says:

    Trent

    Of course you can. I grieve that so many Christians find this sort of body talk to be bawdy. It’s actually an indicator of how sexuality is now almost entirely associated with porn. Porn is bad, so body talk is bad. This must grieve the Lord.

  7. Barnabas says:

    Yes, with ‘bod’ resonating as individual and community temples. B attitude!

  8. Barnabas says:

    Thought this would be of further http://www.joniandfriends.org/daily-devotional/

  9. Fraser Haug says:

    Perhaps I can suggest yet another very helpful metaphor in which to set tithing. The Bible refers to the Church (the “called out ones” of both the Old and New Testament) as a 1.) special people, 2.) a royal priesthood and 3.) a holy nation. Three main roles in our job description. One way to understand the tithe, therefore, is as a “tax” levied upon the citizens of God’s Kingdom necessary to underwrite the task of advancing the Holy Nation of God, the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.
    Unhappily, it appears that the modern, western Church has again fallen into the age-old trap of Gnosticism (a false, unbiblical separation of the natural from the supernatural or “spiritual”) with the consequence that our view of the Kingdom of God is for later, in heaven. Not hear, and now and in terms of earthy things. My generation of believers (the 60’s/ Jesus Freak/ Charismatic Renewal gang) was taught that we just needed “get out of Dodge,” hang-on till Jesus returns and hopefully bring as many converts as possible with us. With such a view (such an eschatology) it is really no wonder that the contemporary Church has a very weak view of the advance of the Kingdom of God on earth. We therefore also have a very hard time justifying giving 10% of our income.
    In the Barna study you mentioned, lack of a compelling vision was actually first on the list of why people don’t tithe. If we could, in our generation, re-capture a vigorous vision for the Kingdom on earth, the mandate of being a Holy Nation on the earth, I suspect that tithing would again become a common practice in the Church.
    Amen, to “Hot Bods” and to the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

  10. Barnabas says:

    An all round picture
    http://www.rw360.org/discover-rw/

    Self, other, external authority

  11. Barnabas says:

    Poverties of authority, self, family, community.
    http://www.chalmers.org/when-helping-hurts.

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