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This past year I wrote about the bodily stewardship crisis on Christian campuses. In a national survey of student affairs leaders, I noted that our research team asked them to rank sixteen themes they might emphasize on their campus. Educating students about stewardship of the body finished dead last. The second most neglected topic was teaching students a Christian view of time (.g., Sabbath rest, thanksgiving, and celebration)—a theme that also relates to the stewardship of the body. Overall, we found the theological imperative that we are to steward our bodies for God woefully neglected among co-curricular leaders. This finding is why I recently co-edited a book addressing this problem and was happy to see the Association for Christians in Student Development address the theme of rest at this year’s conference. 

I now realize though we missed addressing the major source of the problem. It is the faculty’s fault. I did not realize until recently how the faculty and administrators in charge of the curriculum also contribute to the problem. As readers of this blog know, I have been reporting on our study of general education course requirements and descriptions at the 232 Protestant institutions with at least one required class on Christianity (see here, here, and here). I can now add the 100 Catholic universities as well. What we found among these 332 institutions has generally been disappointing. When it comes to bodily stewardship, the story is no different.

Almost every institution requires a course on health, physical education, lifetime fitness, or some related topic for undergraduates in general education. One would think that this would be a prime opportunity for a Christian institution to counter the reductionistic or simplistic propaganda from the secular and Christian fitness industries. Students encounter conceptions of the body as a machine, a disposable wrapper for our soul, or worse.1

In general, we found that course descriptions provide little hint on how this topic can be approached from a Christian perspective. We discovered only ten institutions with a course description that tried to frame the topic Christianly (Andrews University, Bethel University [MN], Covenant College, Dordt University, Geneva College, John Brown University, La Sierra University, Samford University, Vanguard University, and Huntingdon University).

A couple noted that they teach “principles of health according to the Bible” (Andrews) or teach students “knowledge, experience, and strategies to become successful whole and holy individuals” (Bethel, MN). Others stated that they teach “fitness and health from a Christian view of humankind” (Dordt), include “Christian ethics” (Samford), or discuss, “how health, fitness and faith interconnect” (Vanguard University). Huntingdon offered the most encompassing reference, “This course will challenge students to take a holistic approach to integrating their faith and wellness throughout their lives.”

Two institutions did include the core Christian theological teaching and virtue that should guide Christian practice in this area—the concept of stewardship. Geneva College mentioned that “special emphasis will be given to proper Christian stewardship of the body” and John Brown University’s course noted, “Personal applications to the lifestyle of the individual that address Christian stewardship of their physical, emotional and relational health are emphasized.” These mentions were refreshing to see. After all, stewarding one’s body is a God-given calling (Gen. 1:28; I Cor. 6:19-20) in which we engage our whole lives. 

Only the Covenant College course description mentioned the ultimate end for why one might engage in responsible bodily stewardship. It specified, “Emphasis is placed upon developing and continuing active, healthy, Christian life practices and understanding the body as a tool to glorify the Lord.” Though these are helpful exceptions, we were underwhelmed with what we found in the other academic catalogs.

If Christian institutions want to defend their existence, they need to demonstrate that their general education as a whole takes Christianity seriously. Otherwise, it appears they are not integrating faith and learning or seeking to have Christ animate learning. Instead, they add some Bible and/or theology courses and call their general education Christian.  Stewarding our bodies should be considered a liberating art that we all must learn and practice, and its inclusion in general education would appear to give evidence that this point is largely acknowledged in Christian higher education. Yet, only 3% provide course descriptions that engage in Christ-animated teaching and learning regarding this fundamental endeavor.

In a recent CT article, “Finding a (Real) Christian College,” Jeffrey Bilbro claimed you’ll often find Christian higher education marketing literature touting “a reduction in general education requirements.” I would like to see the empirical evidence for that claim since I have not seen marketing that touted a reduction in general education. Our study found that the 332 Protestant and Catholic institutions we examined averaged a healthy 48 hours of general education.

That being said, based on our study of general education requirements, a reduction would appear not to be a significant loss concerning the Christian mission of the institutions. Regarding the general education class dealing with health and human performance, at over 97% of institutions, we could not find Christianity in the course descriptions. I would be interested in hearing from any faculty members who try to teach such a course Christianly since it is clear we need to spread the word about how to create and develop such courses. Otherwise, if they have not already, students will realize they can save their money and attend the local state university or community college for similar health and human performance gen eds.  


  1. For a sample of how this might be done, see Andrew Borror, “Attuning and Attending: Exercise and the Body,” in Stewarding Our Bodies: A Vision for Christian Student Affairs, eds. Perry L. Glanzer and Austin T. Smith (Abilene, TX: Abilene University Press), 79–92.

Perry L. Glanzer

Baylor University
Perry L. Glanzer, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Foundations and a Resident Scholar with Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.

One Comment

  • Matt Renfrow says:

    This was really helpful and motivating to me for my courses, Perry. Our general education health courses are incredibly rich with orthodox Christian theology, but, in an effort to keep the description short, it may not be the most explicitly Christian. Thank you for this exhortation and good work!