The Fat is the Lord’s PDF Print E-mail
Written by Douglas Wilson   
Thursday, 17 September 2009 11:04

Anyone who has been in the evangelical Christian world for any length of time at all is aware of all the various food fads that come and go. Some of them have a peculiar Christian twist (“Bible” foods) while others are simply examples of Christians following hard after whatever food fads are current in the unbelieving world. In some respects this is just part of the background noise in American expressions of the faith, as we will see shortly. But in recent years, I have noticed an alarming trend: people who have been taught well and should know better getting caught up in this kind of faddish eating.

I began to write about food, and the response I received indicated that the problem was far greater than I had imagined. And so what I want to do here is establish a basic structure of texts from Scripture within which we should be doing our thinking about food (not to mention our cooking and eating). If we are simply considering different menu choices when we go out to eat together, the Pauline principle is plain: mind thine own business. But we are getting to the point where we are talking about imperialistic false doctrines concerning food, not to mention applications of those doctrines in the form of eating disorders. Many Christians have gotten into a pattern where they are wrecking their health, their marriages, and their careers. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). And bondage is the word for it.

And so here it is—a primer on biblical eating. The citation of many of these texts may certainly create other questions, which can be addressed later, but for now the point of citing many of them is to see the kind of mindset they exclude. For modern food faddists, almost all these passages present some kind of problem for their agenda, and this means that they must be explained away or simply ignored.

Man was created as an eating creature. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat” (Gen. 2:16). Not only was Adam invited to eat from any tree but one, but he was invited to eat freely. There was also the implication that various grains were available for food (Gen. 1:11–12). And it was good.

It is not surprising that since eating is so important to man’s identity as God’s image bearer, God set the test before us in the form of food. “And when the woman saw that the tree [was] good for food, and that it [was] pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make [one] wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6). It is striking that the three elements that made the forbidden fruit alluring are found in the apostle John’s rejection of worldliness: “For all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 Jn. 2:16). We were created to eat all the food in the world, and we fell by eating the one thing in the world that was withheld from us.

After we fell into sin, and violence grew great on the earth, God determined to judge all humanity in a great flood. In the aftermath of that flood, God explicitly added meat to the list of man’s available choices for dinner.

“And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth [upon] the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things” (Gen. 9:1-3).

In this passage, God is reiterating the cultural mandate, and that mandate was at this point expanded with regard to our choices for food. The Lord explicitly says that anything that moves is available for food—fowl, beast, or fish. They are all put on the same level as the green herb that had previously been given to mankind. It is interesting that though there was a distinction between clean and unclean animals as far as sacrifices were concerned, there did not appear to be any dietary restrictions. Noah knew the difference between clean and unclean animals before the flood (Gen. 7:2), and permission to eat meat of any kind did not come until after the flood. When that permission to eat came, no restrictions were placed on it. If it swims, walks, or flies, you may eat it. God’s approach to the question of fruit, herbs, and meat can only be described as liberal.

When the children of Israel were promised the land of Canaan as an inheritance, the same open-handedness on the part of God can be readily seen. Numerous times the land is described as one dripping with goodness, or, as the famous phrase has it, flowing with milk and honey. “Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, as thou swarest unto our fathers, a land that floweth with milk and honey” (Dt. 26:15). It is worth remembering that honey was really sweet and that the milk had fat in it. This was not a low-fat operation. God promised His people good things. “He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife: but he that putteth his trust in the LORD shall be made fat” (Prov. 28:25).

The same imagery comes out in the promise that God offers concerning the times of the New Covenant. “And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined” (Is. 25:6). God did not use foul things (feces, roadkill, etc.) in order to picture for us the loveliness of our salvation, and the greatness of forgiveness. If we start thinking and speaking about such foods as though they were foul, we are one step removed from slandering the gospel. “And the priest shall burn them upon the altar: it is the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat is the LORD’s” (Lev. 3:16).

The fact that God placed dietary restrictions on the Jews under the Mosaic code has been misunderstood by many. This had the same function that other parts of the holiness code did—to teach the people the importance of antithesis, the difference between this and that, between sacred and profane. This was not because of any inherent problems in the proscribed foods, but rather because the people needed training in bringing every aspect of their lives under the authority of God’s spoken word. And once the building was built, it was appropriate for the scaffolding to come down. Once the lesson was learned and the Messiah came, we were restored to the conditions that applied to Noah. All foods are open to us. All things are clean. This is taught to us in multiple places in the New Testament.

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man” (Matt. 15:11).

“Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh” (Col. 2:20–23).

“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:1–4).

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children” (Matt. 11:18–19).

“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17).

“And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice [spake] unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, [that] call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven” (Acts 10:10–16).

Sometimes stringing a group of passages together has the desired effect, and sometimes it does not. In case it did not, allow me to summarize the standards of the New Covenant on this important subject. A Christian cannot be defiled by what he eats, which means . . . we ought not to worry about defilement when we eat. The Christian is prohibited from acting like he is subject to worldly ordinances, among such we must include“do not taste.” Humanistic posturing has the appearance of wisdom, but it is of no value in the process of subduing the lusts of the body. Food phobias are a lust of the body. A weaker Christian limits himself to vegetables only, and stronger Christians ought not to hassle him over it. But if stronger Christians are not supposed to give weaker Christians a difficult time over their eating frailties, how much more must we refuse to allow the weaker Christians to dictate terms to everyone else? The apostle is clear—no fighting over food. It is appropriate to fight over whether or not we will allow fighting over the food, because that is the place where the apostle draws the line. The kingdom allows for saints on the ascetic end, like John the Baptist, and it allows for saints who go to banquets, like the Lord. The kingdom of God is not about food and drink. The apostle Peter was given a vision of all the unclean animals, and he was shown that they represented the inclusion of the Gentiles into the commonwealth of Israel. And what God was declaring clean in that vision (the Gentiles) was not represented by animals that remained as unclean as ever. When the first Gentile was lawfully baptized into the Church, BLTs and clam chowder became acceptable.

Now someone may want to object that all these passages were addressing the issue of the foods prohibited in the Mosaic code, and therefore have nothing to do with our modern issues of genetically modified organisms (GMOs or frankenfoods), factory farming, or putting MSG into the food to make it taste like something. This is a point that I not only grant, but want to insist on—because it actually makes the issue even more clear. If the arrival of the Christ was sufficient to set aside the prohibitions of certain foods that were explicitly prohibited by divine revelation, then how much more does the gospel exclude prohibitions that cannot be found in Scripture anywhere?

Of course, if someone wants to abstain from certain foods for reasons other than trying to achieve personal holiness, that is absolutely fine. James Jordan put it this way: “It is not a serious matter for a physician to advise abstaining from foods for medical reasons, based on human wisdom. It is, however a very serious thing when men advocate abstaining from foods for religious reasons” (James Jordan, Pig Out?, p. 8).

Going on a diet because your doctor doesn’t want you to have a heart attack tomorrow seems prudent and reasonable. That’s just good stewardship. If, when you walk up the stairs at your house, you have to sit down halfway up to take a breather, you might want to consider refraining from having second helpings for a while. It is crucial that we keep this distinction in mind. “The key to health is obedience and faith, not mechanical observance of health techniques. Valuable as exercise, good diet, and the like may be, they are not delineated in God’s revealed law” (James Jordan, Pig Out? p. 58).

But if the menu is wide open, and it certainly is, then that means that tofu and yogurt and all their cousins are also options for us. That is absolutely right. There is no more defilement in “eating healthy” than there is in stopping by McDonald’s. The only defilement possible is a defilement that comes out of the heart, and not what goes into the mouth. However, this does create a caution for those who are heavy into “eating healthy.” To say that one food over against another puts you closer to God is false religion, and that does defile. But it doesn’t defile by means of what is on your spoon. It defiles because of the words on the page in that guru health magic mango book that you have been reading. So if you are zealous for “healthy” food, the chances are good that you are more affected by this false teaching than you know.

Americans have a long tradition of thinking that we can deal with sin by means of false sacraments.

“Fringe groups in American Christianity have for almost two centuries advocated dietary and hygienic practices designed to curb sin, and this is part of the milieu in which the current discussion must take place. It seems reasonable to many Americans to assume that God intended to teach Israel about diet, because diet and health are part of the popular civil religion of America today, and because dietetic theology has been a strong current in American Christianity in the past. In the nineteenth century there were prominent liberal and sectarian theologians who believed that the sinfulness of man could be curbed through diet and hygiene. John Harvey Kellogg, a Seventh-Day Adventist, invented corn flakes as a meatless breakfast food designed to reduce the sexual drive. Control of ‘bestial sexual impulses’ was linked in the popular imagination, both sectarian and liberal, with a bland diet devoid of alcohol, coffee, tea, tobacco, condiments, and largely devoid of meat. Assumption of this diet would reduce what is today called libido, and this reduction of the ‘animal’ in man would be passed on to one’s children, who would grow up with less ‘original sin.’ Salvation through diet passed into the popular imagination through the writings of liberals like Horace Bushnell, sectarians like Kellogg and Charles Finney, and cultists like Mary Baker Eddy. As a result there is a pervasive orientation toward dietetic theology in American Christianity that colors our discussion of the Sinaitic dietary laws” (James Jordan, Pig Out? pp. 55–56)

And from a footnote on the same pages, less original sin “was the purpose of Graham flour, developed by Sylvester Graham, and still with us in Graham Crackers. The Graham diet was used at Charles Finney’s Oberlin College to protect students against ‘vile affections.’ The Bill Gothard Institute is strongly influenced by Finney’s writings, and it is possible that the dietary aspect of their program can be traced partially to Finney’s mediation of the Graham viewpoint.” Finney, to his credit, later in his life saw the snare that the Graham approach represented. Unfortunately, a lot of modern Christians have not.

There is much more to say about all of this, and there are many tangents and questions that might be pursued with profit. But at the foundation, at the root of all the problems, we should be able to detect a false doctrine of God. Ours is a lost generation, in the grip of a deep father hunger. Because we have not had healthy relationships with our human fathers, God, we naturally assume, is parsimonious. He is tight-fisted with His abundance. We slander Him in our hearts. If it tastes like gravel, it must be from God, so the thinking goes, and restaurants tout their “death by chocolate” concoctions as “decadent” or “sinful.” Something is desperately wrong here. God—not the devil—was the inventor of pleasure, sex, goodness, fermentation, and satisfaction. He was the designer of all our nerve endings and our taste buds and over a million tastes, and He gave man the ingenuity to be able to figure out how to combine all those tastes in ways that would create a trillion more. Where could we have possibly gotten the idea that He was stingy? An enemy has done this.

There, then, is the role of the amateur: to look the world back to grace. There, too, is the necessity of his work: His tribe must be in short supply; his job has gone begging. The world looks as if it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls. Indeed, the whole distinction between art and trash, between food and garbage, depends on the presence or absence of the loving eye (Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, p. 4).

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Last Updated on Saturday, 03 October 2009 00:27