Archive for the ‘Diet’ Category

General Revelation and How We Live Our Lives

Dear Reader,

In my current series, I am looking at how Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy lines up with Special Revelation, that is, the Scriptures (see this post, this one, and this one). I am doing this to some extent because I can — because the Bible is a finite book and I can hold Miss Mason’s propositions up to it and ask if the two agree. But Charlotte does not claim to get her philosophy just from the Bible but also from God’s general revelation, His revealing of Himself through what she calls divine law and which we might call natural law or simply Creation.

In her first book, Home Education, Charlotte makes a strong case that we need to order our lives and our children’s lives around the principles God has revealed if we want to obtain the blessings He promises of health and wholeness:

“The reason why education effects so much less than it should effect is just this––that in nine cases out of ten, sensible good parents trust too much to their common sense and their good intentions, forgetting that common sense must be at the pains to instruct itself in the nature of the case, and that well-intended efforts come to little if they are not carried on in obedience to divine laws, to be read in many cases, not in the Bible, but in the facts of life.” (Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 38)

In other words, we must not trust to common sense or even entirely to the Bible but must discern God’s laws for how we should live our lives from “the facts of life.” If we as Christians are not thriving while our non-Christian neighbors are, she tells us, then it is because:

“all safety, progress, and success in life come out of obedience to law, to the laws of mental, moral or physical science, or of that spiritual science which the Bible unfolds; that it is possible to ascertain laws and keep laws without recognising the Lawgiver, and that those who do ascertain and keep any divine law inherit the blessing due to obedience, whatever be their attitude towards the Lawgiver.” (p. 39)

Notice that these laws are for the most part scientific laws in that we learn them through observation and experimentation. Things that were once new ideas which encountered much resistance — that fruit should be eaten to avoid scurvy, that doctors should wash their hands — now seem completely obvious to us, but there was a time when these basic principles had to be discovered. These are the sorts of laws which Charlotte has in mind; we ignore them at our own peril.

As I read what Charlotte wrote more than one hundred years ago, I wonder if we as Christians still believe this? Do we believe that there are discernable divine laws which govern life?

Too often it seems that Christians have forgotten that there is a general revelation and that we can know anything from creation alone. If you’ll allow me, I’ll pick once again on the Trim Healthy Mama diet (THM). My main problem with this eating plan (see my review here) is not that it is illogical or doesn’t work, but that it claims to be based on the Bible but has little solid Scriptural basis. For my purposes today, the question is not is THM Bible-based but why does it think it needs to be? Why is there a bread on the market based on the grains in the book of Ezekiel? Why do some wear only fibers mentioned in the Bible?

The problem, it seems to me, is that we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater; in an effort to reject certain scientific theories, we have turned our backs on a whole arm of God’s revelation to us. Without general revelation, we are left trying to find biblical justifications for all we do, a process which leads to bad exegesis and ultimately undermines biblical authority as well as texts are stretched to speak to subjects they were never intended to address.

If today’s Christians are skeptical of science, they are not alone. Miss Mason speaks from a time of great scientific progress. Her view of man’s ability to discern God’s unwritten laws is an optimistic one. I think in many ways that is not true today. In the context of her book, the issues Charlotte addresses are very practical ones — What types of foods should we eat? How much fresh air do we need? She lived in an age when science was expected to give the answers to these questions. We live in a time when low fat diets have gotten us fatter and low carb is the answer — or, wait, is it? Maybe it’s paleo, maybe it’s gluten-free, maybe the pesticides which increased our food stores and can cure hunger are secretly killing us.

We live in a time of too many voices saying too many competing things and we have lost faith in our ability to discern God’s laws. I am somewhat comforted by the idea that we still seek truth. The many competing theories out there — whether it is about what we eat or how we raise our children — at least show that we still believe there is a truth; we just can’t find it.

I really don’t know where to end with this. Charlotte disparaged common sense but I am not sure that it is not one of our best and most helpful guides. Its is no longer a matter of just obtaining scientific knowledge; we need to decide which science to believe.

Any thoughts?


Living History Books: Washington and Adams

Dear Reader,

As we slowly work our way through American history, I have been sharing what books we have used. You can find all the links to previous posts here. We have just finished 3 weeks on the presidencies of Washington and Adams. I found relatively little to use on this period. I am, of course, limited to what our library system has so you may find different titles. There are lots of biographies, especially on Washington, available, but my goal this time was to look more at each man’s time in office than at the man himself. I will recommend The Bulletproof George Washington, a book which we have used in the past.

Here is the rest of the list:

For spines (books which I read aloud to all the kids to give us an overview and make sure there are no huge gaps) we continue to go through H.E. Marshall’s This Country of Ours and Helene Guerber’s  Story of the Great Republic. I find each of these volumes fairly simple on this time period. They explain the events well, especially for my younger kids, but they feel a little light. My solution has been to use both of them in the hopes that one will cover events the other might miss.

Biographies by Mike Venezia — In addition to our spines, I read aloud to the kids the relevant biographies by Venezia. If you have younger kids and don’t know this author, check him out. He has biographies on all the presidents as well as many artists and composers. Each one had cartoon-style pictures as well as other pictures and presents the information in  a fun way. I suspect that these are not good living books and that CM herself would not approve of them. But my kids look forward to them. They are funny and they are fun and they can be read in one sitting so not much is lost.

Venezia on Washington

Venezia on Washington

With a little extra time to fill, I also read aloud John Jay by Stuart A. Kallen. This was not a stellar living book but it was okay. I’ll say again: There was little I could find on specific events in this time period.washington6

I had my 4th and 5th graders read two of the same books. The first is George Washington by Ingrid and Edgar D’Aulaire. The D’Aulaires have wonderful volumes on a number of historic figures. They are beautifully illustrated and at the level of long picture books. I broke this one up into four sections for each of them which was quite doable. I would call these books upper elementary age though one could read them aloud to a first or second grader as well.


The other book my younger two read was George Washington and the First Balloon Flight by Edmund  Lindop. It was a nice tale of the first balloon trip and it includes a dog on the story, always a plus. The level is again long picture book or beginning chapter book and each read it in four sittings without being strained.



My 4th grader also read Abigail Adams: Dear Partner by Helen Stone Peterson. It was a nice little biography, an easy chapter book which she read in 8 sittings. She seemed to enjoy it and was able to connect it to other events we had studied. We laughed when she read that Abigail Adams went to Europe and was pleasantly surprised to find the ocean waters there swimmable — we brave the New England beaches every summer!


For a little more hearty educational meat, I had my 5th grader read The Whiskey Rebellion by Katy Schiel. This is not really a living book, but I was hard-pressed to find anything from our library system about Washington’s time in office (as opposed to the person himself). It seemed like an okay book– not just a list of facts– and he understood it well.

washington3My 8th grader read George and Martha Washington at Home in New York  by Beatrice Siegel. I had thought it a bit dry when I skimmed through it but she did okay with it and didn’t seem bored by it so I guess it was a decent book for her. It is not hard. I would call it middle school level but a 5th grader could probably tackle it too.

washington4I had both my 8th and 9th graders read The Whiskey Rebellion by David C. Knight. This was a pretty good book. It explained the events well and kept their attention. It is one of the choices from this section that I am most pleased with.

washington7My 9th grader also read selections from George Washington and the Founding of a Nation by Albert Marrin. Marrin is a favorite author of mine and he has books on tons of topics — not just history but science too; his book on oil was the first we read and it was excellent. My son had read Marrin on the Revolution and our time on this topic was limited but if one were spending longer on the time, it would be worth reading the whole book.


Path of the Pale Horse by Paul Fleischman. From his narartions this was  a bit of a weird story though he is not the clearest narrator. It is the st ory of the yellow fever epidemic that swept Philadelphia in 1793. But there is a but of a mystery to it as well. It seemed like it was an intriguing book for kids.

And that’s what we read this time. Next up: some books on Native Americans!

Happy Reading


Trim Healthy Mama and the Bible

Dear Reader,

Until recently I had been keeping to a (very) modified paleo diet, essentially a  low grain diet. And it had initially been doing what I wanted it to, which is not so much weight loss as relieving other symptoms. But I was never convinced by the premise of the paleo life-style which is basically that we should do things as our cavemen ancestors did. While I am rather agnostic on the topic of evolution, I imagine the reasoning behind this diet doesn’t sit well with a lot of Christians.

So I was intrigued to run across the book Trim Healthy Mama which is by two sisters and Christians and claims to have much more of a biblical basis. There is a lot I could say about the diet overall, but I want to stick in this post to its biblical basis and how the book uses Scripture.

I did not get the impression that the book’s authors, Serene Allison and Pearl Barrett, are saying this is the only, biblical way to eat though they do clearly reject some other approaches as not adhering to biblical principles. The basic argument of this book is that to be as healthy as possible (and, yes, to lose weight if necessary) one should not eat fat and carbs together. Their position rests on scientific studies which show how the body uses different sources of fuel. But it also rests on at least one theological plank: the belief that no foods given us by God should be entirely excluded from our diet. Thus, they reject paleo with its lack of all grains, legumes, etc. They also reject vegetarianism and diets like Atkins which eliminate all carbs. Their approach is about when and how to eat the different groups but they are very clear that no one group should be entirely excluded from the diet.

I like this presupposition. I do think it is biblical. The verse that comes to mind for me is “Let no man call unclean what God has declared clean” (I am paraphrasing off the top of my head here as I can’t immediately find the reference). I will admit that while eliminating gluten, it has always seemed very odd to me that we should get rid of a food (bread) which has been such a staple in the Bible and even bears a large theological significance (Jesus being the bread of life; the bread representing His body in communion). Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that my one daughter gets bad eczema from gluten (among other things) or that it seems to make me mildly sick. But it is still nice to feel that such essential foods are in some measure redeemed.

In terms of the diet’s theological basis, this one principle seems to be the main guiding idea. But the authors also refer to other biblical passages at times to bolster their position. And it is when they get to these that I tend to get frustrated. They spend quite a while discussing the meal Abraham fed to his angelic visitors in Genesis 18. They make much of the fact that he seems to have fed them only one small cake of bread each but much meat. And it does seem like that is what they were given, but one must ask is this a prescriptive or a descriptive passage? Sometimes God is telling us what to do, either directly (“Thou shalt . . .”) or indirectly; these are prescriptive passages.But sometimes the Bible is just telling what people did. There are certainly many things biblical characters, even basically good ones, do that we are not supposed to emulate. So one must ask, are we supposed to copy Abraham in how he fed his visitors? I don’t think so. Basically, Serene and Pearl seem to have substituted for the paleo question “How would the cavemen have done it?” their own new question “How would the patriarchs have done it?” Though to be fair, while they do seem to focus on Abraham a lot, I don’t think they limit their reasoning to him or even to the Old Testament. It is more like “How would Bible people have done it?”

And I am just not convinced that this is a legitimate question. I do believe the Bible is the only infallible rule for faith and life. But it is not our only guide nor does it tell us everything about everything. Just as I don’t believe the Bible tells us all the answers about how to educate our kids, I also don’t believe it tells us how and what to eat. I like the book’s use of the general principle of not eliminating food groups unnecessarily, and also enjoying the foods God has given us, but I think the authors push their argument too far when they look for specifics.

And they do not do so consistently. The use the example of Abraham when it suits their purpose (“Look, we aren’t supposed to eat too much bread at once and need lots of protein!”), but they reject other passages which do not suit their needs. For example, honey is mentioned frequently in the Bible and is clearly viewed as wonderful delicacy, but the Trim Healthy Mama diet rejects the use of honey and uses only sweeteners like Stevia and Xylitol. Their argument in this case is that because our lifestyles have changed and we are so much more sedentary we no longer need or should use such calorie-packed foods. But could we not make similar arguments about Abraham’s meal? Why not say his visitors were going no a journey and therefore needed more protein but we who have cars to take us everywhere no longer do? Their application of biblical passages is inconsistent and seems to be used only to serve their purposes and back up decisions they have already made (“protein good, bread limited, honey never”).

Furthermore, while one sister, Serene, is more of a food purist, the book itself advocates a lot of foods which simply did not exist in Bible times, like low carb pita bread and the sweeteners mentioned above. Nor do they take into account that the Bible itself spans thousands of years and includes many different kinds of people. Abraham was pretty wealthy; presumably most Israelites ate far less meat.

Before closing, I just want to add that there is one chapter in this book on . . . . ahem . . . marital relations . . . which uses another very sketchy bit of exegesis which I don’t buy at all. If you are a mature married person, you can read it for yourself and see what I mean.

So my conclusion on Trim Healthy Mama is that I do agree in principle with their basic theological premises, but I do not like how they use the Bible beyond that. Nor do I think it is necessary to their argument. I would say this diet is based far more upon scientific studies and what they have found works in their own lives, and that is fine. I think they would be better off if they stuck to that and did not try to incorporate more Bible in their dietary advice.

Another time, perhaps, I will discuss the diet itself.


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