The Fit Shall Inherit the Earth

A Theology of Sport and Fitness

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Erik W. Dailey
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , November
     2018.
     198 pages.
     $25.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532649257.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The Fit Shall Inherit The Earth by Erik W. Dailey seeks to answer the question “What does it mean to ‘glorify God in your body’” through a “theological engagement with sport” (1)? Ultimately the work seeks to identify “where . . . God” is “in sport and fitness” (2).

One of the book’s first challenges is to reconcile a theology of fitness with Christianity’s historical suspicion of the body. It does this by establishing the body as a product of God’s creation rather than some entity standing in opposition to Deity. Human bodies are, along with animals, “enlivened by the breath of life” suggesting, he argues, that “humanity is connected to the earth . . . humanity is not distinct or separable from creation and its physically” (37). He comes close to, but does not, reject dualism outright suggesting that “Jewish thought sometimes distinguishes body and soul, but it does not separate them” (38). Central to his theological argument is this idea, that body and soul are perhaps not as distinct, or opposing, as Christians have believed.

This is a challenge, and at times it feels somewhat as if Dailey is trying to fit his theology’s square peg in Christian history’s round hole. For instance, Dailey takes on John Calvin’s “very interesting and complicated understanding of the body that is still present in the Reformed Tradition” (29). He cites Calvin as arguing that at death the soul is “freed from the prison house of the body” (29). However, Dailey suggests that even Calvin was not “entirely anti-body” as he stated, “it would be utterly absurd that the bodies which God has dedicated to himself . . . should fall away without hope of resurrection” (29). Dailey concludes from this that “while Calvin shows a preference for the soul” (over the body) he, by defending the theology of a bodily resurrection, “does not reject the idea that there is some value in the body” (30).

A crux of Dailey’s argument comes in the later chapters of the book. Humans are made imago Dei, in the image of God. He argues this implies a responsibility which humans carry for all creation. “God has given the creation, set up humankind as God’s image-bearers in and of creation, and in special relationship with God, and now God expects humankind to have ‘dominion,’ that is stewardship and loving care of all creation” (146). And, the author argues, our bodies are part of that creation. Caring for them, then,  is a divinely mandated process.

In his concluding chapter Dailey tries to convince the reader that this does not mean that God expects everyone to be in perfect shape, or more accurately, to be of a certain body type. Dailey suggests that all are God’s creation, which he is well to do. However, he then pulls from the parable of the talents suggesting that just as the Lord gave a higher number of talents to other servants, and judged their success only on the basis of their using the talents rather than burying them we should not all expect to be, in his words, Arnold Schwarzenegger. His intentions are good, but I do resent somewhat the notion that the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the world are somehow more filled with God’s blessing, and one should worry about the theological implications of such thinking.

Nevertheless, this is a valuable theological contribution. As skeptical as I am about his ability to reconcile Christianity with the body, it is important work. The notion that the human body is a part of God’s divine creation, that it is not fallen but rather valued by Deity would, whether Dailey says so or not, be radical to Calvin and his contemporaries—which  is all the more reason to make this book known both to academics and lay Christians.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Taylor Kerby is an alumnus of Claremont Graduate University and holds Master’s Degrees in Education and Religion.

Date of Review: 
February 27, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Erik W. Dailey teaches at Azusa Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary and pastors a Presbyterian Church congregation in Los Angeles. He is an avid Masters swimmer and competitive triathlete.

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