Posted on August 24th, by Doug Ponder in Culture, Life. 1 Comment


Written by on August 24, 2014

Give Us This Day Our Daily Gluten

I hate corn dogs, but I believe God blesses them—in all of their trans-fatty, sodium-nitrate-y, high-fructose-corn-syrupy glory.

I believe God blesses corn dogs, because God tells us that he does:

“Everything God created is good, and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” (1 Tim. 4:4)
“Do not call anything impure what God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)
“Jesus declared all foods clean.” (Mark 7:20)

“All foods” includes those with the aforementioned trans fat, sodium nitrate, and high fructose corn syrup, as well as non-organic foods, gluten, refined sugars, soy derivatives, pasteurized milk, corn-fed beef, genetic modified organisms (GMOs), and foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce.

God says those foods are OK to eat, so long as you enjoy them with gratitude as gifts from him.

That doesn’t mean you can binge on Nutella all day, every day, without consequence. God’s world is one of cause and effect, which is why Nutella is not part of any weight loss plan that I know of. (If you do know of one, please tell me about it.)

What God is saying, though, is that you are not sinning when you appreciate any foods as gifts from him. After all, the entire world is God’s gift, and he filled it with more glory than we’ll ever discover. He gave us the natural glories of apple trees, blackberry bushes, and cool mountain streams. But God also pre-loaded creation with the kind of glories that must be cultivated to be enjoyed: well-made wines (Isa. 25:6), wheat bread (Ex. 29:2), fatty steaks (Luke 15:22), raisin cakes (Song 2:5), Diet Coke, Taco Bell fourthmeals, and, yes, even deep-fried corn dogs.

“No food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”

But that is not the message preached by many people today, even many Christians (who should know better). God gave food to provide us with daily occasions for gratitude, joy, and fellowship, but many have turned food into daily opportunities for fear, shame, and guilt. This is why people constantly worry about the level of “toxins” in their bodies (fear), the fattening effects of their favorite food (shame), and the likelihood that their coffee beans were picked by someone from a third world country (guilt).

What’s worse is that many Christians want to combine that fear, shame, and guilt into one nasty soup and force feed serve it to others in the name of Jesus.

But Jesus doesn’t work like that. He rebuked the Pharisees and their legalistic pure foods movement, declaring all foods clean. Jesus’ words are still true, and they still apply in much the same way.

Why Write an Article about Food?

Each generation has their own idols, their own pitfalls, and their own ungodly assumptions and fears. For example, if a woman breastfed her baby in the 1950s, her friends thought of her as savage-like. They wondered, “Why didn’t she do the civilized thing and give her baby the scientific formula from a can?” But today, it’s the woman who uses formula who gets the cold shoulder and a dose of gossip behind her back. “Doesn’t she know that babies need milk, not beans? She’s a terrible mother.”

God has something to say to his people concerning the errors of both generations: “Don’t call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread” (Isa. 8:12).

Thus the need for this article has never been greater, because the present generation is more obsessed with food and more afraid of food than ever before. We’re afraid of “toxins,” of carbs, of fat, of sugar, of artificial sweeteners, of gluten, of milk, of caffeine, etc. All of this fear has materialized in a meteoric rise in self-diagnosed allergies and sensitivities of all kinds. (Note: I’m not talking about real allergies, the kinds that doctors can diagnose and which are well-documented in medical journals. People with real allergies and disorders, like Celiac Disease, absolutely should avoid the foods that their bodies reject.)

Meanwhile, the latest scientific research is suggesting that most food sensitivities don’t actually exist (read here, here, here, here, and here). Yet millions of people have been scared into buying expensive alternative foods because of ungodly fear mongering. For example, since just last year there has been a 50% increase (!) in the number of people who say they want to avoid gluten in their diets, despite the fact that gluten is a naturally occurring protein that is perfectly healthy for over 99% of the world’s population.

How does this happen? What’s going on? It’s an unfounded fear. It’s mass hysteria. It’s a conspiracy of biblical portions based on ungodly ideas about food. And it’s precisely the sort of thing that God tells his people to ignore and get back to eating with thanksgiving—for God does not deal in the currencies of fear, shame, and guilt.

So, for everyone who feels broken, confused, or bullied about their food choices, let this article bring you tidings of great joy about all the foods you can eat with gratitude to God. But for everyone who is an ongoing source of food-based fear, shame, and guilt, let this article be a warning and a call to repentance.If your life is spent feeding everyone something other than Jesus, then you are among those disciples who are in the process of departing from him.

God Is the Real Food Expert

Because God is the real food expert, you need not respect the self-appointed Apostles of the Appetite. Apostles of the Appetite fancy themselves experts of the human diet. They act as the go-to authorities for all things food-related, despite the very real possibility that the only thing separating their “knowledge” from yours is a few blog articles, a couple of one-sided books, and a whole lot of pride. Thus you will know them by their confident proclamations about very complicated issues over which even the world’s leading scientists disagree.

Speaking of science, Christians do well to remember that some of “best scientific findings” today will one day look as stupid as alchemy, bloodletting, and the belief that unborn babies are just blobs of tissue. Our scientific knowledge, great though it may seem, is still limited, incomplete, and flawed in places we haven’t yet realized. That especially includes nutritional science, a relative latecomer to the game—hence the myriad of nutritional discrepancies: the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, the low fat diet, the grapefruit diet, the Mayo Clinic detox diet, the gluten-free diet, the organic foods diet, the ‘Daniel Diet’, the ‘Jesus Diet’, the Jenny Craig Diet, the Locavore diet, the Paleo diet, the raw foods diet, the dairy-free diet, the pescetarian diet, the vegan diet, the whole foods diet, the Weston Price diet, the Zone diet, the Intermittent Fasting diet, etc. Each of those sects have their own Apostles of the Appetite, and all of them stand ready to explain why the other groups are wrong!

None of this means we should reject real science, including real nutritional science. But real science involves actual evidence, years of testing, peer-reviewed journals, and lots of proof—not hunches, blog articles, anecdotal stories, unproven theories, or faddish trends that ebb and flow with the tide. So, I say three cheers for the sort of science undertaken with joy in the eyes, humility in the heart, and a healthy skepticism about their own findings. But beware anyone who talks as if their food knowledge came directly from God. God has only given us this dietary regulation: no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.

Jesus Is Better Than Food

The good news of Jesus is infinitely more exciting, more powerful, and more worthy of your time and energy and resources than any message about any diet or nutrition. That’s why you need not listen to the Esophageal Evangelists. Esophageal Evangelists are preachers of the ‘gospel’ of healthy eating. Their passion for the subject is greater than all else, as is evident by the amount of time and energy they devote to advancing their cause. Thus you will know them by their conversations, whether the constant sharing of articles on social media about their dietary practices or their continual attempts to convert others to their way of eating.

Esophageal Evangelists have an idolatry problem. They are foodolaters, and like all idolaters, they are blind to their plight. This is why they talk about their nutritional passions as merely “wanting to be good stewards of their health,” but they fail to see that being good stewards includes not being fanatical. (Winston Churchill said that fanatics are those who won’t change their minds and won’t change the subject.) Fanatics are many things, but they are not good stewards. They are actually poor stewards of their time, energy and resources, wasting them on lesser things instead of greater ones. It’s not that conversations about food do not matter at all, it’s just that conversations about Jesus matter about a million times more. Here’s why: no matter what you eat, it’s guaranteed that you will die someday. In fact, no matter how healthfully you eat, you are not guaranteed to live tomorrow. Furthermore, because all people will die someday, the people who spend inordinate amounts of time trying to squeeze a few more years out of their earthly existence set themselves in opposition to the wisdom Paul, who said, “The training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).

Worst of all, the amount of time, energy, and resources expended to spread the gospel of healthy eating insinuates that humanity’s greatest problems are nutritional. Esophageal Evangelists may verbally deny this, but their actions tell a different story. They talk more about food and nutrition than about anything else—including matters of much greater importance. In this way they strain out the gnat of unhealthy eating and swallow the camel of misguided priorities. So often this foodolatrous passion eclipses Jesus in their lives. When this happens, they forgo announcing the glories of Jesus in favor of announcing the glories of kombucha, the evils of gluten, and the imperative of conversion to their way of eating. Or as Jesus would say of them in our day, ‘They post and they tweet to win a single convert, and when they have succeeded, they make them twice the son of hell’ (Matt. 23:15).

Food is a wonderful gift from God, as is our health, and we should steward them well. But faithful stewardship involves talking more about Jesus than we do our eating habits. It means being more excited about the healing power of grace than the healing power of food, which can never forgive us or resurrect us. It means, in other words, rejecting the message of the Esophageal Evangelists.

Jesus Accepts You and Your Cheeseburger

Jesus loves you, accepts you, and approves of you entirely independent of whatever you put in your mouth. Therefore, you need not fear the moralistic laws of the Food Pharisees. Food Pharisees wrongly believe that God cares more about what goes into our stomachs than what comes out of our hearts—precisely the opposite of what Jesus says (Mark 7:18-23). With discipline and zeal they maintain their niche diet, filling themselves with organic quinoa and dangerous levels of self-righteousness. Thus you will know them by their holier-than-thou attitude, their insistence that theirs is the correct way to eat, their condescension toward those they deem “ignorant,” and their disdain for those who openly disagree with them.

Food Pharisees cannot see that God cares more about how we eat then what we eat. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:7). That is God’s way of saying—yet again, for apparently we need to hear it often—that he does not care very much about what we eat. God rather seems to care only that we not care very much. Or as one author puts it, “The world is God’s bistro, and the menu is enormous. The bottles in the middle of every table at God’s bistro are full of righteousness, peace, joy, and thanksgiving. It is a special sauce, and it goes on anything.” Even McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets.

Food Pharisees talk of “salvation” in terms of feeling better, getting healthy, or living well, and “all you have to do” is follow the law to the letter, eating only the foods that they prescribe. That is why they are always telling others about what they ought to eat or not eat. If you talk with Food Pharisees about certain foods they will mimic the legalists of old, saying, “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Col. 2:21). But Paul says this about such people: “These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human precepts and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:22-23).

Whether they realize it or not, Food Pharisees are also divisive to table fellowship. Jesus told his followers to “eat whatever is set before you” (Luke 10:8) so as not to offend your hosts. But Food Pharisees care more about their manmade rules, their “self-imposed worship” as Paul calls it, than they do about loving their neighbor. Thus they always bring their own food to parties and public outings, or they completely refrain from eating the food offered to them by their hosts (which is equally rude).

It should go without saying, but I’ll repeat it again to clear the air of unfounded objections: None of this applies to people with doctor-confirmed, life-threatening health allergies. I am only talking about people who care more about their self-imposed pure food kick than the hearts of their neighbors or their brothers and sisters in Christ, people who care more about routine and regimen than they do about joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.

Finally, Food Pharisees overlook the fact that Jesus did not come to lead a pure foods movement; he came instead to liberate people from those kinds of legalistic trappings. The gospel of Jesus, and his gracious promise of forgiveness and new life, is infinitely greater than the gospel of healthy eating and its offer of “salvation” that cannot last.

God Is Great. God Is Good. Let Us Thank Him for Our Food.

The world is God’s bistro, and its menu is unbelievably large. That means God’s people are free to eat gluten-free foods, but it also means they are free from the fear mongering of those who say everyone should eat gluten free (as just one example).

God is the real food expert. Our knowledge is limited and ever-changing, so we should always be humble and bank on what we know for sure instead of what we think we know. It may be organic, free-range chickens are the way of the future, or it may be that the future laughs at our organic whole foods movement. The one thing we know for sure is what God tells us: no food is to be rejected if received with thanksgiving. Therefore, Jesus says “eat whatever is set before you” with joy and gratitude.

Jesus is more wonderful, more exciting, and more important than health and nutrition. Our lives should reflect this truth in that our greatest amount of passion, time, energy, and resources should be spent in the service of Jesus, not nutritional evangelism. Of course, it’s not wrong for Christians to pursue nutritional science, but it is wrong to live as if humanity’s greatest needs are nutritional. No food can forgive us or resurrect the dead.

The gospel of Jesus tells us that we are loved, accepted, and approved in him, entirely independent of what we put in our mouths. Therefore God cares more about how we eat than what we eat. Do we eat with gratitude and joy? Or do we use food as an occasion for self-righteously judging others? How we eat demonstrates whether we truly believe that our diets do not make us holy or righteous or good, as only Jesus can.

No food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving! So go enjoy a corn dog in the name of Jesus. If you’re thankful to God for it, then he delights in your enjoyment of his gracious gifts.

Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.

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