WWJE: What Would Jesus Eat?

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Why These Food Trends? Why Right Now?

Each generation has unique idols, assumptions and fixations. This leads me to ask two questions of every cultural movement: Why this? Why now? I found myself asking these questions again when I surveyed the book sections in one of America’s largest brick-and-mortar bookstores. Immediately adjacent to the bestsellers, as if to make a statement by juxtaposition alone, were the books on food, health and dieting. The section had grown since my last visit, sprawling in both directions like a horizontal tower of Babel. So, why this? Why now?

Not long after, I stumbled upon an article in The Atlantic on how diet culture, historically and currently, has all the marks of an enterprise aimed (subconsciously) at dealing with the fear of death.[1] The key word is subconsciously—not as Freud meant, but as Jesus meant when he said that evil arises from the heart (Mark 7:21).

Moreover, food is linked with the shame that underlies our national epidemic of body-image issues. A recent study found that almost 75% of women between the ages of 25 and 45 report behaviors and thoughts consistent with eating disorders.[2] On top of all this, there is no shortage of blog articles to help you feel guilty for how your dietary habits are “destroying the earth.”

Certainly every generation has its share of dietary fads and food trends, from the grapefruit diet to the Atkins diet, from macrobiotics to the bizarrely religious origins of corn flakes. When I talk with older saints that weathered the storms of yesteryear, however, they speak in unison about this cultural moment: the frequency and intensity of the focus on food today far surpasses the culinary concerns of the past. It would seem that social media, plus the Internet, plus blog culture, plus fitness magazines, plus hypersexual entertainment, plus restaurant trends, plus alternative health movements minus a robustly biblical view of food is a powerful cocktail that’s polluting the hearts of millions.

Sin has turned mealtimes into occasions for fear, shame and guilt.

Dining with the Devil

The reality is that God designed food to give us daily occasions for gratitude, delight and fellowship, but sin has turned mealtimes into occasions for fear, shame and guilt. This is why people are anxious about “toxins” in their diet (fear), the fattening effects of their favorite foods (shame), and the likelihood that their coffee beans were picked by someone in a third-world country (guilt). Christians know that fear, shame and guilt are the weapons of the enemy, but we sometimes forget that he masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). We forget that his lies have the ring of truth, presenting themselves to us as common-sense slogans:

“Jesus ate organic (and you should too).”
“If you eat that, you will die.”
“Eating animals is murder.”
“This food causes cancer.”
“Processed food is not from God.”
“Don’t you know what’s in that?”
“This food will make you fat.”
“That’s not real food.”
“I would never serve that to my kids.”
“I used to eat differently, before I knew better.”

The church ought to have some immunity to this way of thinking, but the number of “Christian” books prescribing What Jesus Ate® seems to suggest otherwise.[3] To make matters worse, when the verses of the Bible are severed from the gospel of grace, they become like gasoline on the self-righteous fires of hell (Matthew 23:15). It is telling that both Christian and secular diets and food trends gravitate toward religiously legalistic language: pure foods, clean eating, whole foods, healthful diets, real foods, living well. They sound like the Pharisees preaching a gastronomic gospel: “Eat this way and you will be pure, clean, whole, acceptable and healed (saved) to live an abundant life.”

God cares more about how you eat than what you eat.

How You Eat, Not What You Eat

Regardless of how we got so far off track, there’s only one way to get back on the path of life and joy. We must (re)learn that God cares more about how you eat than what you eat. We know this because God tells us plainly:

“Eat whatever is set before you.” (Luke 10:8)

“Eat anything sold in the market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it’… Eat whatever is put before you.” (1 Corinthians 10:25-27)

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)

“Jesus declared all foods clean.” (Mark 7:19)

“Everything God created is good, and no [food] is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” (1 Timothy 4:4)

Note that Jesus told his disciples to “eat whatever is set before you” while the Old Covenant dietary laws were still in effect. How much more should his words apply after he declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19)? Also note that just because you are free to eat a Twinkie doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to eat one after every meal. All foods are morally acceptable, but not all foods are nutritionally equal (1 Corinthians 6:12). Finally, note that God wants you to eat with gratitude toward him and with love toward others. How you eat matters more than what you eat.

Eating with Gratitude and Love

All this means that if you are the sort of person inclined to grow your own heirloom tomatoes, pull coconut oil, make your own kombucha or buy organic from the farmer’s market, God calls you to give thanks to him and to love your neighbor by serving them something that tastes like grace—not something that tastes like the second coming of the Pharisees’ pure-foods program. And if you are the sort of person who eats potted meat on white bread, downs Vienna sausages straight from the jar, frequents McDonald’s and gulps high fructose corn syrup by the bottle, God calls you to give thanks to him and to love your neighbor by eating that kale they serve you.

The one thing that no one may do is make self-righteous judgments—the very opposite of gratitude toward God and love toward others (Romans 14:10-13). As God says,

Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died…. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 14:15, 17)

According to Scripture, therefore, the answer to “What Would Jesus Eat?” is simple: Jesus would not reject anything (1 Timothy 4:4), whether quinoa or cake, kefir or Kool-Aid, cauliflower rice or canned corn. No food is verboten on God’s table. The world is his restaurant, the menu is massive and the little bottles on every table are full of righteousness, peace and joy (not guilt, fear and shame). It is God’s special sauce, and it goes on everything.[4]

[1] Michelle Allison, “Eating Toward Immortality,” The Atlantic.com. February 7, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/02/eating-toward-immortality/515658/. Accessed April 12, 2017.

[2] Additionally, 67% of women are actively trying to lose weight, 39% say concerns about food interfere with their happiness, 37% regularly skip meals to lose weight, and 26% cut out entire food groups from their diet. Cf. “Survey Finds Disordered Eating Behavior among Three out of Four American Women,” http://www.med.unc.edu/www/newsarchive/2008/april/survey-finds-disordered-eating-behaviors-among-three-out-of-four-american-women. April 22, 2008. Accessed April 12, 2017.

[3] E.g., The Jesus Diet, another The Jesus Diet (same title, different book), The Food and Feasts of Jesus: The Original Mediterranean Diet, Cooking with the Bible: Recipes for Biblical Meals,
Eating the Bible: Over 50 Delicious Recipes to Feed Your Body and Nourish Your Soul, What the Bible Says about Healthy Living, Miracle Food Cures from the Bible, The Good Book Cookbook, None of These Diseases: The Bible’s Health Secrets for the 21st Century, What Would Jesus Eat?: The Ultimate Program for Eating Well, Feeling Great, and Living Longer, and The What Would Jesus Eat Cook Book. And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of the countless Christian blogs that have added their voices to the clean-eating chorus.

[4] This metaphor has been adapted from “God’s Bistro” by Douglas Wilson, Blog & Mablog, February 4, 2014. https://dougwils.com/s7-engaging-the-culture/gods-bistro.html. Accessed April 12, 2017.

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Doug Ponder

Doug Ponder (M.Div., Th.M. Southeastern Seminary) is the Teaching Pastor at Remnant Church in Richmond, VA. He also serves as Dean of Faculty and Professor of Biblical Studies at Grimké Seminary. He and his wife, Jessica, have four sons.

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