Christians and Religious Food Laws (Bray)

 Genesis 9:1-17 is a major story and text in the history of redemption. In fact, it’s still very applicable to us today in our context.  While the detailed laws and regulations in the Mosaic covenant applied specifically to that nation then and there, the regulations in Genesis 9 are applicable even today since God’s words in Genesis 9 were post-flood echoes of creational ordinances.

Speaking of this, in Genesis 9:3-4 God gives these regulations: “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (NASB).  I appreciate how Gerald Bray discusses this in chapter 15 of “God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology.” After dealing with these verses in Genesis 9, he talks about the food laws in the Mosaic covenant. Then Bray writes,

The food laws of the Old Testament do not apply to Christians because the purpose for which they were given has come to an end. Ancient Israel was told to distinguish itself from the surrounding nations in many different ways, of which abstinence from certain kinds of food was only one. Some people have tried to find hygienic reasons for the prohibition of things like pork, but there is no evidence to suggest that this was God’s intention or that it corresponds to any scientific fact. There is no natural logic that determines what the Israelites could or could not eat; the rationale for the food laws was given by God, who wanted his people to understand that his holiness meant that they must be set apart from the rest of the world in every aspect of their lives.

The coming of Christ broke down those ancient barriers because he defined the principle of holiness in a new way. Material objects would no longer be used to determine or signify the sincerity of the people’s dedication to God, and so the food laws passed into history, although the apostles made provision for a transitional phase to ease the consciences of Jewish converts who had been brought up under the old system. For that reason, the church has always said that there is nothing wrong with observing the food laws, and it has been particularly tolerant of Jewish believers in this respect, but it has also insisted that such observance cannot be made a condition for church membership.

What is true of the Old Testament food laws is also true of any other form of diet. There may be good medical reasons for eating some things and not others, and Christians would be foolish to disregard the advice of those specially trained in the field, but that is a completely different matter. It is one of the curiosities of modern life that the word “sin” is often used in advertising particularly rich foods, as in “a sinful amount of chocolate cake,” but there is nothing sinful about the cake, or even about eating it. Overeating is clearly a bad idea, but to use the language of sin to describe it is wrong.

Christians are called by God to take care of themselves physically, because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Things likely to be harmful to the body should not be consumed, whatever they are. What our bodies can take will vary from one person to another, though excessive consumption of anything should be avoided. Physical fitness should be pursued as far as is reasonably possible as a means of subduing the body and of making us fit for the service of God, but it is not an end in itself and must never take the place of the service we owe to him. The worship of the body is just as idolatrous as the worship of any other created thing, and Christians must learn to keep it in its place along with everything else that God has given for us to enjoy.

 Gerald Bray, God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 286–287.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

 

 

The Limits of Science Concerning Human Nature (Moreland/Rae)

 Since I’m doing a sermon series on image and identity, I picked up Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey.  I’ve mentioned it here several times in the past month or two.  I also recently picked up Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics by J. P. Moreland and Scott Rae.  Body and Soul is a biblical and philosophical study of the human body and the human soul: what they are and how they relate.  It’s a rather difficult read, to be honest, since it is a philosophical look at these topics.  I’m learning some new things such as metaphysical distinctions relevant to anthropology, degreed and nondegreed property, mereology, and so on.

The main thesis of the book is that, in the authors’ view, human persons are not property-things, but substances.  They back up their thesis with Scripture and with logical arguments from philosophy.  The last three chapters are application chapters where the authors discuss beginning of life ethics and end of life ethics based on their biblical and philosophical view that humans are substances, not property-things.

One part I appreciated was where they discussed science’s input on human persons:

In our view, when it comes to addressing the nature of human persons, science is largely incompetent either to frame the correct questions or to provide answers.  The hard sciences are at their best when they describe how physical systems work, but they are largely incompetent when settling questions about the nature of consciousness, intentionality, personal identity and agency, and related matters. Recently, philosopher and scientific naturalist John Searle have argued that 15 years of focused on philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence and cognitive psychological models of consciousness have been a waste of time in a number of ways…

… We do not agree with everything Searle says here, but he is correct in claiming that various disciplines studying the nature of human persons have been mired in chaos and confusion for at least a half a century. In our view, the reason for this chaos has been the assumption that science is the best way to approach the relevant questions.

The authors go on to give some assertions that are very difficult, if not impossible, for hard sciences to explain (e.g. mental states, the human soul, thoughts, etc.).  I agree with Moreland and Rae in that science can do much to help our understanding of humans, but science has its limits.  Thankfully we have God’s Word, which not only tells us about him, it also tells us about ourselves, humans, made in the image of God, body and soul, male and female.  And Scripture gives us a teleological outlook: the chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy God forever!

The above quote is found on pages 41-42 of Moreland and Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Abortion and Dehumanization (Pearcey)

 I’m very much enjoying Nancy Pearcey’s new book, Love Thy Body.  I’ll come back to it again later, but for now I wanted to share an insightful observation of Pearcey’s in the first chapter:

If you favor abortion, you are implicitly saying that in the early stages of life, an unborn baby has so little value that it can be killed for any reason – or no reason – without any moral consequence. Whatever your feelings, that is a very low view of life. Then, by sheer logic, you must say that at some later time the baby becomes a person, at which point it requires such high value that killing it would be a crime.

The implication is that as long as the pre-born child is deemed to be human but not a person, it is just a disposable piece of matter – a natural resource like timber or corn. It can be used for research and experiments, tinkered with genetically, harvested for organs, and then disposed of with the other medical waste.

The assumption at the heart of abortion, then, is personhood theory, with its two tiered view of the human being – one that sees no value in a living human body but places all our worth in the mind or consciousness.

Personhood thus presumes a very low view of the human body, which ultimately dehumanizes all of us. For if our bodies do not have inherent value, then a key part of our identity is devalued. What we will discover is that this same body/person dichotomy, with its denigration of the body, is the unspoken assumption driving secular views on euthanasia, sexuality, homosexuality, transgenderism, and a host of related ethical issues.

Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body, p. 20.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Theology of the Body (Or: Zombies)

Though I don’t agree with it all, this is one interesting, thought-provoking, and helpful book: Incarnate: The Body of Christ and the Age of Disengagement by Michael Frost.  In it, Frost argues that humans are becoming less involved with one another in a personal, face to face way.  One of his main points is that because of certain technologies, it is possible for people to live disembodied lives, where one can interact online, go to church online, do one-click activism work online (called slacktivism), and generally avoid real and “embodied” relationships.  He contrasts excarnate or disembodied living with incarnate, embodied living, making excellent points against the former  and arguing in favor of the latter.

In one example, Frost uses the recent zombie craze to make his point.  He asks the question, “Why are [zombies] so popular and so enduring as a pop culture device?

“Some have suggested that zombie apocalypse is a more palatable end-of-the world scenario because it’s a truly secular one with no judgmental deities presiding over the fate of humankind.  Others have speculated that it’s a cracked, secular version of resurrection.  However, culture watcher Dan Birlew suggests the reasons for the popularity of zombie fiction lies somewhere more primal:”

‘There’s an entire world full of walking punching bags.  People are now zombies, and you have to kill them before they kill you.  So it doesn’t really matter what you do to them, because they’re not people anymore.  They’re former people that you can beat down and tear apart in the most gruesome ways you can think of.  …Take out all your frustrations in all the ways you ever dreamed, it doesn’t matter anymore.  No one’s going to stop you from killing a monster, even if it used to be a person.’

Frost then says that though mowing down zombies is at one level entertaining for some people,

“[It] is horrifying because it too represents our greatest fear: that we are dispensable.  While many people are happy to treat their own bodies and those of other people like zombies – casually and indiscriminately – deeper down there’s a sense of horror that our bodies could mean so little.”

Since action scenes where mobs of humans are mowed down (e.g. Rambo) are politically incorrect these days, Frost notes, “we’ve had to resort to killing unhuman objects like zombies for the same effect.  And all the while we are picking at the scab of our nagging anxiety of our own indispensability.”

Frost ends the chapter by stating a biblical understanding of the human body: “We are our bodies.  We don’t live in our bodies.  And therefore our bodies and the bodies of others are precious and worthy of respect (cf. Phil. 1:20-23).

“[Christ’s] bodily resurrection from the dead signaled the Christian hope for the ongoing identity of a person with his or her own body. The body is not a prison to be released from but is the person in a profound sense.”

Michael Frost: Incarnate (DownersGrove, IVP, 2014), chapter three.

shane lems