It is my privilege to introduce Peter Bringe and his marvelous book, The Christian Philosophy of Food, in a special interview.
Now it is time for me to present to you my readers, the first part of a multiple part interview I have had the honor of conducting with Peter, long distance.
Enjoy, and we welcome your feedback!
There were a couple things that motivated me, mainly two.
First, considering the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) I have been blessed with a heritage concerning food that others don’t have, and I feel a duty to use it. My father has worked with food ever since high school and now has worked as a PhD food scientist for over twenty years. Not only that, but he is a mature Christian that is constantly considering how the Bible influences his work. So throughout my growing up I have been taught (usually around the dinner table) about food--scientifically, aesthetically, theologically, etc.-- from a Christian perspective, and the amazing blessing it is from God.
Second, there is a great interest and confusion concerning food in the present day. Prior to now, people have generally trusted the centralized systems that have produced our food. But now there is an increasing distrust of almost everything established and a move towards decentralization. This is a blessing as we have the freedom to do great things, but it is also can be curse as we have the freedom to do bad and detrimental things. Almost wherever we go, once folks realize that my dad is a Christian food scientist they usually have a bunch of questions ready. People are searching for answers, and those answers are to be found in the Bible. While I don’t have all the answers, I hope that this book can be a good start to building a biblical foundation for food in our day.
2. You discuss four key concepts in the first chapter of your book (food as being part of culture; food as being a complex subject, but worthy of our study; food as something worth our time and efforts; and food as being part of God's creation). Could you quickly cover those four concepts for our readers?
Basically, food--and other parts of culture such as music, clothing, etc.--is a controversial topic because it is the outcome of our daily choices, which are determined by our beliefs. Our faith and what we do is very connected (James 2:14-26). What we view as important and what we think is shown by what we do. This is even more true when it is something, like food, that we are making decisions about multiple times a day. It is also shows who we are friends with, who we spend time with, and whose opinions we value. And it works the other way as well. Not only do we make food, but food makes us. It physically builds us up, and influences how we feel and how we plan our day. It is firmly part of our life and personality and ought to be studied. And it is a complex subject. Regrettably, many people tend to emphasize only one aspect, but we should realize the different but complementary aspects of it being healthful, beautiful and tasty, relational, and a product of work. A main purpose of my book is to tie together these related aspects of food. And whenever dealing with food we ought to realize it is a gift of God. If we don’t, we will get prideful and destroy this amazingly complex and enjoyable gift. Will will either loose the wonder of its design and worship man’s ability, or we will worship nature and disobey God’s command to take dominion over creation.
3. In Chapter two you discuss the importance of treating our bodies as God's temple. Why do you think it is that so many Christians seem to carelessly disregard this important piece of the Christian Worldview?
I think many people don’t value the physical world quite enough. While it is true that we will die, and our treasure is in heaven, we are here for a purpose. The Bible is not gnostic (believing that the spiritual is good and the physical is bad and dispensable), but puts real significance on the things we do here in the physical and historic realms. Since the pietism and revivalism in the 1800s, saving your individual soul has been put as the central concern, and the spiritual and emotional have been emphasized. Less emphasis has been placed on bringing God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). As Christians we should not draw a heavy separation between soul and body, but should recognize the connections between the two, and the importance of the whole person. In a real practical way, if you want to get anything done here on earth you should look out for your health.
I should point out that I have met quite a few Christians that do want to be healthy, and that recognize that the Bible wants them to look out for physical welfare. But often they will stop listening to the Bible at that point in any meaningful way and look to their favorite nutritionist or diet plan for guidance (which is a mistake).
4. You also discuss in Chapter two, Plant foods, Clean and Unclean foods and how the regulatory laws were put in place for the benefit of the children of Israel in regards to a holy and blameless lifestyle. It was a help not a hindrance in other words.
Yes, while I believe that the purpose of the clean/unclean food laws was ceremonial, I do believe that they were good for the Israelites physically as well. Think of it like the washing of hands. In the Old Testament there is the requirement for the priests to wash their hands and feet before offering sacrifices (Ex. 30:17-21). This was part of the ceremonial cleansing of the sacrificial system of Israel. This is not required today, but it is still beneficial to wash our hands. It still makes the hands clean in a physical sense.
In a similar way there was a ceremonial defilement as well as a physical defilement in eating the unclean foods. Thus, the ancient Israelites were blessed doubly when they kept God’s law, and were not made unclean ceremonially or physically. God’s law in general is never a hindrance in a bad sense, but is a great help and blessing. Now that Christ has come this particular law doesn’t apply as a law of defilement (Mark 7:19, Acts 10-11). But while we are allowed to eat bears, vultures, and pigs, we should prefer the clean animals and, especially, plant foods (Gen. 1:29, Prov. 23:20, Dan. 10:3) above them in priority from a physical standpoint.