It seems some evangelicals have rediscovered fasting, but boy did they go around the world to do so.
Like Muslims worldwide, Ben Ries has refrained from food and drink from sunrise to sundown in an act of self-restraint during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ends this weekend....Only Ries is not a Muslim. He is pastor of 70-member Sterling Drive Church of Christ and a self-described committed Christian....Ries is among a small group of Christians who've joined well-known evangelical author and speaker Brian McLaren in observing a Ramadan fast, opening a new chapter in interfaith relations between two traditions often at odds. To McLaren and his Christian and Muslim fasting partners, it's a neighborly gesture of solidarity that deepens their respective faiths and sends a message about finding peace and common ground....McLaren, 53, is the godfather of the "emerging" or "emergent" church, a loose-knit movement that seeks to recover ancient Christian worship practices and, in some cases, question traditional evangelical theology.
I find it interesting that these evangelicals are fasting not as a Christian discipline, but rather to show respect and solidarity with Islam. I have several Muslim friends. Were I to announce I would be participating in Ramadan with them, they would see it as the obvious gimmick that it is. Others seem to agree.
Southern Baptist thinker Albert Mohler notes:The logic of Islam is obedience and submission...It's by following these practices that a Muslim demonstrates his obedience to the rule of the law through the Quran. For a Christian to do the same automatically implies a submission to the same rule. And beyond that, it's an explicit affirmation that this is a good and holy thing. From a New Testament perspective, it is not a good and holy thing.
And, I find myself in rare agreement with Mark Driscoll, who writes:
Christians observing a Ramadan fast is "insane at best ... Sad, tragic, horrific, misguided, dangerous, wrong...If Christians want to pray during Ramadan, they should pray not with Muslims but for Muslims — that Muslims would come to know Jesus. To pray with Muslims absolutely dishonors Jesus.
The purpose of this post is not to engage in any triumphalist Orthodox one-upmanship when it comes to fasting. My record in this department is not one which would provide any worthy examples. With the ready availability of shrimp, bean burritos and well, beer, I often feel that while technically compliant, I am far from the spirit of the thing. But I try, and am mindful of the fasts.
I had lunch with a good friend last Monday. That was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and a fast day. My selection of bean burritos lead to a conversation about the number of fast days we observe. He is an Episcopalian and freely admitted to have not observed a fast since he was a teenager. But my friend was shocked to learn that we have about 180 fast days throughout the year. Again, I say this not in any self-laudatory way, but to point out that Christians fasted for 600 years before Islam, and continue to do. The Jews, obviously, were fasting even longer. Clearly, there are deeper, richer and older examples of fasting than one finds in the Ramadan imitation of Muhammad.
I was reminded of an anecdote from my 2006 travels in Turkey. I was in Diyarbakir, perhaps the only dangerous city in the entire country. The area has long been a hotbed of Kurdish separatist activity, and harsh government crackdowns. Deep within the walled old city, a beleaguered Suriani Orthodox community holds on behind a walled compound. Three or four families remain and worship at the beautiful 4th-century Church of the Virgin Mary (with an incredible icon of St. Ephraim the Syrian). My guide and friend, Turan, our driver, Belial, and I arrived just before Saturday Vespers. We stayed for the service, and my two Turkish friends sat respectfully in the rear. The service was in Aramaic or Syriac, but I was able to follow along, roughly. On a number of occasions during the service prostrations were called for. I took my lead from the gentleman in front of me. After we left the church, Turan quizzed me about this. He had no idea that Christians did prostrations. We have a good-natured relationship, so I replied, "Sure we do. Where do you think y'all got the idea?" And the same would be true of fasting. While said partly in jest, there is truth to the statement. Islam is a mishmash of ideas taken from the surrounding faiths. For McLaren and other evangelicals to look to Islam for instruction in fasting is both silly and not a little insulting.