I came across the term “post-modern pietism” in a twitter exchange regarding this article from Stephen Altrogge, God doesn’t care what you eat. The thrust of the article is how we can create spiritual elitism out of food preferences, most notably the Daniel Diet. Altrogge states,
Jesus’ point is that food in and of itself is not spiritual. It goes in the mouth and comes out the other end. Eating a particular food does not make us more or less spiritual. Vegetables are not more godly than meat. Organic is not more godly than processed. Oreos and Cheez-Whiz are just as holy as homegrown basil. An Eden diet is not more pleasing to God than a Paleo diet or South Beach diet. All foods are clean and can be eaten and enjoyed.
Why does this even matter? Do I care if you are on The Eden Diet or The Daniel Diet or The Maker’s Diet? Nope, not one bit. If a particular diet helps you lose weight, great! But, we Christians have a tendency to moralize our preferences and create artificial spirituality. If we say that God wants us to eat a particular food group we are on the verge of creating spiritual cliques in the church. The most godly people follow a particular diet, the less godly people eat processed food. A diet can become a stumbling block to the gospel and a source of spiritual elitism.
He strikes to the heart of something that has bothered me about how we treat the Bible, especially the Old Testament, as a prescription for life principles today. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe that the Old Testament instructs us in the right character that we should have. But it does something so much more. When Jesus indicated that all Scripture is about him (Luke 24:27), he was pointing out that everything that occurred prior to the Incarnation was about him. As Paul notes in Col. 1:16, all things were created through him for him.
So to see the book of Daniel as instructive for our eating habits sorely misses the point of the book. In God’s self-revelation of himself so that we might know him, his character, his will and expectation for us, Daniel was not written to give us a diet plan, but to demonstrate his plan through the Son who expresses the fullness of God’s mind, will and character. This is the Christ-centered orientation of Scripture that provides us with the connection between God’s outworking of redemptive history and the means through history. I love the note in my ESV Bible about the theme of Daniel;
The central theme of the book of Daniel is God’s sovereignty over history and empires, setting up and removing kings as he pleases (2:21; 4:34-37). All of the kingdoms of this world will come to an end and will be replaced by the Lord’s kingdom, which will never pass away (2:44; 7:27).
But it occurs to me that when we fragment Scripture and isolate parts disconnected from the redemptive narrative, it is easy to succumb to post-modern piety. By post-modern, I mean the source of truth found in one’s own interpretation of truth. So post-modern piety would mean, my holiness is contingent upon my own [interpretation] of holiness. I hate to say, but I believe that fragmenting Scripture facilitates this idea. If I can isolate a passage and make that the premise by which I can justify my holiness, than I can elevate my preference as the means by which holiness is achieve.
Along those lines, this post here, 7 Areas of Unbiblical Conscience Binding is quite instructive regarding the ways in which Christian can use preferences to bind the conscience in areas where we should have liberties.
1. Etiquette, dress and hygiene
5. Corporate Worship
6. Family Worship
7. Pastoral Ministry
It occurs to me that each of these areas that the author notes can be supported by isolating Scripture and then read our preferences into what makes us better Christians (translation: better than the ones who don’t grasp why our preferences matter to holiness and therefore are not as holy as we are).
Now please don’t misread. Of course holiness matters and is expressly stated throughout Scripture. But that holiness cannot be sourced in individual preferences. It must be characterized by God’s requirements for his people sourced in his moral law. We can look to what Jesus characterized as the greatest command in Scripture, to love the Lord with all your heart soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37). Loving God means much more than not watching TV, or going to certain types of movies or elevating dietary habits. It means a foundation rooted in the whole redemptive narrative of Scripture and considering what is consistent with reflecting the character of God who has reached down to his creation, gathered a people unto himself and called them “a chose race, royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9 ala Exod. 19:5-6). It is in the Decalogue amplified in the New Testament that we root our piety, not on individual preferences from fragmented pieces of Scripture. In this context, we can put disputable matters and preferences in their place and anchor our holiness in the truth of who God called us to be. And we know this according to the whole counsel of Scripture, not just it’s segmented parts.