Science, Faith, and Fasting

My copy of Jay W. Richards’ Eat, Fast, Feast.

Jay W. Richards’ Eat, Fast, Feast is a well-rounded, clearly written, and practical presentation of the discipline of fasting.

I’ve had my eye on this book for some time, and once I finally picked up my copy at my local bookshop, I read it in less than a week. What I found changed my thinking about food, the discipline of fasting, and my physical and spiritual health (which are intertwined). This is a resource I will keep handy in the year ahead once I resume leading and teaching in spiritual formation at Truett Seminary.

Fasting is perplexing for many Christians, and has largely fallen out of routine in the past century, despite the clear assumption of Jesus that his disciples will fast until the day of his return. There are many reasons for this decline. Modern affluence is one factor. Another is messages we hear from health officials concerning our diet, and in the fitness world, we hear it is best if we eat multiple small meals rather than three squares a day. We graze. But we also find it hard to fast due to what we eat. We mostly run on sugar and other carbs that turn into sugar. Many of the health problems we see in America can be traced to poor eating habits. Processed foods, rather than natural foods, are consumed thanks to lower cost and convenience, and, sadly, at the cost of longevity and good health.

As a member of my family likes to say, everything that is bad for you tastes good, and everything that is good for you doesn’t taste great.

In faith circles, fasting is frowned upon because of its association with asceticism and legalistic practices. It is also de-emphasized thanks to theological assumptions about discipleship and what it means to live a holy life. Some avoid fasting and other disciplines because they think that through these practices we must be trying to “earn” our salvation, as though by praying or attending worship more often we could merit favorable standing with God. Such understandings miss the point of both the gospel and the call to sanctification. Responding and trusting are involved in spiritual growth, but the outcomes always ultimately trace their way back to God. The glory remains God’s alone.

Richards names fasting as a historic practice of multiple faith traditions (fasting is featured in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and other traditions as well), but focuses on Christian approaches to the practice. He writes as a Catholic, scholar, and as a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute. These commitments inform his presentation. His Catholic commitments provide the reader with an opportunity to learn about the liturgical calendar and the various ways the traditional fasts and feasts have shaped the rhythms of the Christian year. His chapter on the body’s design addresses arguments about human origins, and makes theological claims for a Creator and against Darwinian thought (he also supports his theological convictions with scientific perspectives).

The book is presented as a practical guide, and outlines a six week plan for integrating the practice of fasting into the rhythms of life. There is instruction for a transition period to prepare the body to begin fasting, followed by adoption of a ketogenic diet in week one, and then adding intermittent fasting in week two. Intermittent fasting follows a 16/8 routine (16 hours fasting, which includes sleep, with an 8 hour eating window). In the third week, you move to a 20/4 rhythm. In the fourth and fifth weeks, the plan becomes more intense, with smaller eating windows or food amounts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In the sixth week, Richards encourages the reader to observe a thirty-six to seventy-two hour fast. Every week, Sundays are “mini-feast” days.

Richards notes that fasting, classically understood, means to refrain from eating food. Sometimes fasting also involves refraining from drink. But often, the person who is fasting continues to drink water. The body can survive three to four weeks without food, but only three to four days without water. Fasting has traditionally been done as an expression of repentance or to intensify focus in prayer. Scientifically, fasting is a proven contributor to metabolic health and fosters mental clarity and focus. Fasting is a practice that incorporates and addresses mind, body, and soul.

After reading Richards, I didn’t go the whole hog with his proposed program. But I am three weeks into an intermittent fasting program where I observe a 16/8 intermittent fast Monday through Thursday, a 20/4 fast on Fridays, a circadian rhythm fast on Saturdays, and a feast day on Sundays. I’m also more mindful of the liturgical calendar. Molly and I have adopted a better approach to our diet. My approach has been more in line with Zone Diet principles. The result is that I’ve felt physically better, which shouldn’t be hugely surprising, since I’ve quit eating sugar, and have been fairly consistent in hitting 30/40/30 macro-nutrient (fat/carbohydrate/protein) and calorie count targets each day.

But the more significant result has been my deepened appreciation for fasting. Fasting is a discipline, and truthfully, I’ve known that food has had significant control over me. I eat when I’m stressed, and I’m a notorious grazer. I also like carbohydrates, and not the good kind. I eat way too many tortilla chips. Fasting is teaching me not only how to be disciplined as to when I eat, but also in what I eat.

It has also helped me in being more grateful when I receive food, and has served as a reminder to pray. Whenever I am in a fasting state, the small discomforts I feel are rather small when compared to what Jesus endured on my behalf. He fasted to draw near to the Father while in the body. In fasting, I not only follow his example, but I also draw near to him by considering his life.

I want to be a good steward of my body, for my body, when healthy, is a vehicle for service. Books like Eat, Fast, Feast are helpful, not only in the ways Richards explains the importance of fasting for Christian faith, but also in how he introduces important scientific considerations that help us better understand the body and how we can best approach eating to maximize well being.

The earth yields an abundance of foods that are for our pleasure and enjoyment, the Maker of which is God. Partaking in these foods should be a joy and a delight. In a disciplined life, with a measured approach to fasting and feasting, it is.

June 2020 Kindle Deals

These caught my eye:

That’s one musician, one wrestler, one novelist, one poet, one scholar and Christian apologist, and one pastor. Enjoy.

Holman’s Life Essentials Interactive Study Bible

There are a million Bibles out there. For many years, I’ve been a strong advocate of choosing a scholarly, reliable translation of the Scriptures with simple cross-referencing tools, a few detailed maps, and a helpful index. For study, I’ve been partial to the NIV, NRSV, and NASB translations. Alongside of a reputable Bible, I’ve recommended obtaining a one-volume commentary, an atlas, and a Bible dictionary. I think those are cornerstones in any home library. With all the choices that are out there, it has been my preference to keep things streamlined and simple.

In my experience leading others, however, I’ve come to see how a study Bible can be helpful for a person with limited resources, a deepening interest in biblical study, and a limit on shelf space. It’s nice to be able to pull one book off the shelf that you can read in a coffee shop or carry with you to a worship service, open it on your lap, listen to what you’re hearing, and then use the available tools (commentary notes, book introductions, etc.) to inform and apply the Scriptures to personal circumstances.

Holman Bible Publishers has done something innovative, taking the idea of a study Bible another step forward. They’ve released the Life Essentials Study Bible, which not only features brief commentary on Scripture, but is designed to be read with a tablet or smartphone in hand. Each text note features a QR code, which can be scanned with a tablet or phone camera. LifeWay has paired the Bible with an application that uses the QR codes to gain access to the teaching of Dr. Gene Getz, who comments on the corresponding Scripture text and offers principles that can be directly applied to the life of the learner, not only in the text notes that you’ll find in the Bible, but with video (Need links? I’ve got you: Apple’s App Store or Google Play). Here’s an example of what you’d find as you study the text:

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This is a portion from the book of Nehemiah. First, in the image above you’ll see the Scripture text. Several years ago, Holman published the Christian Standard Bible. That’s the translation. You can read about their translation philosophy here. After this Bible translation released, I bought a copy for devotional reading, and used the CSB in my daily meditations on Scripture in 2018. It’s readable, and the translators were committed to maintaining a close correspondence to original meaning of the Greek and Hebrew texts.

Second, you’ll note the portion highlighted in blue. This indicates to the reader a portion upon which they will find a principle and corresponding commentary.

Thirdly, the dark grey heading indicates a principle topic (principles in each book are numbered), and the text in blue below the heading is the principle itself. Then there is commentary, which features cross-referencing.

Fourthly, you’ll notice a reflection and response question, which is designed to help the reader move toward application not only in a general sense, but in the reader’s specific life circumstance.

Finally, you’ll see a QR code, which, if scanned in the app, will lead you to a video teaching from Dr. Getz.

This video is a helpful introduction and overview of the Life Essential Interactive Study Bible:

 

If you’ve never heard of Gene Getz, he is a pastor, writer, church planter, and college and seminary professor. He’s a Christian educator who hosts a syndicated radio program called “Renewal.” You’ll find that one of the first things listed in his bio is that he is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute. I know Dr. Getz from my time at Dallas Theological Seminary, where he served as adjunct faculty. Though I never had him as an instructor, I knew of him. During my DTS years, several of my friends attended Fellowship Bible Church North, where Dr. Getz still serves as pastor.¹

I know one of the biggest challenges many people face in reading the Bible comes in answering these three questions: “What does it say?”, “What does it mean?”, and “How, then, do I live?” In the Life Essentials Study Bible, these three questions are consistently answered. Dr. Getz helps the reader understand the text, interpret it, and apply it to daily life. Dr. Getz also addresses a fourth question: “How does it fit within the overall Bible?” His answer is simple, straightforward, and life changing. Dr. Getz consistently directs the reader to the ways each text points us to Jesus Christ.²

The Life Essentials Study Bible features a concordance, footnotes, and full color maps. Each book introduction offers a summation of the key principles found therein as well as an outline of the book as a whole. But the main feature that makes this Bible unique is the ease at which reading is paired with access to video teaching. As a bonus, the app has a tab featuring a  daily Bible principle, a topical index that one can use to search for specific principles, and the ability to favorite video teachings for later reference.

Two more things to disclose. First, I received a copy of this Bible from the publisher as part of a promotion effort. I was glad to write about it, and very glad to review it. I think Holman is doing good things, and I particularly respect Dr. Trevin Wax.

Second, I did not have time to read every piece of commentary or view all three hundred hours of available video. It is fairly easy for me to say that I wouldn’t agree with Dr. Getz on every point. But we share in the essentials.

Nevertheless, I did find this Bible to be one that I would recommend for those who desire to diligently study the Scriptures, apply the Word to their daily lives, and who are looking for a one-stop, interactive, and unique resource by which to do so.


  1. I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary from 2002 to 2005 in the Masters in Christian Education program (MACE).
  2. Granted, biblical interpretation is a challenging task, and there is more than one informed, scholarly perspective concerning the best understanding of the most difficult texts of the Bible. Dr. Getz offers principles and perspectives that are shaped by his training, experiences, and study of Scripture. Other Christians differ with Dr. Getz.

A Few eBook Deals

Looking for something to read? Here are a few good books at a good price:

All links are affiliate links, which means that clicks and purchases via my website support my work. The Call was an important book for my journey, I loved Life Without Lack, Berry is a phenomenal poet, but among all the books on this list, I think I’d recommend The Once and Future King above them all.

Eerdmans April 2020 eBook Sale

Eerdmans is having a big eBook sale, listing over 300 titles. You can view the entire list here. These I found of note:

2019: My Year in Reading

I’ve been logging my books since 2010. Yep! The list can be found here. Scroll down far enough and you’ll see that in 2010, the first year I began keeping a list, I read The Hunger Games trilogy, After Virtue, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and more. Since I began keeping track I’ve read over 800 books. Public and university library systems have helped me along the way, as have used bookstores. Leaders are readers.

Please note: all links to Amazon are affiliate links. Clicks and purchases kickback to me. Support the blog and my reading habit. It is Christmas. You are freshly flush with Amazon credits. If a book in this post interests you and you plan to make a purchase, follow the hyperlink from this page.

How Many Books Did I Read This Year?

My goal this year was to read 65 books. That is exactly how many I read, finishing my 65th book, Holly Beer’s A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman just last night. This doesn’t count comics. I followed along with Detective Comics: BatmanGuardians of the GalaxyMiles Morales: Spider-ManX-MenThe Avengers, and a couple of short-run Wolverine series.

Here is the link to the list of books I read this year once again.

One of our kids really loves graphic novels, and both enjoy reading the comics on Sunday mornings. Molly and I had a conversation about this, particularly when one of our children highly preferred the graphic novel to chapter books. We concluded that reading is reading, and that so long as our children were enjoying the exercise, we’d encourage their interests, cheer them on, and then challenge them when we had opportunity. Graphic novels do tell stories, not only with words but with pictures, and as I’ve come to love art more and more, I want my kids to love it, too. Exposing them to the work of good illustrators is a step in the right direction.

I also kept up my habit of reading the local paper and logging the movies and television series I’ve watched. I read a portion of the Bible almost everyday. Among the movies I enjoyed: Once Upon a Time in the WestGet ShortyTrue Grit (2010, and one of my all-time faves), and the AC/DC: Live at Donington special.  The movie I hated most: The House with a Clock in Its Walls starring Eli Roth, Jack Black and Cate Blanchett. Horrible.

What Were My Favorite Books This Year?

The most important book, I read this year was Madison, Jay, and Hamilton’s The Federalist Papers, which I began reading in 2018 and finished early this spring. Following the 2016 election I wanted to read the ideas that went into the American founding for myself, not only so that I could have a better understanding of the American experiment, but so that I could measure how we were doing as a country. While I think that there are challenges before us, I think we are doing well–better than we’re led to believe. We need stronger leadership in the Congress, we need to cease viewing the Chief Executive as a messiah (Obama and Trump have both been lauded as saviors), and we need a stronger moral vision if we wish to preserve American ideals of liberty and freedom. But we’re not coming apart. Sensationalism sells papers, gets clicks, holds eyeballs. There are problems. But there is a whole heap of good here.

The best and most practical book on Christian spirituality I read was Ken Shigematsu’s God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God. This book is part of our course curriculum at Truett, and its basic premise is that the ancient wisdom of a “rule of life” has applicability for today. I recommend it. Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness and Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain were important reads for me (Oh, how I wish I could write about faith like Thomas Merton!), as was James Montgomery Boice’s Foundations of the Christian Faith.  I also read George Herbert’s poems and writings.

I read a few beautifully written novels by Toni Morrison following her death, a book by Kinky Friedman written around the time he ran for Governor of Texas, and a well reported account of the Brett Kavanaugh trial. I read a few books on financial management and a couple on marriage. But the best book I read this year was the first one I read: Andrew Delbanco’s The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War.

Did You Hate Anything?

Not really. The book I least enjoyed, but endured until the end, was Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape Our Future. Kelly’s vision for where we’re going, and how we’ll interface with technology, is not exciting to me. Not remotely.

What Are You Reading Right Now?

I’m reading an Advent devotional called Rejoice! by John Stott and Christopher Wright, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics I.1, Kimlyn Bender’s Reading Karl Barth for the Church, and Stephen Harrigan’s Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas.

I have a lot of books stacked near my desk, and I’ll probably have a few more new books to read after tomorrow. Among those I’m reading now, Harrigan’s tale of Texas has captured my heart most. I’m a Texan, and I love this place.

What Did I Learn from My Experience Reading This Year?

A few of the books I read this year were for courses, so I was reading alongside others, discussing what I found, and interrogating the material differently than I have when reading books alone in years past. In other words, being part of a reading community makes a difference.

I also learned that I continue to wish I had more time to spend with my books. I could’ve have done this in 2019 by watching fewer movies, I guess.

What are you reading, and what should I add to my list?

A Few Book Deals…

I’ve been home tonight watching the Dallas Mavericks, who destroyed the Golden State Warriors, and now I’m tuned into volleyball. The Baylor Lady Bears are squaring off against the Texas Longhorns. I’ve been pulling together Kindle book deals.

The following are affiliate links. Every click and purchase supports my book habit.

Not Influenced by Books, at all?

Alan Jacobs jokes (I think) in this very short post that “Christians are not influenced by books, at all.”

Asking if that assessment is true may be, and most likely is, the wrong question. But there is truth in it. Books, as a means of influence, appear to be far down on the list of sources shaping the heart, mind, soul and body of Christian people. Personality, various forms of popular culture, and the internet lead the way.

But there are still those of us who read books, are influenced by them, and then spread those ideas, either through lifestyle or in conversation, to those around us. The influence may not be direct, but indirect.

August Books Notes and Deals

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Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

The last set of book notes appeared in May, and I’ve read a few more books since then. The best books I’ve read more recently are A. J. Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World and Timothy P. Carney’s Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse. I found a few laughs in John Cleese’s autobiography So, Anyway… and, as I always do, enjoyed the insight of Stanley Hauerwas in his book Disrupting Time: Sermons, Prayers, and Sundries.

Christianbook.com is blowing out titles as the summer draws to a close. Some of those books are listed for under $5. For  friends who enjoy reading Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology is $3.99. Books about United Methodist membership vows, the denomination more broadly, and an account of the sacrament of communion are marked down. Richard Mouw’s Adventures in Evangelical Civility is $3.99, as is Stanley Grenz’s Prayer. Kuyper’s Stone Lectures can be had for $4.49 and N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Scripture and John Stott’s Basic Christianity are $5. Be judicious. Not every sale is a deal.

If you browse and find a title that interests you I haven’t listed here and want to know what I think, leave a comment and ask. I’ll tell you what I know.

As for Kindle deals, Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy is $2.99 and Nouwen’s Discernment is $1.99.

On a recent run to the library I scooped up several novels by Toni Morrison. I have a couple of books to read and review from InterVarsity Press. Tonight I’ll begin reading a book by Joseph Bottum called An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America.

Reading anything exciting? Anything you’d recommend?

I hope so. Peace.

May Book Notes and Kindle Deals

Desk May 2019

That’s the view of my desk from today as I’m developing curriculum and studying the Gospel of John.

But, as you might guess, this isn’t all I’ve been reading. I continue to make my way through James Montgomery Boice’s Foundations of the Christian Faith at a pace of one sermon per day, and I’ve begun Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain (one of the Kindle deals below). With Merton I’m not as measured in my pace–more starts and stops. Merton’s autobiography is beautifully written, and I wish more Christians would write with his level of insight and artistry. In the CSB, I am now two-thirds of the way through Psalms.

Yesterday I began Robert Alter’s The Art of Bible Translation and I will soon begin a book by J. L. Collins, The Simple Path to Wealth. I’ve recently completed Jen Pollock Michel’s Surprised by Paradox, which you should pre-order, for as with all her work thus far, it is excellent. I also finished reading The Federalist Papers, which I am so glad that I read. Why? It boosted my confidence in the ideas undergirding the American experiment. This happens to be a wonderful place to live, which, if we uphold and build upon our founding principles, can be even more wonderful.

Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness was tedious for me, but I turned its final pages knowing I had encounter a tremendous woman of faith. After Day, I’m on to Merton. Another book I enjoyed: Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. A book that has value, but didn’t thrill me: Scott Rieckens’ Playing With Fire: How Far Would You Go for Financial Freedom?

As for May Kindle deals, I’ve noticed:

Lastly, here is a boxed set of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories in hardback that is marked down.

Reading anything good? Leave a comment.

Ciao!