It is my privilege to bring the second part of my interview with Peter Bringe about his marvelous book, The Christian Philosophy of Food. I apologize about it taking this long to post. Blogging hasn't been one of my top priorities lately. :P
1. I really enjoyed your discussion on food and culture, and the various ways we can use food to remember, to mourn, to worship, to rejoice. What are some historical / biblical examples of these ways of using food?
There are very many examples in the Bible and history, this being the way food is used constantly throughout life. In the Bible we have several examples of rejoicing with food, like the Feast of Booths (Deut. 16:15), the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:22-24), and one of my favorites, the feast of the tithe (Deut. 14:22-27), where every year the Israelites would take a tithe of their produce and feast on it, “...and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.” (Deut. 14:26) You also have food used as memorials (Exod. 12:14), hospitality and community (Gen. 18:1-21), and the lack of food used in fasting (Joel 1:14). In history we have seen similar uses. Whatever is important to a people tends to be commemorated by food and other cultural expressions. When we eat our American Thanksgiving meal we are showing gratefulness for our godly heritage, our blessings in recent years, as well as a lingering valuing of family that remains in our culture. When the Norwegian-Americans eat their lutefisk dinners they are remembering the hard times their ancestors had coming to this land when that had to eat that stuff to survive (Lutefisk is basically cod soaked in lye). A similar thing can be said of the Scots when they eat haggis, remembering and identifying themselves with their sturdy and rustic ancestors that survived on sheep innards. A great deal more could be said about this, about how our holidays and structure of times and meals say a great deal about who we are, but this is an interview, not another book. :)
2. You quote Calvin on fasting, and I really liked what he said about what fasting does for the church and the people who make up the church: "The second end is common to both, for this preparation for prayer is requisite for the whole church, as well as for each individual member. The same thing may be said of the third. For it sometimes happens that God smites a nation with war or pestilence, or some kind of calamity. In this common chastisement it behooves the whole people to plead guilty, and confess their guilt..." Do you think Christians have forgotten the importance of fasting and how good it is for us spiritually? Do you think that perhaps one of the reasons behind the lack or seeming lack of Christians fasting, is the association with Roman Catholicism?
Yes, I think fasting has been in some measure become a lost art because of a reaction against the asceticism of Rome. The Bible does recognize that fasting can be abused (i.e. Matt. 6:16-18, Col. 2:18-23), but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be used properly. I like how Calvin explained it, “The thing, indeed, is properly a feeling of the mind. But when the mind is affected as it ought, it cannot but give vent to itself in external manifestation...” While it is important that we don’t become too focused on the external, that isn’t the problem of many Christian when it comes to fasting. They just want their food and want it now. I know that it is hard to fast, but it is rewarding when done right, helping to clear the mind, to focus, to rest, etc...
3. You spend a good section on fasting speaking about the self-control factor. I know in my own life that I struggle with self-control, and I think a lot of people do, thank you for taking time to remind us of this important factor in Christianity.
This part I’m preaching especially to myself, as self-control, especially in snacking, can be very difficult to master. But as Christians we should be the most self-controlled of all people.
4. I love what you had to say about food and community. I have always been blessed with family meals, at least twice a day, usually three times daily. Don't you think it is time for the church to call families to focus on communing together, eating healthy and engaging in Christian hospitality?
Certainly. Hospitality isn’t just a good idea, it’s an imperative from our loving God. “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9). Culture, especially food, is meant to be enjoyed with other people. Culture identifies, and we find our identity within the context of our relationships (with God and man). Culture unifies, and we end up unifying with whom (or what) ever we do stuff with. It is not good that man be alone in his work (Gen. 1:27-30, 2:15-23). While you can still do things in private and we do have individual relationships with God, we are also very often viewed in Scripture as the corporate bodies of family, church, and community. We aren’t isolated souls, and we shouldn’t act that way. Throughout Scripture, rejoicing, fasting, etc... (i.e. culture) are often done as households, communities, and congregations (Deut. 12:7,12,18, 14:26, 16:11,14, 26:11; Ezra 8:21; Ps. 9:14, 14:7, 22:25, 40:9-10; Eccl. 9:9; Joel 1:14; Luke 15:25; etc...).
5. I loved your thoughts about Communion. Can you explain to our readers what you said in that section?
When we see food generally memorializing and unifying, it’s not a surprise that Jesus uses bread and wine in the sacrament of Communion. While we have unity with our family and community through food that remembers past hardships and victories of our common forefathers, here in a special and spiritual way our covenantal unity with Christ and His people is symbolized and sealed with food that remembers Christ’s death and victory.
6. You talk about gratitude, and how we are to be flexible about partaking of food that is not necessarily something we'd eat on a regular basis, but as Paul says we need to partake of whatever we eat, with thankfulness. Can you speak to that?
Food is a controversial subject, and not just in our time. The are several passages of Scripture dedicated to keeping the peace between brother who differ on food. For example, “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats” (Rom. 14:20); and, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it” (Proverbs 15:17). While we ought to work hard for good food as those working for the Lord, we have to keep our goal (to love God and love others) in sight or this good work can become selfish pride. Food is a loving gift of God for our enjoyment to give Him glory, and we rebel against this purpose when we use this gift for arguments and strife. How often do we take this gift that we ought to be thankful for and become selfish. This could be the most important lesson to take away from the Bible concerning food: to be thankful to God and praise Him for the wonderful food He provides, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Even if He provides a hot dog. Let us use food to build love and community, not to destroy it.
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:1–5)
Thank you so much Peter! You can order his book here.