Christian higher education currently neglects to teach students how to steward their bodies. How do I know? I recently led a mixed-methods study of Christian student affairs.1 In a national survey of student affairs leaders, we gave them sixteen different themes that they might emphasize on their campus and asked them to rank them. Educating students about stewardship of the body as God’s temple finished dead last. The second most neglected theme was teaching students a Christian view of time (e.g., Sabbath rest, thanksgiving, and celebration)—a theme that also relates to stewardship of the body. Overall, we found stewardship of the body woefully neglected.
This disregard also came out in our examination of other topics. Student affairs leaders noted that discussions about alcohol and sex were missing on their campuses. For example, over half of the student affairs leaders indicated their campus lacked a resource with regard to sex education. They also indicated they needed to provide education about these topics as the following quotes from qualitative interviews indicated:
- “[We need] more training and more conversations about sexuality in our campus community and with other student affairs professionals.”
- “We don’t talk about it enough.”
- “The conversation is lacking.”
- “I think that we are lacking the courage to have a real conversation about sexuality issues and how they are impacting our students.”
- “[We need] more time and space to discuss these topics.”
- “It’s not addressed in large-scale ways, so it feels at times like it’s a ‘secret group’ or issue that can’t be discussed publicly. I think we would benefit from bringing it into the mainstream conversation more regularly.”
Even when we found sex education, it did not give attention to how Christ can or should animate sex education, as one student affairs leader complained regarding sexuality: “Our campus educates us on how to handle things from a professional standpoint but not a spiritual one.” Another student affairs leader wrote, regarding their campus’s needs, that they need “everything. We don’t really have any resources provided to us on campus.”
This problem is backed up by the research findings from one of the coauthors of that study, Britney Graber, who found via her Ph.D. dissertation interviews with eighty-eight Christian Title IX directors that not one of their campuses had formal Christian sex education through the curriculum or a significant cocurricular sex-education program.2
We found this neglect of stewardship of the body remarkable. After all, the misuse of the body is what makes major headlines today, whether it be regarding the current mental health crisis on campuses, sexual assault, sleep problems, binge drinking and all the behavior that goes with it, obesity, sexual identity confusion, or other student-related crises. Furthermore, recent studies have found important connections between poor mental health and poor physical health. Much of student life is spent seeking to deal with the effects of these problems. What we need to do is set forth a positive Christian vision for students of what it looks like to properly steward their bodies for God and sacrifice their bodies to God.
Some secular educational leaders and their respective campuses have already begun to recognize this general need. For example, in 2019, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported about Michelle Lampl’s new course, Health 100. An anthropology professor at Emory University, Lampl became concerned about students’ health, even declaring that the health of late adolescents “is a national emergency.”3 Thus, Lampl designed a required course for students that is basically about what it means to be an excellent steward of your body, or as the Chronicle described it, it “aims to get students to make healthier choices to improve their well-being, including diet and mental health.”4 Unfortunately, I have not found a Christian version of this course on Christian college campuses. For example, my own Christian university merely requires a random lifetime fitness class and makes no effort to offer a theological vision of bodily stewardship —something we know that college students lack.
Our interviews also brought this need to the forefront. Numerous student affairs leaders identified stewardship of the body as a neglected theme. In fact, one leader noted this absence and observed that what her students needed was “a clearly articulated sexual ethic that’s a high level.” She then went on to inspire the unique theme for a book we decided to produce on this subject by noting, “I actually do like stewardship of the body, because I think it relates to women struggling with body image, I think it relates to pornography, I think it relates to sexual addictions. I think it relates to relationships. I think that we could build on that. If I could wave a magic wand and say, ‘Let’s build on that,’ and that’s sort of how we talk about this, other things flow from that, that would be great.”
To address this need, the Association for Christian Student Affairs recently commissioned me, along with my co-editor Austin Smith, to put together an edited volume addressing the important theological theme, Stewarding Our Bodies. It was just released today. This book is meant for three audiences in particular. First, we are writing for current Christian student affairs professionals throughout higher education. This audience includes both those working in Christian institutions and those in pluralistic institutions. Second, we are writing for students who will be involved in the world of student affairs, such as resident assistants or leaders of student groups. Third, the book could be a resource for the missing required class our Christian institutions need to offer all of our students in their first year of college—Stewarding Your Body.
This new book is organized into two parts. Part 1 focuses on a Christian vision rooted in what has traditionally been called the “doctrine of creation.” It centers on the positive view of the body that results from this foundation as well as the positive views of food, drink, rest, play, and sex that extend from it. Part 2 discusses the journey “From Fall to Redemption.” It describes the ways that the Fall corrupts the stewardship of our body—which includes our bodily thinking, affections, and behavior—and how Christians understand the redemption of the body in areas such as clothing, social media, mental health, alcohol abuse, and sexual desires.
The authors of the chapters include experts from a wide range of disciplines and institutions including Julia D. Hejduk and myself on “The Body in the Biblical Narrative,” Lisa Graham McMinn, “Savoring and Stewarding Food,” Lisa Igram, “Stewarding Our Limitations: Receiving God’s Gift of Sleep,” Justin Whitmel Early, “Sabbath Taking,” Andrew Borror, “Attuning and Attending: Exercise and the Body,” Jonathan Grant, “Sex: A Positive Vision,” Robert Corolo, “Fashion: Clothing Collegians in Christ,” Felicia Wu Song, “Your Body and Your Mind: Social Media,” Stephen T. Beers and Lea D. Hart, “Beyond Anxiousness,” Connie Hort, “Depression,” Steve Conn, “Mental Health and Spiritual Disciplines, “John D. Foubert, “Sex with a Person’s Mediated Body: Pornography,” and Mark A. Yarhouse, Steph P. Stratton, and Janet B. Dean, “Stewarding Diverse Sexual and Gender Identities.”
We hope that this volume can provide a starting point for the discussion and transformation of how Christians—particularly those in the college setting, whether faculty, staff, or students—understand and practice what it means to steward the body. After all, Genesis 1 starts by giving us the mandate to steward creation—that includes our bodies that we are to offer to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1).
Editor’s Note: This blog is adapted from the introduction to our new edited volume: Perry L. Glanzer and Austin Smith, eds., Stewardship our Bodies: A Vision for Christian Student Affairs (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2023). Used by permission.
- Perry L. Glanzer et al., Christ-Enlivened Student Affairs: A Guide to Christian Thinking and Practice in the Field (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2020).
- Britney N. Graber, “Incompatible? How Christian Faith Informs Title IX Policy and Practice” (PhD diss., Baylor University, 2021).
- Vimal Patel, “Why Colleges Are Keeping a Closer Eye on Their Students’ Lives,” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 18, 2019, https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/Trend19-InLoco-Main?cid=wcontentgrid_2Trends.