McKnight, Scot. Fasting. The ancient practices series. Thomas Nelson 2009
SM- Anabaptist theologian at North Park University. Chicago.
My personal experience with fasting has been very limited so I welcomed the opportunity to read a book on fasting. The author begins with a definition of fasting which gives a very specific focus on the topic. He maintains throughout his discussions that the motive for fasting should not be to get and yet he goes into great detail about the benefits of fasting. This leaves me with a serious tension that I have not resolved in my mind. I have not come away from my read as a ‘turned on’ practitioner of fasting. That may come in time.
There are seven ‘ancient practices’ within Christian tradition. They are: a fixed hour of prayer, Sabbath keeping, following the liturgical year, the making of a pilgrimage, fasting, tithing and the sacred meal. According to Phyllis Tickle, the general editor of Ancient Practices Series, Scot McKnight has taken on the topic of fasting “with deftness and clarity”. (Foreword)
“Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous, sacred moment in life.” McKnight. It is “body talk”. (11) It is not a ‘tool’ for getting something from God. It does not seem to be part of Western DNA.
Fasting is doing without food and drink. A partial fast may involve abstinence from certain foods and/or pleasures. It is often associated with repentance and is described by the term “body turning”. (24) Israel’s national day of repentance, Yom Kipper, was also a day of fasting.
“Fasting as body pleading for those we love is natural.” (45) It is an instinctive, natural response to “body grief”. (52) The experiences (fasting) of Jonathan and David are examples from the Old Testament. Psalm 77 is called “the Faster’s Prayer”. (55) Fasting is a body discipline and as such was a common practice with monks. There are signs of a renewal of this discipline in our times as a reaction to our hedonistic culture. It is considered part of Christian living.
An example of “fasting as body calendar” (81) is fasting on regular days, e.g. Wednesday and Friday. Some special days of fasting for early Christians were before the Lord’s Supper, before baptism, and during Lent. In Isaiah 58 the prophet describes fasting that is called “body poverty”. (105) This kind of fasting is illustrated when “Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Jesus and Paul – fasted and experienced unusual intimacies with God”. (112) Fasting is a way in which we “embody our hope” (123) of Christ’s return.
Fasting can become a form of legalism. If there is any hypocrisy it is a problem. “Meritorious fasting” (140) is wrong. Extremism is always dangerous. Although there are benefits in fasting that should never be our motive for fasting. (Why not?) God’s presence can become more real during fasting. It can bring freedom from bad habits. Fasting and praying can be beneficial when seeking God’s guidance and protection. “Genuine fasting leads to seeking justice.” (154) There can be health effects although health was never a goal in biblical fasting. Fasting should always be a response to something (a grievous sacred moment) going on in our life.