To misquote Qoholet: “of the reading of books there is no end…” This is at least true for me! Perhaps it was a very bad thing for my wife to purchase a Kindle for me last Christmas. I have fallen in love with it and now one more obstacle to my reading addiction has been removed: the lack of bookshelves!
On top of my reading list has been Scot McKnight. Currently I am reading two of his books: One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow and Fasting. I appreciate how Scot brings his scholarship to bear in a very reader-friendly way. But what I most appreciate about Scot is how he avoids the pitfalls of our evangelical-consumerist-self-centered culture. This is especially evident in his book Fasting.
I’ve read quite a few books on this topic from Christian authors to New Age practitioners. In most all cases fasting was presented as a way to receive something rather than a response to something. Scot calls fasting a response to “a sacred grievous moment.” Whether it is response to one’s own sin, the death of a loved one, the sickness of a friend, or the presence of injustice and poverty–the purpose of fasting is not to manipulate God to answer prayer, to experience a revelation, or to gain insight. God may answer a prayer, insight may come–or there may be silence, a divine “no”, or nothing at all. The point is not some predetermined result. The point is reacting to the moment with an appropriate body-soul response.
In addressing fasting, Scot also offers a much needed corrective in popular Western Christianity. That corrective is a proper understanding of the connection between body, soul, and spirit. Far too long we have viewed body and soul as separate entities that really are only loosely connected. The body is unimportant to many modern Christians. What matters is the soul. (This is perhaps why so many are uncomfortable with more expressive forms of worship that engages both body and soul). The Bible speaks of humans as integrated beings: body, soul, spirit. We are not bodies that have souls nor are we souls that have bodies. The connection is much more complex, more intimate, more integrated. Body is so connected with spirit that separation of the two always results in death.
Fasting engages not only our souls, but our bodies. My tradition has strongly emphasized baptism as an essential faith response. I would think such a tradition emphasizing baptism would understand God’s desire for not just a mental or so-called “spiritual” response but a body-soul-spirit response–not only through baptism but through other physical practices like eucharist/Lord’s Supper and fasting.
Isn’t it interesting that often repentance in the Bible involved fasting? Even repentance is not just a mind thing–it involves what Scot would call body turning.
The book is half read thus far. While it is an easy to read book, I find myself taking it very slowly. This book (as most all of Scot’s books) demand serious self-examination.
I have found it quite interesting how many evangelicals have avoided fasting and even suggested fasting is not a Christian practice. “Isn’t this legalism?” The objections to fasting I have encountered are not limited to one denomination. I have been surprised by people I thought would be much more open than my own tradition in this regard. One person, a graduate of a well known theological seminary suggested to me fasting was not enjoined upon God’s people in the New Testament. This was a person who would argue that tithing should be observed by Christians! I suggested there were many more passages authorizing the practice of fasting in the New Testament than there were authorizing tithing!
In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus instructs his followers how to fast. This is the great Sermon on the Mount which is his teaching about how Kingdom people are to live. That presupposes fasting will take place. The church in Antioch certainly practiced it along with prayer as a communal discipline in Acts 13:1-3. Those two passages should be sufficient to establish the practice of fasting is acceptable among Jesus-followers.
Of course, the ultimate point is not to read, theorize, discuss, and debate fasting. The point is to actually fast.
This is not a proper book review, since I am still in process of reading the book! But I would encourage you to begin to do some research on this very biblical practice.