Embodied Theologies: A Brief Review of Transforming Christian Theology for Church and Society by Philip Clayton

Before my friend Greg “left the building” – that is the Christian faith – we had some compelling discussions about “personhood” and faith. Interestingly we still have some of those conversations but recognizably different. Though we referenced different branches on the Christian tree, it was not long before we both relayed how it seemed the particular theologies we grew out of found the practice of the faith almost secondary to belief – read, ascent.

Too often our conversations trailed to shock turned numbness as we heard of habits and practices that did not comport with what we knew of Jesus in the Scriptures. The actions that got our attention were less about one’s personal sensibilities offered under the banner of Christian morality and more to the manner others considered “sinners” were treated. What troubled us most is that while Jesus engaged people who seemed in great need of his love and care despite the intolerance of the religious people of his day among many today Jesus’ habits seemed not simply a distant practice but something of the opposite occurred. Total separation was applauded and judgment hoped for.

How the Church treats the new lepers became a chief concern. We talked about an embodied faith. That is a way of living the life of Jesus in real time not just in our cerebral chambers.

Reading Philip Clayton’s Transforming Christian Theology: For Church and Society may not have given Greg pause before leaving the building, but when I read Clayton assert, “Genuine theologies are embodied; they have implications for life” I knew my friend could applaud that from without or within the Christian Tradition.

It may seem unfair to connect personal conversations with a book review, but it seems to me Clayton proposes a way of God-talk that does more than stimulate thought but calls to action in the way of Jesus. I am only becoming aware of “progressive theology.” Some from my tribe will call it warmed over liberalism. Others from the liberal wing will consider Clayton something of a closet evangelical. Longing for a robust capturing of the middle for his understanding of missional theology, Clayton’s vision centers on Jesus rather than the sometimes offered spiraling consciousness away from any need for Jesus.

Last month I enjoyed meeting Philip and found him a passionate activist. That is, he really wants his life to matter for the reign of God in the name of Jesus in the world in which he finds himself. If Scot McKnight can recommend Philip’s book as something of must read, that should provoke those spooked by mis-perceptions about a Jesus-less theology for progressives. Listening to voices outside of our sphere is helpful. It keeps us from living in something of an echo-chamber. See if Philip’s book does not prompt you to consider the ways theology should be embodied in much the same way, though from a different framework, as Dallas Willard, ironically another philosophy professor.

This review was not solicited. It is the result of the author’s own purchase and a reading of the entire text.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.