Earth to Glory: The Biblical Doctrine of the Human Body, Jonathan Rainbow, published by the author, 2003 (republished 2010). Softcover, 140 pages, $10.00
As far as I know, this book is one of a kind: a biblical theology of our bodies. However, don’t let the word “theology” scare you away – this is theology written in a readable way. The author capably leads us through all sorts of different issues related to our physical existence on this earth.
The author is not well-known. Jonathan Rainbow received a Master of Divinity degree from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. After serving for some years as a pastor, he became a teacher at a Christian high school in California’s Central Valley. He died of cancer in 2010 and, in a moving afterword, his daughter Hannah tells us of how the theology in this book was lived out in her father’s life and death. Very powerful!
Rainbow’s foremost concern in this little book is to address two different errors in thinking about the human body. One is materialism, the idea that our human bodies are all that we are and nothing more. The other is Platonism, the idea that our bodies are simply prisons for the real us, our souls. He notes that Christians have tended to the latter error. The author gives biblical teaching for processing death as a Christian. He writes about sickness, aging, the body we will have in the resurrection (and Christ’s resurrected body), the appetites, and what it means to glorify God in our bodies. He addresses issues such as gluttony, cremation, retirement, and the use of illegal drugs. What he writes is both practical and biblical.
A friend had told me a number of times about this book. He knew the author personally and so recommended it – I’m glad that I finally read it. There was only one place in the book where I put some question marks and that was in chapter 3 dealing with sickness. Rainbow’s view of the covenant of works leads him to maintain a consistent direct linkage between sin and sickness in the Old Testament. So he writes, “…if you were a sick Israelite, you were supposed to say, ‘I’ve sinned and God is punishing me as he warned in the law’” (28-29). What about Job? Our author says that Job was an exception. Later in the chapter he writes, “Many of the Jews that Jesus healed were in fact sick of their sins” (37). What about the man born blind in John 9? He was an exception too. One passage not discussed is Psalm 73. I imagine that our author would claim Asaph as an exception as well. Soon all the exceptions make us wonder whether this is a sustainable view. He concludes that things are different for Christians: “…the old equation of sickness and punishment is obsolete for those who believe in Christ. ‘I am sick, so God must be punishing me,’ is an instinctive thought, but for a Christian it is false” (39). But this is also problematic, for doesn’t Scripture say that God can use sickness to chastise or discipline Christians and isn’t this the same as what OT believers received (Heb. 12:6)? Also, isn’t there some sense in which by believing the promises, Old Testament believers were believing in Christ too? Thus, I must conclude that this part of the book is lacking.
This is a little known book and I find that regrettable. It’s well-written and not very long. But above all, the author does strive to exposit what the Bible teaches and he uses that biblical teaching to address common errors about the human body. While there are no study questions in the book, it could probably be used profitably by Bible study groups nonetheless – I imagine it would stimulate some great discussions.