Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating – review
Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating, by Normal Wirzba, May 2011, Cambridge University Press, 264 pages, ISBN 978-0521146241, RRP £16.99.
Wirzba invites us to ask whether our eating habits show respect for what is valuable to God (4) and whether in our eating we experience God’s care and creation as a grace-saturated world (2). The Bible depicts humans as plunderers of God’s creation so redemption involves a transformation in attitude towards food and eating, for eating is one of the most universal of all human activities. Through eating we can plunder or care. This book coaxes us to embrace eating as signifying to what extent we value the creation we live with and depend on (4).
The idea that humanity is the climax of creation dominates today’s worldviews. Wirzba argues: “Human beings are not the climax of creation and others are not created for humans” (44). He convincingly shows that the Sabbath is the climax of creation to which creation looks when each creature realizes its God-given potential and offers its worship to its Creator (45). God’s intentions for humanity are summarized as: “to serve the soil” (57). However, we are “robber barons of the soil” (57) living in a state of exile from God believing ourselves “Creators” of our destinies (78) thriving alone and at the expense of others (109).
In a restored creation, creatures made in the image of a self-giving God are to participate in God’s self-offering life, dedicated to the nurture and well-being of all creatures (135). For Wirzba, Christian sacrifice is about learning how to make one’s life into a gift that creates communion (129). In the context of humans abusing creation for individual self-empowerment, Wirzba cogently demonstrates that Jesus instituted a new way of eating for a restored creation in which followers are invited to give their lives to each other, and in so doing nurture and strengthen the memberships of life (153).
Through Wirzba’s preferred priesthood metaphor, the world is perceived as an altar of God. Therefore, the priest draws people’s attention to the altar and encourages them in the work of self-offering sacrifice (206). However, this argument is persuasive if we can imagine ourselves into this opaque imagery. I find images of “gardener” or “care giver” in the context of self-sacrifice more imaginable than priest. Further, the idea of the world as an “altar” is unintelligible (at least to me). Perhaps we need to ask to what extent Jesus is depicted as a priest in the NT.
Overall this book revitalizes biblical teaching that creation is God’s good gift. In recognizing this we are to care for this creation facilitating its potential. All who read this book will embrace food and eating as a ways of sharing creation as God intended. How can we not? We are all familiar with food and eating and we can all do something about our eating habits and attitudes towards food. Through compassionate growing, buying, preparing and eating of food we can build shalom cultures of sharing.
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