Reclaiming the Body

Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine

series: Christian Practice of Everyday Life, The

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"An accessible volume that seeks to rework how Christians think about their engagement with medicine. [The authors] want Christians to consider not only the individual bodies that they present to the doctor for repair, but also the corporate body of Christ."--Christian Century

In our age of advanced medical technology that emphasizes health and well being, the human body has become the near-exclusive province of the professional health care industry. The solutions it proposes, the assumptions it takes for granted, and the judgments it pronounces are taken as gospel. But as Christians, we are called to view all of life--including medicine--through the lens of faith. After all, it was God who created our bodies.

In Reclaiming the Body, a physician and a theologian take a critical look at some of our assumptions and explore what theology has to say about medicine, our bodies, and our health. This is not a Christian treatise on medical ethics nor a book with a medicine-bashing agenda. Rather, it invites the reader to do theological and ecclesiological reflection on both the body and the Body in an effort to reframe the relationship between Christian faith and medicine. Along the way, the authors deal with timeless and contemporary issues such as embracing suffering, caring for the sick, using reproductive technologies, caring for the poor, obsessing over physical perfection, and dying.


"In this remarkable book Brian Volck and Joel Shuman offer the wisest counsel we have received for how Christians can negotiate the world of modern medicine. This is not another diatribe against doctors or the medical establishment, but rather they write for Christians in the hope that we can come to use medicine as a form of service for the up-building of the body that is the church. Though the book is wonderfully accessible and hopefully will be read in congregations, anyone who has been engaged in the work of medical ethics and/or theology and medicine over the last thirty years will find this book makes a remarkable intellectual contribution to that enterprise. Drawing on an extraordinary range of literature both theological and literary, Volck and Shuman help us see the difference it might make for how we as Christians learn to live and die--for how our medical care of one another should be shaped. I simply cannot say enough good about this book."--Stanley Hauerwas, Duke Divinity School

"Birth, life, and death. We pass through them all and encounter medicine in each. As we journey through the stages, Shuman and Volck invite us to reconceptualize medicine away from the individualistic, technocratic model of our culture to a truly theological reflection and response. Reclaiming the Body is lucid, creative, thoughtful, biblical, integrative, and a significant resource for practitioners and patients who call themselves Christian."--Dennis Hollinger, Evangelical School of Theology

The Authors

  1. Joel Shuman

    Joel Shuman

    Joel Shuman (Ph.D., Duke University) teaches moral theology at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is a frequent public speaker, the author of numerous articles about theology and medicine, and coauthor of Heal Thyself: Spirituality, Medicine,...

    Continue reading about Joel Shuman

  2. Brian Volck MD

    Brian Volck MD

    Brian Volck, M.D., is a pediatrician and teaches at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. His has written for such publications as DoubleTake, America, and St. Anthony Messenger.

    Continue reading about Brian Volck MD


"Shuman, an ethicist, and Volck, a pediatrician, are on a mission to persuade Christians to stop worshiping the medical establishment and to start 'using medicine as if God mattered.' It is easy to put medicine in the place that only God should occupy. . . . Christian theology, however, teaches that 'because we come from God, belong to God, and are destined finally to return to God, we need not fight without restraint to control all the circumstances of our existence, or to preserve our lives as they near their end.' As they develop this theme through literature, contemporary stories and theological reflection, the authors affirm the goodness of the human body, the importance of the church as the gathered body of Christ and the necessity of hospitality toward the world's helpless and suffering. Brilliantly reasoned and artfully written, this quotable book should reach well beyond its obvious market of medical and spiritual caregivers to engage anyone concerned about human values in a technological age."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The contemporary literature of bioethics, although vast, can often make for unsatisfactory reading. It tends to place too much emphasis on patient autonomy, yet fails to adequately examine the ethical implications of procedures such as genetic testing, abortion, and euthanasia. . . . It is refreshing, in this environment, to read Joel Shuman and Brian Volck's Reclaiming the Body. Theirs is not a typical jargon-laden bioethics treatise. Shuman, a moral theologian, and Volck, a pediatrician, have crafted a different kind of book: a readable monograph that takes as its starting point theology and faith, not medicine. . . . Shuman and Volck offer very few concrete answers to the questions they pose; this is in fact one of the great strengths of the book. The authors offer a new and more illuminating perspective, not merely prescriptions for behavior. The book is an extended conversation with medicine, not a condemnation, and it is a conversation that yields a wealth of insights into the challenges that our contemporary health technologies pose."--Christine Rosen, Commonweal

"Shuman, a theologian who writes about medicine with a Hauerwasian accent, and Volck, a pediatrician who reads Hebrew and publishes poetry, cooperate in an accessible volume that seeks to rework how Christians think about their engagement with medicine. They want Christians to consider not only the individual bodies that they present to the doctor for repair, but also the corporate body of Christ, which for Christians is not less important than its individual members. Rather than a case-study approach to ethical conundrums, this is a series of stories about what it might mean to practice 'medicine as if God mattered.'"--Christian Century

"[The authors'] hope of capturing the reader's imagination for living a communally formed, distinctively narrated, embodied Christian life is a gracious offering. They help us be formed in a life of soulful, embodied personhood that bears witness to the delight of the Creator with whom we were created for relationship. The challenge [this book] give[s] to any illusions of some ethereal, overly spiritualized notion of the Christian story is refreshing and to be commended. . . . The challenges and considerations offered by Shuman and Volck . . . provide a context for pondering the possibilities of what a reformed and redeemed medicine might look like."--Keith G. Meador, Christian Reflection

"This book is recommended for anyone with a serious interest in healthcare ministry."--Living Church

"Reclaiming the Body will be of interest to doctors and others interested in exploring the relationship between medicine and the church."--Michael Thompson, Evangelicals Now

"[This] book is relevant. . . . The authors call us to use medicine as if God mattered . . . well said! . . . [They] do a nice job of rattling our cage, encouraging us to be bolder, reminding us of our heritage in Christ and the importance of the community of believers as a resource. It is well thought out, nicely footnoted, and most importantly 'applicable.'. . . Worthy of reading."--Bill Harper, Reformation21

"The authors neither bash the medical profession nor support spirituality as a wellness technique but instead propose a new vantage point from which Christian faith might make a difference in how we interpret and experience the practice of medicine. . . . There is much here that would be of interest and benefit to those of us engaged with disability. . . . This well-written volume combines solid scholarship with thoughtful reflection on lived experiences, punctuated with examples from art and culture (broadly ranging from Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky to Monty Python and Harry Potter). This variety makes the text useful and interesting to all readers. Some of their analyses or proposals will be controversial, but their open engagement with difficult issues makes even these sections feel like disagreements among friends rather than openings for contentious debate. . . . Extensive footnotes offer abundant opportunities for further study, and the writing style itself makes the text easy to engage and difficult to put down. Highly recommended for all readers."--Deborah Creamer, Journal of Religion, Disability, & Health

"Theologian Shuman and pediatrician Volck argue that approached uncritically, modern medicine and its technologies are a type of 'power' (as in 'powers and principalities') that has been granted undue authoritative status--greater than the authority of a Christian worldview. They seek to readjust that misplaced authority by emphasizing the biblical concept of 'body' and the practice of hospitality in accordance with orthodox interpretations of Christian doctrines. . . . This book is aimed at congregations that want to responsibly connect their theology to their faith practices in a variety of medical situations."--Terri Laws, Religious Studies Review