The Washington post recently published an article saying that Christians should all be vegans. The author was inspired by a recent announcement from a prominent evangelical celebrity who claimed he is doing so for health reasons. The article says, good for him, but he should also do it because, “The Bible is clear… Animals are meant to be our companions, not our food.”
Now that’s click bait! I almost want to applaud. This is the sort of article that seeks to generate angry blog responses from conservative Christians. Now, normally I would let the urge to respond to such a thing pass, after all, “don’t feed the trolls,” (Matt 7:6) but one argument in this article intrigued me.
Now, without saying anything (yet) about related topics, like diets, what is or isn’t healthy, the idolatry of food, or even Evangelical celebrities… and laying aside legitimate concerns for stewardship and cruelty to animals… Let’s examine the claim that Christians should be vegans.
The article is full of bad arguments. You should not be swayed by appeals to authority, whether it’s an “heir to an evangelical empire,” or the Catholic Pope. Neither should you be influenced by the highly disputable claim that early Christians thought this way. These can all be dismissed for having no rational leg to stand on. But when an argument claims that this is what the Bible says, we need to examine and answer it.
The author makes the general statement that animals were originally created for companionship, not food (which is true enough), and that “…nonhuman animals belong to God, and not to humans…” But the most intriguing argument to me is this one: since God never permitted animals for food until Noah, and someday there will be no animal death anymore (the wolf will lie down with the lamb), causing no harm to animals is “…the intended order of creation that Christians should always seek to emulate.” (emphasis in original)
If we break this down, he claims: 1) The intended order of creation is no animal death 2) Christians should seek to live out this intended order.
Now, (1) is true, with important qualifications. But the key question is (2) should Christians seek to implement this “intended order” now, if possible? If your response to this line of reasoning is to point at all the verses in which God permits eating meat, you should consider the response, “well, God permitted it if necessary, but middle class Americans have the ability to survive on a purely vegan diet. So they should do so!”
This line of reasoning assumes that Christians, if possible, should live now as if they are living in the final restored creation. This is obviously true regarding sin. Believers will be made perfect and sinless one day, and that is the goal even now, out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us. (In this life, “The Christian is not sinless, but he should sin less, and less and less…”) But should we also refrain from killing animals since we won’t do so in the presence of the Lord?
How should you respond to this argument? Does the Bible imply that? If not, where does this argument go wrong?
To answer this question, we should think more deeply about the theology and morality of animal death. Why does animal death happen now, as opposed to the garden and eternal state? If the difference is the presence of sin, what specifically is it about sin that leads to animal death? What relationship does sin have to the curse that all of creation has been subjected to? And how should a believer, who is being sanctified, behave while still living in a cursed creation? How can we answer these questions?
The argument intrigued me because answering it is not as simple as quoting a few bible verses. It’s a little easier to show that the Bible contradicts the conclusion of the argument, but that isn’t enough to show why the argument fails. This is a great illustration for why all of the Bible matters, even the “crispy pages.” The Bible as a whole, its larger story, the bigger picture (even prophecy!), has real consequences for how we should live our lives. When we do understand God’s word enough to answer this argument, we will see that it’s nothing more than the twisting of scripture in an attempt to bring Christians under the bondage of legalism and idolatry.
You have the freedom to eat meat and the freedom to refrain from eating meat. But don’t take my word for it, find out what the Word of God says.
Next week I’ll attempt to answer the argument myself, but in the meantime, how would you respond?