I purchased this about a year ago after I read Matthew Lee Anderson’s very good Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith (first review, second review). I was looking a basic introduction to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and Christopher West has written several books on it.
The book sat on my bookshelf for a year but I read it very quickly once I picked it up. Overall I this was a good book. I highlighted and marked up the book quite a bit (and then left it with my Dad while visiting for Thanksgiving, who was also interested in reading it.)
So I don’t have the book notes. From memory, the strong points are Marriage as a divine gift, the strong idea about how celibacy fits into that sacramental view of marriage, the way that God designed the body and the ways that sin and redemption of have affected our subsequent view of body. All of that really is good, fits well within the Christian (and Evangelical) theology and I think strengthens our theology.
Many place the book was quite beautiful in its descriptions of the body, marriage, sex, and God’s love for us. I think that beauty is something that is often missing in our Evangelical descriptions of the body. We get erotic, physical, dangerous; we miss the beauty.
What I did not get is the Catholic emphasis on contraception. It just does not theologically make sense to me. I understand being open to God giving us children. I am all for that. But even West admits that Natural Family Planning when used with modern methods and properly (which many people do not) it is almost as effective as any other medical birth control method. And modern contraception as commonly practiced is far from foolproof. (Still nearly 50 percent of all pregnancies are unplanned.)
So, either Catholics should reject natural family planning as a legitimate method or accept other methods. I understand why IUD and some other medical methods are objectionable. But not all methods are objectionable in the same ways. What I found more concerning is that West suggests that if a person is recommended to not have children for medical reasons, then it would be recommended for a couple to just stop having sex (and be celibate) to be sure they were not violating God’s law. This seems to be violating the covenant of marriage in order to not violate a Catholic prescription against contraception that most Catholics already reject in practice.
On the whole, I really do think that John Paul II’s theology of the body is helpful for Evangelicals to think seriously about. His work on the couple, celibacy and the trinity as a model for marriage and marriage and singleness as a way to work out our love of God are all very helpful.
I just cannot wrap my head around contraception restrictions as the Catholic hierarchy details it. And clearly many Catholics in the US agree, since the vast majority do not follow church practice.
- Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter (bookwi.se)