Good Eating

Good Eating

Spiegel, James S

Good Eating. By Stephen H. Webb. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2001. 272 pages.

Steve Webb is a leading voice in the emerging Christian animal welfare movement. A few years ago, his On God and Dogs: A Christian Theology of Compassion for Animals (1998) developed an expansive moral theology of animals. His recent Good Eating is different both in terms of subject and methodology. The guiding theme here is the dietary implications of a Christian moral theology of animals, and Webb’s arguments are now more thoroughly grounded in biblical texts. This will be welcome news to evangelicals and others who take a conservative view on biblical authority.

Good Eating is understated in many ways. Webb stops short of defending a Christian duty to maintain a vegetarian diet, instead regarding it as a “biblical ideal.” Even the title is modest, for the book is more than a biblical recommendation of vegetarianism. It offers a full-fledged theology of animals, including a serious and fascinating inquiry into whether dogs go to heaven (chap. 7). Such are not tangential matters, insists Webb, for “theological reflection on animals leads inexorably to the very heart of the Christian faith” (35).

Webb distinguishes his approach from that of the animal rights movement (chap. 2), rejecting a rights-based orientation both because of its pantheistic tendencies and its failure to take seriously the biblical portrait of human beings as caretakers of creation. Instead, Webb takes an approach based on the notions of care and compassion, a perspective fundamentally distinct from the tradition of rights, which “emerges from a social situation of mistrust and opposition” (55).

Webb grounds his vision for animal care in the eschatological vision of the peaceable kingdom described in Isaiah 11 (chap. 3), which features a restoration of nature to the original harmony lost in the Fall. This “once and future peace,” notes Webb, presents pets as the paradigmatic image of animals, an image that should impact our treatment of animals even now. Accordingly, Webb offers what he calls “the Dog Rule of compassion: Never do unto any other animal what you would not want done to your own dog” (81).

After informative forays into the biblical history of animal sacrifice (chap. 4) and the question of whether Jesus was a vegetarian – “What would Jesus eat?” (chap. 5), Webb develops a concept of a “biblical ideal of vegetarianism.” he discusses the church fathers and fasting as a form of vegetarianism (chap. 8) and the sad demise of this biblical ideal (the turning point being the fourth-century Council of Gangra).

In the final chapter, Webb discusses vegetarianism as a Christian practice, advocating it “not as a prerequisite for Christian faith, but [as] a consequence of the Christian hope for a peaceable kingdom, where God will be all in all and all violence will come to an end” (228). A truly Christian vegetarianism, explains Webb, will be both humble and non-divisive.

Webb’s treatment of the topic is biblical and fair. That to some readers his conclusions will appear extreme might not be a reflection of any imbalance on the author’s part so much as a testament to the excesses of our insensitive and meat-crazed culture. Food for thought indeed.

Copyright Christian Theological Seminary Summer 2003

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