Pile #1 “God’s Chosen Fast” by Arthur Wallis

17 Oct

God’s chosen fast: a spiritual and practical guide to fasting / Arthur Wallis. Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade. 1968 [Paperback in 1969. Reprinted in 1970. Reprinted 1971] 119 p. Includes Bibliographic References and Index. *Note: This review refers to the 1971 reprint.

The original Amazon book review can be found here: “God’s Chosen Fast” http://www.amazon.com/review/R1R98GMUWVUS5R/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Recently, fasting as a Christian spiritual discipline has enjoyed a larger visibility in Protestant circles, when as little as two generations ago it was all but shunned as a Catholic practice of ‘works-righteousness’ and this increased visibility can be seen in the abundance of internet resources, no less than in the cataglogs and shelves of Christian book publishers and  bookstores. At least, in the “Choice Books” kiosk at the grocery store where I work, I have seen no fewer than 3 titles promoting  fasting in a Christian’s life, including one on a popular fast called  the “Daniel Fast” -derived from the fasts of Daniel and his associates in the early part of the biblical Book of Daniel- entitled The Daniel Fast for spiritual breakthrough by Elmer L Towns (subject of a future review, naturally).  Of course not all books are created equal, nor will every book (even the best written one) speak to the needs of every single person.

But let’s backtrack a little, because today I want to focus on an early work of ‘restoration’, a small book written in 1968 titled God’s Chosen Fast by Arthur Wallis (and which has been reprinted as recently as the mid-nineties). Arthur Wallis was a British born preacher, speaker, and author, writing 10 books, as well as editing and writing for the magazine Restoration.  The book Wallis is most known is The Radical  Christian,  which was a call to live the Christian life without compromise. It can be found here:  http://www.disciple.co.za/site/attachments/071_The%20Radical%20Christian.pdf   thanks to a link from the Lifechanging blog at http://lifechanging.wordpress.com/2007/06/02/arthur-wallis-a-radical-christian/

He was an early leader in the Restorationist movement (known in the UK as the “House Church” or “New Church Movement”) which sought to return the Church to the discipline and authority of New Testament times. It was from this movement that the Churches of Christ, and Disciples of Christ in the United States were formed.

Fasting

As the title  says, the subject of this book is fasting, and the proper way for a Christian to go about it. Fasting -defined as the voluntary abstaining from food and/or drink- is a basic and essential element in all the major religious and spiritual traditions of the world, and is understood as a basic method for the discipline of body and mind, and a tool to combat selfishness within asceticism -a spiritual or religious practice characterized by abstaining from worldly pleasures, prayer and meditation  in order to reach a spiritual or religious goal, usually liberation from the passions or sin. The word is derived from the Greek: ἄσκησις, áskēsis, “exercise” or “training”).  In the Old Testament/Tanak, fasts could be individual or communal, and the Scriptures record many instances of Kings of Israel or Judah, and prophets calling the nation to a Public Fast, as well as liturgical fasts commanded by the Lord, for particular causes, or in penitence for gross national and personal sins.

Fasting achieved prominence in Christian circles from the 4th century with the rise of Christian asceticism and monasticism after the Age of Martyrs ended with the Roman Emperor Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity, and became a staple of penitential practice during the Middle Ages. In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation in Europe (and it’s heirs in North America) largely did away with the discipline of fasting along with the rest of Catholic practice and doctrine, leaving only the Lenten fast in England, and Lutheran Germany (along with those countries that remained Catholic) as a remnant.

The twentieth century, though saw a renaissance of the spiritual disciplines and a renewed Liturgical Movement within mainline Protestantism, and in the latter half of the twentieth century and early twenty-first century especially, literature has abounded in the marketplace and through religious communities promoting the purposes, methods, durations, types, and benefits of fasting, and it has even entered the vocabulary of the medical field through the holistic health, homeopathic and alternative medicine fields.

Hungering for God’s best

Having proved the great value and blessing of fasting over many years, I was concerned that so many earnest believers had apparently never given the subject any serious thought. This concern became a constraint to share with those who hunger for God’s best, what the Bible has to say about this spiritual exercise. (p7)

Wallis’s book is an early fruit of this renewal from a Protestant, Evangelical perspective, seeking to provide a secure biblical model of fasting for the life of the believer (if not the community). It was the felt lack of adequate biblically  based resources (for or by Protestants that is) in Christian bookstores or tract racks, that led Mr. Wallis to write the book he did. Composed of  23 brief chapters (none longer than 5 pages) and 3 appendices (on dubious mentions of fasting in the Authorized Version, answers to practical questions on fasting, and on healthy eating), Wallis provides, as the subtitle of the book says “a spiritual and practical guide to fasting” , though the actual practical side of fasting is but little touched on. He covers the different Old Testament fasts, and the attitude of the later biblical prophets toward liturgical fasting, as well as Jesus’s own directives on fasting.

Fasting With Intention

The book, however, is not a historical treatment of fasting, but a prescription for individual believers on why and how to fast. The basic message of Wallis’s book is that fasting should always and only be done with intention to further the Kingdom of God, as an other-directed expression of faith.  It is a good message as far as it goes, but his almost cavalier rejection of any other positive use for fasting as a training for holiness leads e to conclude that he really does not understand the discipline that he is critiquing. He uses only three non-biblical sets of sources, and two of them are Protestant reference books from which he derives his understanding of asceticism.

All in all, Wallis’ message of intentional fasting is one that every Christian can share, even if the severe limits he places to that intention and the benefits to be derived from the fast, are not ones that everybody can agree to.

On the other hand, one can hardly expect Christians of a Protestant persuasion who come from a tradition that has downplayed if not outright rejected the benefits of any fasting, to suddenly accept the wisdom about fasting that other portions of Christ’s Body have accumulated over the centuries at one gulp.

Until next time then,  Read on my friends, and stay thirsty

edited for consistency on 17 October 2012

                                                                                                                        

additional information from Wikipedia article “Arthur Wallis”  accessed on 16 October 2012 at  23:47

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Wallis_%28Bible_teacher%29

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