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I make a confession: I’m a bit surprised by a trend I’m seeing in some of what I’ve read about fasting. Most of my time has been spent pondering (1) what the Bible says in its context and how that can be formed into a theology of fasting, and (2) what the earliest Christians said about fasting — when it was so prominent and when it was established as a firm spiritual discipline for all Christians. But, dipping into some recent stuff has really got me thinking.
Here’s the logic that I’m seeing and I’m wondering if you think this is a good use of the term “fasting”:
1. Fasting at its root is about denying ourselves of some pleasure;
2. Anything that brings you pleasure can be an object of your fasting;
3. Therefore, “fasting” can be used for denying ourselves of things other than food.
What do you think of this definition of fasting? Do we “fast” from TV? Of course I know folks use that expression; is it a wise one? Do we lose something?
Here’s two examples: Lynne Baab has written a book called Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites (IVP, 2006) and Lauren Winner writes about fasting in her book Mudhouse Sabbath (Paraclete, 2003). She’s also used a similar definition of fasting in her new book Real Sex, but I can’t find my copy.
Baab and Winner each “fasts” from such things as reading or from colorful jewelry or from TV or from sex or from the internet (TSK has “blogfasts”) or sports or shopping. In the history of the Church there have been those who practiced “Daniel fasts” — that is, they denied themselves particular kinds of food (meat, wine, oils, etc) and restricted their diet to veggies and fruits or to dried, uncooked foods. But, they were still foods.
Baab defines fasting in this way: “Christian fasting is the voluntary denial of something for a specific time, for a spiritual purpose, by an individual, famimly, community or nation” (16).
What do you think of this newer usage of “fasting”? (By the way, the Bible never uses fast this way — the only “transferred” or “metaphorical” sense is Isa 58 where the true fast is to do justice — but that is not what these folks are really arguing.) What happens when we shift the word fast from “denying our body food” to “denying ourselves of our pleasures”?

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