Excerpted from "Good Eating" with permission of Baker Book House Company.

What does the Bible say about animals and diet? The biblical story begins and ends with a peaceful creation, but in between, God explicitly permits meat-eating after the flood, Jesus eats fish, and Paul criticizes vegetarian Christians for being weak and superstitious (Romans 14-15). Can there be a consistent biblical position on this issue?Certainly no Christian theologian can argue that the Bible absolutely condemns all meat-eating. However, there is a good case to be made that vegetarianism is a valid and valuable way of anticipating the kingdom of God by practicing what God most intendsfor the world. It is a sign of our trust in God's intentions for the world and our hope in God's plan for the world's ultimate redemption.The biblical narrative is about people who are all too human, full of sin and greed, and dependent on the mercies of God. Their stories are framed by an account of peaceful beginnings in Genesis and the restoration of the world in a new creation in Revelation.In between is the decisive manifestation of God in the life ofJesus Christ, the second Adam who comes to begin the restorationof the world to God's original purposes. Those original purposes did not include meat-eating, yet after the flood God did allow Noah and his descendants to eat meat, justas he later let the Israelites conduct their worship services aroundanimal sacrifices.
The Hebrew prophets, however, often criticized these animalsacrifices, and when they talked about the end times when God'spurposes would no longer be thwarted by human sin, they portrayedthe world in the same harmonious terms that describe theparadise of Eden in Genesis. It seems clear to me, then, that Godallows for meat-eating as something far below the ideals that Godoriginally conceived for humankind. A carnivorous diet is a concessionto human sin, not a model for what God always wantedfrom humanity.There is an analogy for this in our own lives. Parents often lettheir children do things that are less than what is best for them.Parents let children watch too much television and eat more junk food than is good for them. All parents know that they have to picktheir battles with their kids by ordering priorities and setting realisticgoals. Parents know that it takes years for children to internalizeand fully understand what the family standards are. Maturationis a process, and what children teach parents most is thevirtue of patience.God too is patient, like a loving parent who does not expect toomuch too soon. The question is whether the time has come for usto begin living up to God's expectations concerning diet. People inthe ancient world did not have plentiful sources of non-animal protein.They were dependent on animals in order to get enough proteinin their diet. Even today, there are millions of people in poorercountries who do not have a sufficient number of protein alternativesto animal flesh, even though they eat meat rarely.
But thoseof us who live in industrialized countries do have such alternatives,so we can now expect more of ourselves than what was possiblehundreds of years ago....To be a Christian vegetarian is to see the world as it could be,the way God intended it, not as it now is, full of pain and strife.Christian vegetarianism, then, is one small step on the road to thenew kingdom of God. It need not be meant as a sign of moral purityor a new political movement to split and divide the churches. It isnot a new religion, nor is it a new path of salvation that excludesmeat-eaters as irredeemably condemned. It is a very concrete wayof practicing a life of hope, a hope that respects differences andboundaries even as it radiates outward with the encompassingrhythms of God's grace.

Christian vegetarianism should not makeanybody feel guilty. It is a joyful diet, a diet for the new millennium,a diet that finds the love of God in every meal. Eating without inflictingpain on animals can be an expression of God's own love for thewhole world, as well as God's intention to restore the world to itsoriginal peace and harmony. What better way to give witness toone's deepest hopes than to practice this less cruel diet of thefuture, a diet that uses fewer resources and is less demanding onour planet. Such a diet provides hope that all can be fed from theabundance of God's gifts to us, and that none need go hungry in ajust and righteous world.