Christian Fitness Coach Gets Grilled on Physical Culture


Last month, I received an email from a Pastor named Craig Rogers. He introduced himself and mentioned that he was writing a research paper on linking one’s calling (i.e. vocation) to benefit creation. Or, said another way, how to integrate your faith with your work.

I had no idea why he was contacting me until he said that he really liked my old article on physical culture: Physical Culture: it’s more than just bodybuilding, muscles, and old-time strongmen training culture.

I thought, “Yikes! I’m pretty sure I wrote that one back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.” And sure enough, that was one of my earliest articles when I first started this blog as a complete newbie writer. But apparently, Craig liked it enough to reach out to me.

He started by asking me if I considered myself a “physical culturist.” After I thought about it for a minute (because nobody’s ever asked me that before, and I don’t usually go by the title “physical culturist”), I said, yes. I guess I’m a physical culturist now that you mention it.

Then Craig asked me, “How would you describe your faith in one word?” I said, Christian.

Finally, he asked if I’d be willing to do an interview? And I said, sure!

So, he sent me some questions, and now that his research paper on “Physical Culture, Its Practitioners, and the Christian” is complete, Craig has graciously allowed me to post some of my responses here.

CRAIG: How would you define a Physical Culturist?

JOHN: Some have proposed that physical culturists are those who follow in the footsteps of old-time strongmen or who pursue a certain type of balanced, functional fitness, among other things. But I think the definition is much more broad.

At its most basic level, a physical culturist is someone who cultivates their physical nature for some greater purpose, or helps others do the same.

For many people, that greater purpose is simply to live in accordance with nature to optimize their health, fitness, and quality of life through physical training, diet, and other lifestyle habits with the ultimate goal of growing physically, mentally, and spiritually. This can take many forms and involve many different activities such as weightlifting, yoga, running, martial arts, dance, and the many forms of outdoor recreation, just to name a few.

But on a much deeper level, physical culturists often share many unique qualities:

a) They have a mindset for growth, both personally and collectively.

b) They are committed to this way of life for something bigger than themselves. That’s why sayings like “fit to serve” and “be strong to be useful” are so common in the fitness community.

c) They want to be good stewards of not just their body’s, but also their time, energy, and talents – to “be all they can be” and make the most out of life.

d) They use physical training and the resulting process of transformation as a catalyst and blueprint for lifestyle transformation.

e) They usually take a special interest in the care and development of their community and the world at large. Most physical culturists aren’t just looking out for themselves, but for others, too, and the world as a whole. This is why so many physical culturists are eager to “pay it forward” and enthusiastically help others discover and embrace this way of life. Furthermore, they pay attention to how their personal choices impact their tribe, their community, and the environment.

This isn’t an exhaustive or an exclusive list, and each physical culturist will embody these qualities in a different way. And perhaps for some, none of them at all.

So, at its very core, a physical culturist is someone who is engaged in physical culture in some way. This person could be an athlete, coach, teacher, trainer, author, or any other number of things. They could be a mere practitioner of or an advocate for this way of life. Regardless, they are someone who cultivates their physicality for a greater purpose.

Of course how this actually looks on a day to day basis can vary tremendously from person to person. And if you asked ten different people this same question, you’d likely get ten very different answers. It’s just not that often that you hear someone identify themselves as a physical culturist – even if that’s exactly what they are. It’s just an uncommon term that is rarely used outside of a few select groups in the fitness and strength training communities. And even then, there isn’t a universally accepted definition.

Regardless, you can’t put physical culture in a box. And so, it means different things to different people. So, please take my definition with a grain of salt.

CRAIG: How does a Physical Culturist differ from a Bodybuilder, a Personal Trainer, and a Physical Education teacher?

JOHN: I see a physical culturist as an identity based on how you live moreso than what you do.

You see, a physical culturist is a much more broad identity than the others mentioned, and yet, it can encompass each of them. For instance, all bodybuilders can be physical culturists, but not all physical culturists are bodybuilders.

So, any athlete or health and fitness professional could be a physical culturist, whether you’re a bodybuilder, personal trainer, or PE coach. And each one of these specialties focuses on one distinct aspect of physical culture, which is a very broad and diverse world.

CRAIG: What difference does being a Christian make relative to this vocation?

JOHN: It makes a world of difference, and not just for this vocation, but every other job, career, or calling one could have because being a Christian changes everything about your life – your world-view, values, priorities, and day-to-day tasks, etc.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. We do that by having a relationship with Him, communicating with Him, reading His Word, and obeying his commandments, among many other things.

Christians are also commanded to love our neighbors and to take care of this world. So, the physical culturist has an opportunity to honor and please God with his work if they are using it to love/help/serve others and benefit God’s creation. Those are two practical ways we can love God, and being a physical culturist gives one the opportunity to do both on a regular basis. And for many Christian PCs, I suspect that this is at least one of the underlying purposes behind what they do. It’s one of their “reasons why.”

Now, the Bible teaches that physical training profits us a little bit (i.e. Earthly benefits), but that there are much more important things to focus on in life. In a similar vein, Jesus was a carpenter, which is a profession that serves Earthly needs, not all that unlike the Earthly needs of health and fitness. Of course, Jesus had much more important work to do, too.

So, while Christian PCs may be intent on doing their work as unto the Lord and caring for God’s creation, among other things, they should also recognize that there’s something much more important at stake.

Regardless, I think that every Christian physical culturist is part of the “body” (i.e. the church) that is working with God to benefit His creation in one way or another (i.e. caring for the health and fitness of human beings), whether intentionally or not, or for the glory of God or not.

This means that we are here, in part, to serve God by serving others (e.g. loving our neighbors). In other words, it’s not all about us. This is an idea that stands in stark contrast with many of the messages we encounter in the health and fitness industry, which tend to be associated with individualism, especially here in the USA.

Final Words

So, that’s a good chunk of what I sent back to Craig. I know that’s not the usual fare here on the blog, but I thought I’d put that out there for those who are interested in this kind of thing.

Note: You can read the whole 6-part series of Craig’s paper on the New Salem Baptist Church’s blog. However, because of the way that their website is programmed, I can’t setup a direct link to the posts. So, you’ll have to look for the posts appearing between September 4-12th 2015, and you’ll probably have to click back through the archives to find them.


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One Response

  1. Very eye-opening way of looking at life. Thanks for sharing.

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