America is in the midst of a food revolution.
Never before have so many Americans cared so much about their food. Documentaries expose the conditions under which our mass produced food come to us. Long form documentary pieces on news shows document the pesticide and chemicals that are used to aid in the growth of our food. Entire talk shows are dedicated to our health, with erstwhile doctors as the hosts. An entire industry has exploded in the area of “organically grown” foods. In my home state of Wisconsin, there is a miniature revolution underway to earn people back the “right” to drink raw milk (milk that hasn’t been pasteurized), as state and federal law have made the behavior illegal (Yes, there is such a thing as a “black market” for milk in America’s Dairyland). People are paying an absurd amount of attention to the circumstances under which their food is prepared, all in service of their health. And we haven’t even touched the world of diets and dieting. We are obsessed with our what we put in our physical bodies.
American Christians (at least the Christians I know) have not been exempt from this craze. I have seen Scripture trotted out to justify nearly every possible position in the “food wars.” I have friends who have devoted large sections of their lives to exposing “the truth” about our food, and many more who are advocates for their pet beliefs about their food and how it should be produced. (These advocates seem to uniformly love Trader Joe’s. )
But all the attention on physical food has got me thinking about another kind of thing we take into ourselves as Christians that doesn’t seem to be getting as much attention: what we rely on as our spiritual food. And to be honest, I have to wonder: do we care as much about what we take into our minds and spirits as we do our bodies?
I have been in youth ministry for nearly half my life now (I started working with Junior High students when I was 18, and my 35th birthday is in a couple of months.) One of the most interesting phenomena in my life as a youth worker has been what happens in the year or two after some new believers come to faith in Jesus Christ. They soak up the Gospel in their first few months, marveling in the simplicity and beauty of the message–that Jesus has paid the penalty for their sin, that he loves them, and that he wants them to live a new life in Him as they follow him and the work of sanctification begins. But inevitably, the first spiritual high is followed by a crash, and the slog of everyday life closes in around the new believer. Around this time, the questions start. “Why don’t I feel the same way I did when I first believed…is something wrong?” “What happened to me?” “Why can’t I feel like I did when I first came to Jesus?” It has been my pleasure (truly) to respond to those questions for almost half my life with the truth: that the Christian life is filled with ebbs and flows and through these ebbs and flows, we are grown and our faith is deepened. We need to appreciate the high times so that we have the encouragement to persevere through the lower times.
But there is one thing I nearly always caution believers about now, because I have seen a temptation take many a new believer off track. The warning? Be sure you don’t change your spiritual diet!
I have known many believers, new and otherwise, who suspected that the reason that they bottomed out or were going through a difficult time in their faith was because they had outgrown the first things they were taught and they were ready now for the deeper things of the faith. They are sick of the milk, and they want the meat. They want to talk about the things the mature people in the faith talk about. They want to use a word like supralapsarian and know what it means! They want to debate about predestination! They want to probe the depths of prophecy and find out exactly when Jesus is coming back. Surely these are the deep things of the faith?
My short answer to that final question is simple: no, they are not. The deepest part of the Christian faith is actually the same thing that new believers are weaned on: the Gospel message itself. The milk is the meat. There is no well deeper from which a Christian can drink. The complicated theological arguments which many believers concern themselves with, are, in the end, an argument about appetizers while the main course too often sits untouched.
Let me say it another way.
As a Christian, if you believe at any point that you have fully understood everything that Christ’s sinless life, sacrificial death, and miraculous resurrection means for you and the universe, you are sorely mistaken, and further, you probably haven’t gone much beneath the surface of it at all. You’re wilding out in the kiddie pool and are blind to the existence of the ocean ten feet away.
If you survey Christian history, from 33AD to now, the people who best understood the faith were those who ate and drank from the table of the Gospel message and let all their thoughts, reflections and meditations circle back on that core truth. Don’t believe me? Think of the most mature Christian you know. Are they spending their time talking about the doctrine of election? Prophecy? I’ll bet not. I’ll bet they have sunk their well in the depth of God’s revelation in Christ, and they drink regularly from those waters. They are not interested in spiritual junk food.
Spiritual junk food is the stuff that is trendy in Christianity. Trendy in a tradition for a time and a place. It’s seasonal, like fashionable clothes–how are people wearing their faith this season? Junk food is the self-help book with a thin veneer of Jesus. Junk food is praise music that specializes in emotion but is painfully thin on who exactly is the object of the praise being offered. Junk food is a message that tells you that your comfort and happiness is God’s highest purpose. Junk food is the celebrity preacher that the Christian publishing industry is promoting this month. Junk food is for hipsters, poseurs, and rubes, not devoted disciples.
It seems to me that as Christians we need to constantly be part of our own spiritual food revolution–where we are constantly evaluating what we are putting into our spiritual lives in the same way we would food. We need to carefully check the labels of the things we are being sold by Christian marketers before we put them in the cart, or worse, into our selves. We need to test what we hear from the people around us to make sure that it accords with the Scriptures and not just our vain conceptions of the way people are wearing their faith this season. We need to avoid the temptation to do what everyone else is doing in favor of watching to see what God is doing and wants to do with us. Most of all, we need to be thrilled by the simplicity and depth of the Gospel–that in a universe broken and decaying, God intervened to bring goodness back in through his own death so that we could experience one solitary thing that can never be broken, and will never fall out of fashion: eternity with Him. In case of life, skip the spiritual junk food and stick to the milk and meat. It is the difference between health and a heart attack of the worst kind.