Health, Healing and the Church’s Mission—and other books about our bodies, illness, and thinking about health care. ON SALE, too.

The other day a fast-talking fund-raiser called from a right-wing activist group, a group thatdoctor.jpg does some work defending religious liberty that I appreciate.  When he started going on in the most cocky, cliched, way against “Obamacare” I suggested that good people can disagree about the just-ness of this particular health-care reform package and as one whose family has considerable pre-existing medical conditions that have made health insurance untenable, we have considerable interest in the nuances of this conversation.  He redoubled his simplistic sloganeering, drew out the heavy ideological guns—don’t I care about my freedom?—and made it hard for me to disentangle myself politely from what was obviously a doomed, non-conversation. 

Later that day I saw an AP wire story about the gluten-free fad which gave some inaccurate insinuations downplaying the prevalence and severity of the auto-immune disorder, Celiac Disease.  Again, I was frustrated, thinking I might write a letter to the editor to our local paper about its unhelpful headline, reminding readers how serious this can be (and how prevalent it is) and wondered why conversations about something so essential as our health, and as near to us all (what a way to describe our bodies!) are so full of public disinformation and debate.

I cannot even begin to untangle all that here in this short space, but it does bring me back to my sermonizing and book listing of the last post when I wondered why ordinary, established adults in most churches tend not to read serious Christian books all that much, let alone books specifically about their major areas of vocational calling.  From home-making to engineering, business to the sciences, counseling to teaching, we have loads of books that help people follow the Bible’s insistence to have the “mind of Christ” and to “think Christianly” about how to relate faith and the work-world, discipleship and the details of daily living. 

We are glad and encouraged when folks order books like those I listed the other day. (And we’re thrilled that some are taking us up on our offer to pre-order the forthcoming book by Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor, on faith in the work-world.)  We earnestly hope that our encouragement here to read these sorts of topics—considering a Christian view of art, working on a Biblical view of politics, navigating the faith and science discussions, learning about a theology of the body—invites more conversation about this.  Our “books by vocation” lists which suggest basic books by career area and academic discipline are good starters (even though I need to update them considerably.)

Health care?  Illness?  Healing? 
Oh yes, we have a lot.  Here are just a few of the many we carry. 

For starters, we should be clear about the human body.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made and In His Image and The Gift of Pain  Philip Yancey &fearfully and.jpg Dr. Paul Brand (Zondervan)  $14.99 each  All three of these handsome paperbacks share wonderful ruminations on the human body by thoughtful writer Philip Yancey and the late, great surgeon, Paul Brand.  One chapter might ruminate on skin, another on the eyeball, another on blood.  The first two include illustrations, even, and are a great way in to a Godly view of the intricacies of our bodies and their glory—how very interesting!  The third is a bit deeper, exploring how and why pain works, and a must for anyone with serious pain and for any health care provider.  Each are truly lovely, inspiring and quite nice.
Marvelously Made: Gratefulness and the Body  Mary C. Earle (Morehouse) $14.00  Rev. marvelously made.jpgEarle is an Episcopal priest and a lovely, evocative writer, offering here a profound meditation in a brief, reflective book.  Margaret Guenther says it is “to be read slowly and savored.”  If we take incarnation seriously, and see our bodies as “sacred space” it might help us learn not only to be grateful for God’s good creation, it may deepen the profundity of our prayer life.  Very thoughtfully done.

Healthy Human Life: A Biblical Witness James K. Bruckner (Cascade Books) $28.00  This recent publisher is an important division of Wipf & Stock and they do very excellent stuff—often a bit deep, always theologically interesting, not your typical “Christian fluff.”  This is a big study of a topic that seems basic enough (that is, common to us all, rather foundatonal) yet it is not often considered faithfully.  Here, health and vitality is explore and the results are stellar and profound.  Dr. Buckner is a Professor of Old Testament at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago.  He has done serious Bible commentaries, but here he brings his expertise to this basic question of humanness, wholeness, health, abundance.  Joel Green says it is “a rare book…a deeply integrative contribution to faith and health.”

Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith  Matthew Lee Anderson (Bethany House) $14.99  I have raved about this before—it is a solid, deep, interesting theology of the human body, written by a top-shelf, younger evangelical scholar.  Way to go.  We’ve all got these things–we are these things—called bodies, so I’m astonished we don’t want to think theologically about them.  This will help, a wonderful example of the sort of work being done, and the sort of reading we are happy to promote.
reclaiming the body.jpg
Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine 
Brian Volck & Joel Schuman (Brazos Press) $22.00.  This is a profound, provocative read and it
also is co-written, a great team-effort by a family doc who writes well (Brian Volck)
and a theological professor and writer (Joel Shuman.)  We highly
recommend it, glad for such insight about these sorts of explorations of Christian practices within
everyday life, like experiencing our bodies and doing health care and
doctoring in faithful ways.

Being Well When We’re Ill: Wholeness and Hope In Spite of Infirmity  Marva Dawn (Fortress) $14.99  We have several books just like this and they are all good.  We have a number of cancer. This general one is the most profound, the most theologically substantive, but always based on her own deep faith, her own experiences of disease and illness and pain.  I have made a promise to read anything Marva writes but needed to read this due to the chronic health issues in our own family. Spending time with Marva through her writing is always a blessing beyond belief and this was no exception.  Highly recommended.

Called to Care: A Christian Worldview for Nursing by Judith Allen Shelley and Arlene MillerCalled-to-Care-9780830827657.jpg (IVP) $25.00  No matter what health care field one is in, we think this is excellent; a veritable “must-read resource.”  It is maybe the best starter book for anyone wanting to read about developing a Christian frame for thinking about health care careers.  Since most of us interact with nurses, physician’s assistants, chiropractors, surgeons, family docs, dentists and all sorts of health care providers, maybe you should read this, to share with them ideas about the integration of faith and the healers calling.  

Catholicism and Health Care Justice: Problems, Potential and Solutions  by Philip Keane, S.S. (Paulist Press) $19.95 This serious text offers fundamental insights about Catholic social thinking, public policy for the common good, and health care ethics.  Very timely and informative.

Health-Care Ethics: A Comprehensive Christian Resource
James Thobaben (IVPhealth-care ethics.jpg Academic) $35.00  I know the price is a bit salty and it isn’t for everyone, but I can hardly imagine a church in America who doesn’t have some health care provider or someone passionate about the study of ethics or a student of public policy, making this a perfect resource to have in a church lending library. Or, certainly, in the local hospital library.  (Why not donate it to your local hospital for their library for their medial staff?)  This thoughtful work is over 400 pages, written by an evangelically-minded professor of church in society from Asbury Theological Seminary. He also has an MDiv from Yale Divinity School and a M.P.H. from Yale Medical School (and a PhD from Emory for good measure.)

This book offers keen insight in crisp prose, developing Biblically-informed ethical thinking across a very wide range of health-care related topics.  It explores matters as wide ranging as theodicy, bioethics, disabilities, the role of the local church in caring, stuff about families and illness.  There is a good chapter on organ donation—fascinating!  One stimulating chapter is on professionals and truthfulness; another is called “Managing Care and Serving Needs: Humans as Organizers.”

 Every chapter has a subtitle like that, in fact, indicating that our view of the human person is nearly at the heart of everything.  For instance, there are subtitles of chapters “Humans as Disordered” and “Humans as Vulnerable” and “Humans as Distinctly Human” (that is one which develops a moral anthropology for bioethics.)  Gladly, four of the chapters are about public health, citizenship and human rights, societal health, and one with the subtitle “humans are public.”  From sexuality to end of life questions to handling death, this is a stunning ethical handbook, a beautifully wrought piece of work. Let us hope it is known by those who have need for such a thing.   

health, healing and the church's mission.jpgHealth, Healing and the Church’s Mission: Biblical Perspectives and Moral Priorities  Willard Swartley (IVP) $24.00  This is brand new and is the book I am most eager to mention today.  Swartley is a Mennonite (who has taught at Fuller) who has done considerable work on all sorts of social ethics and contemporary issues.  His book Slavery, Sabbath, Women and War (Herald Press) was helpful for me years ago as he rigorously developed a hermeneutical principle, studying various topics in Scripture and how our views of them might be informed by a wide-ranging, honest reading of the various sorts of texts on the topic. That is, the Bible sometimes seems to contradict itself, but in SSWW he explored the patterns, the evolution of the Bible’s views on these four topics.  Actually, Swartley notes that it was during this demanding study, when he was cataloging the multi-vocal views of specific topics in the Bible,  that he started thinking about healing and how it is portrayed in various ways in the Scriptures—sometimes the Bible implies that healing will always come, other times it does not.  Sometimes illness is a plague, sometimes it is a gift.  Hmm. 

The drama of the unfolding story of the Bible teaches us of a good, unstained creation, a serious fall, and the formation of a Holy-Spirited people who, due to their being saved by their Risen Savior, Jesus, are able to point towards the renewal of creation, witnessing to Christ’s Kingdom, amidst our broken world and its unjust systems.  So, yeah; he does the close exegetical work, is honest before the texts, and he gets the bigger picture.  He started studying the mixed messages on healing, wholeness, illness, faith, and our mission to be agents of shalom and hope.  And he studied them within this larger framework of the Bibles unfolding healing narrative.  And he extrapolated towards our current befuddled health care systems and our ambiguous views of healing. 

This fabulous, long-awaited book, then, is the fruit of the serious research of this good Doctor. (Swartley has a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary.)  He has tested this stuff out over years of doing workshops in churches and speaking a denominational consultations. It is a vital contribution to Biblical studies, to our understanding of healing and wholeness, and to the healing professions.  It offers insights about the local church and a bit about public policy.  Because of this— that he gracefully looks at healing as well as health care systems—it is exceptionally valuable as we think about these things.  It is as up to date as any Christian book on the quandaries of the debates regarding our contemporary health care reforms. 

As an Anabaptist, you can be sure that Swartley has a strong view of the local church, by the way, and has a wonderful appendix about mutual aid found in groups like the Brethren in Christ and the Mennonites from which we all can learn much. I like David Gushee’s blurb on the back that says that Health, Healing, and the Church’s Mission is

a sober, mature and constructive treatment of a critical issues that has been obscurred by being caught up in the partisan vortex.  Highly recommended as a work at the intersection of Scripture, mission, and Christian ethics.


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